Monday, December 29, 2008
“Once Poets resounded over the battlefield; what voice can outshout the rattle of this metallic age that is struggling on towards its careening future? …. Let such a person go out to his daily work…where greatness is lying in ambush….” Rainer Maria Rilke [Fragment of an Eligy]
I’ve come back to this line by the poet Rilke time after time. I think what it means to me is when entropy, that is the rush towards more speed, volume, shock and consumption, is the order of the day it is the stillness and authentic feeling that is all that will remain when the battle is done. By battle I mean my own drive to succeed and be heard amidst the great clamor of musicians and media competing for attention—with more money and better skills at politicking their ways into gigs than I have. Earlier this month I played a gig with a band. For a solo artist like myself it means releasing any ideas of working my brand of Mojo on a crowd. Not that I don’t enjoy it—I do, immensely. Having been in bands, combos, orchestras and choirs all my musical life I love the shared breathing and energy. I remember in one of my bands several times people actually walked up to the stage and would say things like; “You guys need to play softer. We want to hear his voice not your damn drumming (or other instrument).” This never went over well with my band mates of course. But it points out that whatever gift given me is one of peacefulness and calm through my music and it is best heard in your CD player, solo or with really sensitive musicians. But that is only my opinion today.
Before this sounds like I’m a Prima Dona let me say that it has nothing to do with my ego and all to do with being that conduit of deep stillness that has been there from the start. I remember working in my dad’s construction company office as a boy and complete strangers commenting on how calm it seemed when I was there. When I worked at a drug treatment center the counselors and medical staff would hang out in my office referring to the contact high they felt around me. My 17 years as a massage therapist has really let me focus that peacefulness and it permeates my music I feel. So when I was recently with a loud group who like to bang the hell out of every drum in sight I felt a little lost. At one point I noticed about four different tempos in our combo. The dancers were following some internal tempo so that cool. Nonetheless, I knew people were there to dance to a banged away on my Hang drum and Cajon and Udu so much that my hands became red, swollen and very painful. When we took a break several people mentioned how they had come to hear my Hang but that they were leaving because they couldn’t hear me and obviously the sound system sucked. It was my system. Oh well. Then I remembered I use it for solo gigs. Hmmm must rethink this. Return to the Human Jukebox days or book more “sit down” venues?
Having paid my dues in countless bars, clubs, parties, conventions, conference and dinners where I was seriously just background music, and let me tell you: that is just about paying bills and getting the next gig—I’m in no hurry to do that again and regularly turn down private party, dinner and wedding gigs. Not that I think I’m too good for them; and if the economy keeps spiraling downward I may accept more. My current instruments like the Hang drum, Native American flute and guitar and vocals are really more intimate instruments. You can only get so much sound out of a Hang. After awhile it is like banging the hood of your car if people can’t hear it. Professional musicians know that more volume does not equal intensity but rather a more concentrated focus of intention with your playing. In fact things like changing the volume, or dynamics, creates amazing interest and can build energy into a frenzy and release. Enthusiasts think louder means energy. Ugh. It doesn’t any more than eating a beautiful meal as fast as possible increases its flavor. In my Hospice work I’ve learned that my Native American flute music created a space for healing as opposed to healing outright. When we hear music that is coming from that Soul place our beings recognize it which is why people say it is so peaceful and calming or soothing.
Being a solo artist is challenging in the sense that you are completely exposed and there are no other instruments to hide behind. You are ON the whole time and the commitment to be present and in the moment can be daunting. It is something I relish but know how much it will take out of me. Being a sideman in a group is fun for a while but then comes the real work of creating a space for people to join you so we can all transcend together through the music. It doesn’t always happen sure, but it stands more of a chance without the rattle of this metallic age. Many of you have heard me perform in various settings and I would really love to hear about your thoughts to this blog or on what your experience as an audience member was. I am constantly humbled on how articulate and insightful you all are.
Happiest memories for the New Year!