Wednesday, January 11, 2017

The F-word

I'm a little miffed that Mother Nature intervened to ruin our good plans for Sunday. It was such a disappointment to have to postpone the workshops and concert with Ken and Brad Kolodner. I realize we are in the middle of winter, but two inches of sleet, topped by an inch of snow and record setting low temps this past weekend?!? Here in central NC, there's nothing to do but wait for the mercury to rise and release us from our forced hibernation. Finally, four days later, we hit the mid-50's. That ought to do it!

Yes, before the winter storm of early 2017, Betsy and I were preparing to perform on a stage in front of an audience of 100+. Yikes! How does one do that? Well, it becomes pretty clear that FOCUS is everything. It's not a little thing. It is THE thing.

Don't get me wrong. It's not about perfection, although that would be nice. It's about being in the moment, aware and flexible enough to start at the beginning and to play to the end, no matter what happens!

I don't know about you, but MY mind is full of chatter ... to-do lists, anxieties, fears, judgments, what-if scenarios. It's difficult to turn off all that noise. It's true that I have experienced fleeting moments of pure bliss, playing music, in the flow ... until my mind notices. "Hey, wow, this is feeling great!" That's the kiss of death. As soon as the brain voices an opinion, it's all over.

One would think that playing music requires such attention that our brains would have no room to wander and get into trouble. Indeed, engaging one's mind is a strategy for silencing the chatter. The problem, intentionally or not, many of us rely too much on muscle memory and habit. We are good at rote memorization and repetition, but we don't really know what we're doing.

So, let's do engage our minds. Let's think about what we're doing. Focus on components of the tune, arrangement cues, technique, expression, balancing the sound with other ensemble members ... whatever is meaningful or helpful to you. For example, one of the best things I've ever done for my playing is to practice naming the chords in the chord progression. Mix in some description of what's happening in the tune or accompaniment, such as "circle around on D" "scale up to A" "octave E's" "grab Bb"  "drop to the mark". These become landmarks.

I'm still a work in progress, but I know the goal. FOCUS. In so doing we expand awareness, improve mental agility, calm the chatter, and open up a world of creative possibilities!

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