Friday, January 8, 2016

Discovering music

In discovering music by trying to play the ukulele, I am also rediscovering the essence of practice. In many ways it reminds me of yoga. The importance of awareness, of willingness to try something differently, and the importance to keep trying and trying again.

Years ago, when I was trying to learn the violin, I bought The Inner Game of Music. I went looking for it on my shelf and was so disappointed it wasn't there anymore! Purged somewhere along the way. I went to the book store to buy it, but they didn't have a copy in stock... it was first published fifty years ago and Indigo seems to favour newer titles. So I browsed through some current offerings, picked out a few, and ordered them online from the library: The Inner Game of Muisc; The Music Lesson, and The Listening Book.

I had high hopes for The Music Lesson, with a blurb casting the author as the Carlos Castaneda of music. Victor L. Wooten is a Grammy-winning musical icon and legendary bassist and he presents the story of a struggling young musician who wants music to be his life, and who wants his life to be great. "Then, from nowhere it seemed, a teacher arrived."  The teacher is a mysterious Michael, a musician with insights that include "Groove before you play" and "play the rests." I would definitely recommend the book to a young teen-aged male musician and could also see it coming alive as an innovative series of instructional-type videos. It's entertaining but really, not a huge spiritual awakening. 

The Listening Book didn't promise any epiphanies but it was full of deep insights. "The truth is, a musician can spend a lifetime learning five notes and still not know everything in them. The more masterful you become, the deeper becomes the mystery and the more you are a beginner."

To the question of "What Should I Practice?' It is the quality of your practice that matters, just as it is the quality of your love that matters, not whom you love. If you are hearing ragtime with special clarity this week, practice ragtime. If it is time to improvise, then improvising is your practice. If all you want today is to listen to Ravel, listen.

There is also a description of a spontaneous dinner symphony, where people gathered around a table started using their pewter utensils and dinner glasses to make music, culminating when one of the women goes into her cupboard for a bag of uncooked rice that she releases onto the dinner tray the pointy little metallic notes fill the space that the other musicians are making for it... uncooked rice falling into the metal tray, the finale of the symphony! A stunning idea!... And Carol's glowing face at the moment of her inspired entrance has been my life model for the way houses are churches, and dinners are symphonies, and earth can be heaven.

*****The  Inner Game of Music is based on the Inner Game of Tennis, adapted for musicians and first published back in the 1980s.
Tim Gallway presented his first "master class" in music at the University of Cincinnati in 1982. No one would have known he wasn't a trained musician. After the class two piano students approached him with a problem: they were having trouble playing a passage together... Tim asked them simply to be aware, and to notice precisely in which bar the difficulty arose in the next practice session... they came back twenty minutes later and told him that as soon as they were listening for the part where they were playing out of synch, they didn't make any mistakes... Awareness cured their problem...
Knowledge of  musical theory certainly helps with understanding some of the advanced exercises, but the book is filled with enough practice tips for even absolute beginners.

An exercise to taste the difference between trying versus awareness; an exercise for becoming the music; hearing the music you play; and the importance of incorporating fun into practice.

This is not a three week read, but a really great reference.

I'm buying this book again, and putting it back on my shelf... close to my ukulele music.

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