GLFCAM — Sustainable practices: the discipline of rest
As a musician I feel that I have been cultured to believe in hard work, achievement, etc. “Become an excellent musician so that you can receive attention, money, respect, or even more dire so that you can survive, make a living, not have to work a side hustle that (potentially) crushes your soul.” The artistic purpose of “personal-achievement” seems divisive and destructive to me.
I have been playing the guitar now for over 25 years. The pursuit has always been one of attempting to unite my soul’s expression with the physical act of touching an instrument, in between my soul and the guitar exist the two realms of my mind and my body. Cultivating a musical mind has meant ear training, learning theory, learning the sounds of various musical traditions, histories, what is a downbeat? what is a swing feel? what does it mean to bounce? what does it mean to resolve on the 10th beat of a 12 beat cycle, harmony, counterpoint, subdividing rhythms, study and endless study. The practice of touching an instrument, endless hours sitting with the guitar, playing notes that sustain, playing notes that move quickly, stretching fingers to play the cool chords, making my thumb play in 5 while my index middle and ring fingers play in 4, or any other polyrhythms; micro coordination, how to make a rasgeo of sextuplets sound like a thick wave of sound crashing into the 3rd pulse of a solea. This stuff takes time and many many repetitions, intense focus that overrides the body’s stubborn habits. Intense focus can result in wear on the hands, which are attached to the wrists arms elbows shoulders back and hips. My hands and myself have known overwork and overuse.
Over the years I have had many bouts with injury, tendonitis, tendonosis, burn out, soreness. Through this I have learned many ways to maintain the mind-body; dance, yoga, weightlifting, physical therapy, psychoanalysis meditation etc. Recently I had a week with many gigs rehearsals and opportunities to perform music with people who have more experience than me. As a result I came to a day where I had to force myself to do nothing because I had been working too hard. Whenever these moments happen I experience what I recognize as an inevitable embodiment of a mind that does not want to rest. A mental state where pursuit, ambition, perfection, improvement etc. become a relentless obsession. The body is an amazing mirror of the mind, and though I was pursuing my vitality through my art, my flesh was becoming slow and tired and clumsy. (Obviously one can’t play an instrument in a delicate and soul touching way with clumsy flesh.)
As a musician I feel that I have been cultured to believe in hard work, achievement, etc. “Become an excellent musician so that you can receive attention, money, respect, or even more dire so that you can survive, make a living, not have to work a side hustle that (potentially) crushes your soul.” The artistic purpose of “personal-achievement” seems divisive and destructive to me. Lately I have been reflecting a lot on how my own performance and creation practice can be less interested in achievement or personal gain; accolades etc. and more interested in being a catalyst for connection and gathering. The myth of progress is not one that serves me well.
So I have been pondering questions related to my musical practice.
Can the music draw people and and inspire them to engage with their soul response? Can the performance create a space where the people share those responses with each other? Can the press coverage be about community more than it is about virtuosity or mastery of craft? Can the compositions lean towards playability? Can I nurture my performers’ strengths instead of demanding them to overcome weaknesses or transcend the limits of their technique or instrument? Can my craft be so solid that is can just serve expression? Can I leave the myths of “cutting edge” “technical mastery” “virtuosity” “eliteness” alone and pursue concepts that create space for listening, a shared sense of time, sensation.
I’ve been interested in the concepts of intention and transmission. What is the intention behind my practice, compositions, performances. Why am I starting this band, writing for this ensemble? What am I offering these performers and listeners? What am I saying to this interviewer? What am I telling people about the work and its intent? How can I set myself and collaborators up to transmit something that draws people into their own creativity, and that draws them towards each other?
Recently I began study with a guitarist names Nino de Pura. What I encountered in my studies with this master of guitar technique is that there is a playful way to deepen one’s technique. Studies can be explorations of a physical (musical) gesture, a fascination with a concept that is eluding the composer or the player/practitioner. He has an incredible technique that delivers intense musical sensation, explosive, emotive, very powerful. But his manner of teaching is very relaxed, demonstrative, fun, and his physicality when playing these incredible passages is totally relaxed. Of course, while studying with him in Sevilla Spain I have often felt that I need another lifetime to pursue this craft, that I am attempting to learn something that will continue to elude me beyond the years I have left. But the spirit of enjoyment and exploration is something I can practice immediately and for the remainder of my time creating music.