Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Workshop - Wednesday

Wednesday morning, we were told to get our coats and boots, because the morning session was going to be outside.  And it was pretty darned chilly that day!

And so, the group huddled in a clearing, learning about peripheral vision and peripheral hearing, how to keep our awareness wide-angle and our footprint (or "splash") tiny.  It's all vibrations... concentric rings of influence from and upon us.  We learned how to fox-run, use our coyote ears, know the various alarms in the woods, how to know a mountain lion is present before you actually sense it...  We learned how to embrace hypothermia (that lesson was lost on me, I think!), and spent the last hour tracking deer (and a dog or two).

All in the name of music.

Because Music is Life is Love is God is Everything is Music.  And it's all vibrations, and concentric rings of influence.

It's impossible to undo a vibration you've sent out, but you CAN send out a new one that can alter the first. And if somebody or something sends a vibration your way, you need to know how to recognize it and deal with it -- whether to join in with the merry chirping or run away from the yet-unseen mountain lion.

If you look at the concentric rings formed by a splash, you will note that the vibration isn't a whole lot of something -- it's the alternation between something and nothing something and nothing something and nothing... the valleys are just as important as the peaks, the emptiness takes as much space as the fullness.  In music, we tend to take notice of the fullness -- most of us don't spend time practicing the emptiness, paying attention to the space.

After drowning our hypothermia in ginger tea and fireside chat, we all headed back up to the auditorium to apply our fox-running and coyote-ears to our playing.  But wait, we aren't doing group work?  Nope, it's all solos.  How the heck can we practise listening if we're playing by ourselves?

By not listening to ourselves as we play.

By listening to the space.

By listening to the audience.

And brave volunteer after brave volunteer proved this over and over again.  You could see heads pop up in the group whenever the performer started listening to themselves and losing the music -- and then the eyes light up when the performer started listening to the space and letting the music blossom and thrive.  It was truly magic!

And then more magic.  Victor invited that handsome, fashionably-clad man who'd been lurking in the back all afternoon to come up front and say hello -- and introduced us all to Eric Bibb.  Eric will be leading a songwriting workshop in September (we're going!), and had done some recording on the island, so was just in visiting for the day.  Victor asked him to sing a couple of tunes for us -- alas, Eric didn't have his guitar with him.  So Victor asked Don if Eric could use his new Gord Barry guitar.

Uh, YES!

So Eric talked to the group and played two beautiful new songs for us... on Don's guitar.  We're hoping some of his joy and spirit has imbued itself into the wood.

More ginger tea and awe-struck fireside conversation, and then we were back, this time for some more jamming -- not just with the room, but with each other.  A fairly large group of us got up to do a version of "Summertime", including the beautifully-sensitive-why-isn't-he-world-famous pianist Tom, sassy-and-classy-Juno-nominee trumpeter Tina, scat-singer-extraordinaire Juhli, tone-to-weep-to oboist Toby, some-bass-dude Victor, a handful of other singers and instrumentalists, and myself (Alyssa) on cello.  I realize now that it was probably a test, although I'm not sure if it was a conscious or purposeful one on Victor's part.

But I have to say, we passed it.  :-)  The messages were sinking in, we were catching ourselves in our assumptions and rolling with the waves.  For instance, I heard Tina was going to take the lead in one of the instrumental breaks, and figured I'd try noodling some harmonies around her part as accompaniment. Well, she heard me put in a bit of a crescendo and decided to back out of the way for me to take the lead.  So there I was, having started what I thought was going to be harmony, and ended up doing a lead that I probably wouldn't have naturally chosen to do, but since I had already started with that figure, I just kept going with it -- accompanied by Tina.  And then Toby was soaring on the oboe, Tom had the most exquisite piano... ah, gorgeous, and everyone giving each other space and listening and being.


After dinner, Victor had promised the bass players (over half of the group) a question-and-answer period just for them, since some of the earlier classes had gotten a bit bogged down in bass-specific stuff that didn't really apply to the rest of us.  We ended up dropping in on that as well, because even though it was bass-specific, there's still much to be learned.  And, of course, Don always enjoys tech talk about looping pedals, etc.  :-)

It was in this session that he dished out the most important info any bass player -- or side musician in general -- oughta know.  YOUR JOB IS TO NOT BE NOTICED.  Your job is to support the music and the lead singer/player.  You are the foundation of the building, not the stained-glass window.  If you're cracked, the whole thing will fall apart.  If you're wonderful, nobody will notice.  If you're given a solo, take it, but make sure you're in service of the music.  If it's not your solo, and somebody notices you're there, you've done something wrong.

This was the night the jam session stopped being cranked up to eleven.  It probably wasn't even cranked up to four.  The bass players were no longer trying to impress each other (and Victor) with how many notes they could play in a riff, or how kick-ass they were.  They were now trying to impress the world with how little they played, how quietly they played, how much they listened, how much space they gave.

This was the night we could actually stick around for the jam session, without needing earplugs.

An awesome night, indeed.


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