A few weeks back before I started this blog, I ran into my friend Pat at the coffee shop. Pat and I have developed a nice friendship just based on five minute conversations, because we run into each other all the time and we have music in common. I usually do my music editing and writing in the local microbrew coffee shop, and Pat stops in there lots of mornings before going to work. She's a jazz guitarist and vocalist, and together with Paul Horton, runs the very successful Middle Street School of Music, here in Plymouth.
Usually I'm working on some interesting music project and relish the chance to talk to Pat, because she's the only one there who would have much interest in, for example, the things you can do with a diminished seventh chord. But this particular day's excitement was actually personal, not work: I had finally gotten down to some sort of reliable schedule of practicing, and wanted to share the happiness with her.
So, as you do, we got gabbing about how hard it can be, especially with a kid at home, and a living to make, etc. Pat knows all about it. With twin daughters who were about seven at the time, I think, Pat went to Berklee College of Music full time. Pat's insight: "I tell my students, some days, all you gotta do is just pick up the instrument. That's it. Even if you don't have time to play." We both went back to our business after the conversation, but her words have resounded for me for weeks.
At first, I interpreted it as a comment about not being obsessive. Don't make a big deal about it. Don't make it difficult on yourself, and obsess. Just keep the instrument close at hand and heart. And now I'm seeing another side of that, and it is about simply remaining connected to the instrument. Back to Yusef's "Unbroken Ribbon of Concentration." What Buddhists would call "mindfulness."
And this is what July 5 is about: Music Mindfulness.
Yesterday, my session was super short. My soprano sax was still out and assembled, so in honor of the day, I picked it up and played bits and pieces of the national anthem. Why the heck not? Then figured I'd run through an Irish tune on it, one I've been working on. (Those handy E minor Irish reels are in F# minor on the soprano, so translating them over really is like playing in a different language at first. Like learning a language, it requires practice in an immersive way.) Then my husband arrived home from a bike ride, and pulled out his guitar. We played the tune together a few times til our three year old daughter got interested in doing a bit of dancing... Annie wanted Happy Birthday. So we played it, a bunch of times, while she danced. And I started improvising on it. Missed the chords. Come on now, there are only three chords -- how hard can it be?
Turns out, it's only hard if you don't know what the chords are. If further turns out, I didn't know what the chords are. So I asked. Steve told me.
Music session ended, Annie was off and running and we then followed. Shortly after, ten guests arrived. Flags were hung. Much was barbecued. Fireworks were seen. Beer was consumed. Chimenea lit. Day ended. No long focused session.
But, this morning, I was still thinking about those chords. Running over them in my head, while lying in bed, exploring melodic lines and arpeggio patterns that could work over them, in real time. No instrument in hand, just thinking.
And that, too, is practice. Not physical practice on the instrument, but mindfulness that was constructive and forward looking. It's not the same as physically playing the instrument. That must happen too -- but when it can't or when it simply just didn't, we can still use those moments and make practice not just a physical activity but a way of being. A frame of reference. A practice.
Happy Sunny Sunday!