This afternoon I rehearsed with a singer who has been a friend of mine for a long time, but we have never performed together before, at least that I can remember. We are putting a concert together in a few days that we will perform as part of a festival where we are both adjudicating and coaching. Sometimes first rehearsals are erribly unsettling for me as I need to figure out how people work and think about things, but today it was such a treat to simply make music together. While we had both performed most of the music chosen for the program on other occasions with other partners, it was surprising to me how little explanation was necessary. We simply checked tempi a few times and then the music happened almost without effort. There are precious few fringe benefits that come with aging, but for musicians, a few decades of accumulated experience can go a long way. Today, I simply savored the privilege of making great music in collaboration with a good friend.
Tuesday, April 13, 2010
This week I delivered a new recording to the manufacturer for replication. My CD release event is scheduled for May 9 in San Diego, and if all goes according to plan I will have a product ready to distribute by then. All told this particular process has been a little more intense than some of my prior projects because I have imposed some more stringent deadlines on myself to produce the recording quickly. All told, from conception to completion the recording took about a month to complete, and by the time it shipped I felt absolutely drained.
Recently, it was pointed out to me that I tend to work in spurts of manic productivity followed by lulls of recovery. This sort of creative bipolar condition sounds horrible to me when I hear it described, but undeniably this is my customary pattern. Intellectually, it seems that it would be so much better to work more steadily and incrementally, with a predictable routine progressing sanely from day to day. While I hold this notion as an idealized objective, it simply has not been born out in my daily experience.
My projects consume me, in every sense of the word, leading me melt down into an inert puddle after the immediate project at hand is finished. It usually takes a few days before I fully regain consciousness, and then I start the process all over again. Well I am exaggerating a bit, but that makes for a better story. Still, I find the cyclic rhythm of my work very curious. I certainly value the idea of workman-like discipline, where regularly measured steps advance the work little by little, and that is how things typically start out for me. But then something takes over, the muse descends and then my manic side takes control leading to a frenzied episode of crazy-making energy.
Not that I am complaining. It's just curious to notice.
Today I was catching up on some reading and was startled to find that a writer I admire had posted a poem by another writer (now deceased), whom I also admire greatly. The poem had touched me very deeply when I read it for the first time more than 10 years ago. It always surprises me to learn that someone else shares my taste in anything. That even though we read the same poem in very different places, separated by long stretches of time, we both shared our deeply personal reaction to the poet's words written at yet another time and place. The poem dealt with the finite nature of existence and how we need to savor the good of life while we can. My reconnecting with the poem reminded me of how easy it is to believe the lie that our modern lives are spent in isolation. We can be tempted to think that no one outside or our own skin could ever think or feel what we do. This leads us either into the hubris of thinking our stuff is so much deeper or better than everyone else’s, or conversely that we are frauds and the outside world just hasn’t caught on yet.
Earlier today I was speaking to a group of university music students about the importance living into one’s own personal narrative—that it was a dangerous thing to attempt to make your life conform to some external pattern as if there was some map to follow. I suggested that the language we use to talk about who we are, and what we do reveals tremendous insights into what drives our behavior.
During my interactions with the class, a student in the room said he was terribly afraid of sounding “arrogant” when he talked about his musical work. He was inquiring honestly and I had to stall for a moment to collect some better wisdom before I answered him. A moment later, I explained that the difference for me was found in the motivation of our work as musicians. Are we posing to prove how good, talented or adequate we are? Or, are we motivated to serve the people who listen to our music by nudging them toward a deeper understanding of our common existence. I like to think that my best playing can open people to thoughts and emotions that they might not have otherwise. But as I tried to explain to the questioner, ultimately it’s not about me. The big idea is how the music enriches people who listen, by nudging them into thinking and feeling things that they would not otherwise know.