Friday, June 19, 2015

I have 1000 hours to go before I viably suck (maybe more, maybe less)

C major scale, we meet again (!) --  but this time, with fingerings.
This morning, I cancelled everything and all because I didn't put in my measly 20-30 minutes of practice on my acoustic guitar yesterday. I'd practice more, but at the moment my fingers are still tender...very tender. For example, I work my exercises to warm up and the fingers already zing. Then, I try to master my C major scale, remember some few odd chords and give another try to a song I am incapable of playing just yet. I can sing the song. I know it almost like the back of my hand. However, I'm pre-remedial (or so it feels) when it comes to strumming the right chords. So, I suppose we can say, I'm considering it a goal.

It's a step in the right direction. The ultimate goal is to be able to accompany myself on an instrument that is portable and can also help me to connect musically with others. It's a way for me to start remembering my music theory, to have a tool to create more textures with, to have a tool to be able to write songs with, and also to be able to stand alone without being so bare (most of us can only listen to so much a cappella singer solos).

It's a good goal, I think, and long overdue. All of those instances where I tried, picked up the instrument for maybe a span of semester, passed, and then forgot to keep up with what I had started because I wasn't sure what my next step was or because I got too busy with something else. . . .

A friend reminded me yesterday how important practice is with his usual tone. "Just remember, 1000 hours of practice and you suck; 5000 hours of practice and you're okay; 10,000 hours of practice and you are good [and I suspect masterful]." I tried to break that down into days over a bus ride. You know, if I could manage just two hours a day, for example, what would that look like? How long before I viably sucked? Looking at it that way, I felt a bit daunted. Who wouldn't?

I was reminded of an old saxophone playing boyfriend who had this burning wish to emulate John Coltrane's woodshedding regimen. He wanted to eke out of the day 8 hours (which still falls short of Coltrane's obsessive discipline) in which he honed his skills on his horn. He'd feel guilty every time he didn't make it, which was mostly every time. The necessity for work or even my asking him to please play into the clothes in the closet so I could write, and whatever else interrupted; family and friends' gatherings, the attention hungry cats, taking care of the everyday boring business of life, and on and on. . . .

Missing 20-30 minutes seems inexcusable when remembering that. It seems silly. So. . .I'm getting back to it, taking breaks when I need to, not worrying about how many hours I've put in (since who knows if I'll ever reach mastery) but instead focusing on practicing and recognizing when there are improvements. I've almost got the C major scale smoothly under my fingers. The exercises are getting less and less difficult and perhaps soon, I can play them faster. The practice is comforting, as is the zing in the tips of my fingers. It's a reminder that I showed up to the task today and it's a reminder that I must to return to it.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

I am beginning to re-engage with my ‪music‬, with ‪‎singing‬, with my ‪‎voice‬.

I haven't made any music formally since August. Honestly, aside from breaking out into a medley of songs I have sung in the past at bus stops, I haven't even been singing much at all. Sometimes, I wonder if I'll remember how my voice feels in my body again. This is plain and utter torture from which I have been needing to depart. Not knowing where to begin, I decided to start with my old tatty fake book that I bought about 20 years ago from a fake book dealer.

Back then, you had to buy the book from a dealer. There was no Amazon and you couldn't get it from a music store. You had to know a guy, or a guy who knew a guy. It had something to do with copyrights. The book's transcriptions weren't licensed (no royalties were dished out to the artists whose songs appeared in the book). It might still be illegal. Wikipedia certainly thinks so. Reading down the comments on some of the Amazon links to the fake books (that's what we always called them -- on Amazon, look for 'Real Book'), it looks like due to copyright law, you might never really get an original Fake Book like I have. I mean, you might get something pretty similar, which is probably good enough. 

In any case, I had been singing with a vocal jazz ensemble in Oregon at the time and our conductor, Dave Barduhn, knew a guy. The cost might have been 35 bucks, maybe 40. I don't even remember, now. It was a stretch for me to come up with the funds but I felt that it really was something I needed to do. I wasn't sure when the dealer was going to come around again. 

I had also committed myself at that time to jazz. I wanted to do what all the jazzers did, especially the horn players I had been hanging out with since the summer before my senior year in high school. I felt obligated to learn the songs, arpeggiate all the chords on staff paper, breathe in as many versions of each of the songs as I could and then make them my own.

The dealer wrote out the receipt and gave me the Real Vocal Book. I remember holding it as if it would break. It felt like some sort of initiation to me even if the transaction seemed super quick.

As I walked away, the dealer shouted after me, "Learn every single one of 'em. Memorize every tune."

I always meant to do that but then life. . . . 

It wasn't until maybe a week ago, I saw the book out of the corner of my eye from the bookshelf. Dogeared, weather worn, some of the pages just barely hanging on, some others marked for performances, and even others with notes on the pages of what to remember, or what I'd been forgetting. I remembered that fake book dealer and I remembered how dear to me music is. I connected that with a need to sing and a need to just start and have some kind of focus of my own that had nothing to do with anyone else's projects or what I thought I should be doing to chase singing for the sake of singing (I'll probably write on that more at some point). The book would give me that. I could trudge through at my own pace, learn the songs, their histories, the originating and key artists and so on. I could also add to what I know and see where I have been.

And so, that's what I'm doing. One song at a time, I'm just getting them into me, singing them a little or a lot and as slow or as quickly as I need to. I'm starting with my tattered book, not even skipping pages, not even thinking of my favorite songs to sing or listen to. 

Monday, September 29, 2014

'There's a Breaking in My Soul'

Sometimes you forget where you come from but then, there's a song.

On my Facebook page, I follow NPR Music as one of the ways I tap in to my constant craving to be in the know about new music. Last night, they posted a first listen from Bela Fleck & Abigail Washburn, the latter of which I had never heard until then.

The album they've posted is very sweet, a collaboration out of love, both musical and the loving coupling of husband and wife. As NPR says, the album is filled with an unexpected "understated, welcoming calm" that maybe is hard to come by in a world that expects anything with banjos to be active and maybe even raucous. The music here had some effect on me, yes.

But, it wasn't until later, after I had listened to the NPR First Listen, and after I had sought more music out by Abigail Washburn that a certain feeling hit me that hasn't in a long time. I found City of Refuge on Spotify, and again, it was so sweet. None of the songs really got me though, not until the last of them which was "Bright Morning Stars."

The song is called by some a lullaby. By others, a traditional folk song which has also been sung and recorded by Emmylou Harris and the Wailin' Jennys. For me, it took me back to a time when I was very young.

I started thinking about church, about my father making a commitment to be with the church when I was nine or ten and about how the music moved me there and how I wanted to sing it, to really be a part of it. That same ache was in me last night, as when I was in that church for the first time. It was like the music had found that yearning, a yearning which I didn't know was there or even quite what it pertained to.

There were soft tears, then. That yearning which I am still unable to explain. Maybe this song really captures that yearning. I think that for me, it does. Its simplicity and beauty. . .its references I don't even yet understand. . . . The bright morning stars, maybe all of us, rising as the daylight breaks. . . . And right now, literally, the day is breaking. I am listening to this song again and again. What a beautiful song.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

A Cry for Moksha in "I Wish I Knew How it Would Feel to be Free"

All day yesterday, I was internally singing this song. . . . At certain points of the day, I'd sing it aloud. While I walked up and down streets, say, or stood at bus stops, I'd sing "I wish I knew how it would feel to be free. . . ."

As with any earworm, I thought to find the cure and since Nina Simone is the singer who I first heard sing the song, I searched for one of her performances on YouTube.

I found what you are listening to above and realized that I had seen this Montreux performance from 1976 before and that this is probably one of my very favorite performances of the song that I have ever seen or heard.

One of the reasons I love this performance so much is because of the powerful statements that Nina Simone makes at the end of this tune: 
i already know
i found out
how it feels
not to be chained
to any thing
to any race
to any faith
to any body
to any creed
to any hopes
to any ...anything (!)
i know (!) how it feels to be free!
I know nothing of Nina Simone's spiritual background but her words reminded me of things I have read from the Vedic tradition about the freedom of freedoms, moksha and perhaps even the fleetingness of it in human form. She's tasted it, that freedom that I am pretty sure all of us crave, and wants to share it far and wide and of course, go back to that freedom, at last, unfettered.

Today, this is the interpretation that I am internalizing.

Whatever the case is, Nina Simone's interpretation of this song takes the meaning of it to a whole other level. It never hit me til yesterday and now this song means even more to me than it ever has.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Yes! Sometimes You Have to Chop Your Compositions Up With Razorblades and Stick 'em Back Together Again

Using vintage gear to create new sounds at Matt Channing's studio.
One of my favorite things about musical collaborations is the talks that happen in between recording sessions, jams, and rehearsals because I often get to learn a lot about craft, composition, recording, and music history.

Today, while editing in the studio with my friend (and collaborator in Transmit Regardless) Matt Channing, we discussed the band Yes as an influence to some of the work that we are currently putting together.

The influence is not necessarily the kind of influence that you might normally think of. We spoke more in terms of process, in this case. It turns out that Yes band members recorded their songs in bits as a way to compose. They'd record parts of songs and put ideas onto reel-to-reel 16-track tape and then later, with a razor blade, cut and arrange the chopped up bits and tape them together for the band to learn and perform live.

Another example of the tools we use in composing. Not
vintage, really, but how we create tracks like this:
Matt and I are doing something similar, although the gear we are using is a little more modern. We've been working this way for years now. We've essentially both gotten the same recording software to learn and create on and the same(ish) hardware. We record small bits, motifs, musical riffs, lyrics, tones, ideas and we arrange them in interesting ways. We also meet up and chat about song formatting, what tools might serve us on stage, and setting up the recordings for distribution, as well as building a band around the music that we are creating. We send little idea snippets to one another so we can fiddle around with them and then when we come back to the recording sessions, we tweak and add and subtract until we have compositions that we are happy with.  It's fun stuff and exciting, too. We use the tools we have and never really hold too tightly to what a composition should sound like until it's complete. The tracks just sort of create themselves by way of this process. It's a bit of an improvisation in order to create the form. 

Often as a result of these talks, I also have homework. It's part of the reason why I wanted to start this blog. Aside from writing about music that I have come across and subsequently have grown to love, I've wanted to keep track of some of this homework, as well as share and have conversations with others about the music that I'll be posting here and some of the ideas, too. The conversations help me. It's a part of my process. So here it is, assignment number one on this blog, a little documentary to watch called Classic Artist: The Yes Story

*photos by Tameca L Coleman.