Wednesday, August 22, 2007

A beautiful space

Lessons are always waiting to smack you in the face when you least expect it.

After several hours of baking in the sun like a raisin, playing my guitar on the streets of Alexandria, VA, I was curious to see what the crowd of people were so intently gathered around across the way...Guitar on my back, I strode over to the shade, and joined the curious onlookers.

It was Jamey! Jamey Turner is awesome. He plays the harmonica. The glass one, that is. This dude is baaad! (that's good, by the way.) He's got this table with all different wine glasses strapped to it. The glasses are filled with water, and when he runs his hand along the edge of the glass, it rings. (I'm sure y'all have done this before while washing dishes.) The big ones ring with a lower pitch, and the smaller ones emit a higher tone. He's got 'em set up so he can play any song he wants to on the table of glasses.

Since they're tuned with the amount of water in the glass, and water evaporates, the musician has to be on his toes in regards to the tuning.

Jamey has one of the best ears I've ever seen. He'll start to play a piece, and stop, say "oops, this glass is giving me a slightly flat E," fill it with some more water until it's correct, and then proceed. One time, I saw him get ready to play a piece by J.S. Bach. He needed to tune a glass to an F#. Just as he was about to, a nearby Steamboat let off a tremendous whistle. "Ah, perfect!" he exclaimed. Apparently, the steamboat was letting off an F#.

I saw Jamey when I was a little kid. I thought it was the coolest thing, and I went home and tried the glasses myself. Needless to say, it's a lot harder than it looks!

So anyway, there I am, watching him excitedly tell the crowd about the instrument. A girl asked him to play "Fur Elise". "I don't know that one, but I'll play you this one.." He launches into the fourth movement from Beethoven's 9th symphony, "Ode to Joy."

Wow. From these wine glasses there came a sound so pure, so beautiful...But it wasn't just the glasses. It was as if something was flowing through Jamey. Music is the word I'm looking for.
It came through his arms, through his hands, out from the glasses, and to the footsore tourists.

It created a space of beauty, of peace, and spoke as only music can. There was no Jamey while he was playing the piece. Just music. When the piece was finished, he returned, smiled, and told us some more about what he was doing.

As a young musician, I'm constantly trying to prove my worth with my guitar, and I'm always around people who do the same. Both young, and not so young. It's exhausting. It's a battle of six strings attached to a piece of overpriced wood. And every time I go on youtube, I lose. There's always a child prodigy on there, ripping it up, like the ten year old playing "Eruption."
(Thanks for that link, Connor!)
And it's never a beautiful space that these battles take place in. (This, in my opinion, has nothing to do with the use of distortion, so sit down, old people and jazz snobs. You haven't found conclusive proof to ban overdrive pedals. For that sound can be pure, in it's own way, just as a wolf howling is as haunting as a nightingale singing.)
No, on this battlefield, the air is stifling with competition, and pointlessness. Even the winners
lose, just as in war.

But when I saw Jamey play, and Jamey disappear, and Jamey become a conduit for this beautiful thing called "Music," and in turn, create a space that was a fleeting respite from the onslaught of violence and anger of the world...I saw him create a beautiful space. There was no musician to prove his point. (And if anyone could prove a point, Jamey could, as he's such a high level musician. But he didn't bother...He just played!)

It was cool.

And while my teachers had been telling me this following bit for a while, it really made sense watching Jamey. They said..."Use technique not for technique's sake, but to free your hands so they can play whatever your heart wants them to play."

I'll leave you with a quote from Victor Wooten's book, "The Music Lesson."

"Aw, yeah! Michael says yous is real good, yous just don't know it yet. Yous just gotta
stop playing de bass, and starts playing music."


The Lightspeakers said...

Wow Josh, I somehow missed the fact that you had blog set up till I saw it in Bonesighs newsletter this month.
Better late than never to comment on your piece "A beautiful Space".
I'm not a musician yet your description wasn't lost on me, you are just as good with words as with music, but then for some of us who enjoy them so much, they can be one and the same.
Anyway, your words were music to my ears.....yeah corny, just couldn't let that opportunity go by. It's Monday...had to amuse myself.
Just keep being as authentic as you are....keep being in the knowing of who you are, that's what we all want to hear.

Anonymous said...

You are so right, Josh! The music is magic, and the musician the magician. But the beauty of the trick seems to come from somewhere else. No matter what the art form, I think the best plan is to be so doggone good at it, actual GREATNESS has a place to flow through. My 2 cents, anyway... keep writing, pondering, and making music. We need more like you!

patrickwilsonwelsh said...

Dude, you are so right. I've been "doing battle" with guitar since long before Myspace -- in fact, for 42 depressing years.

All the time longing for transcendent musical conversation, for cats who are as good at listening as they are at playing. And I have seen an example of this, once. A group led by the former drummer for Vince Guaraldi (Charlie Brown's Christmas), a fellow named Jerry Granelli, playing with his son on bass, and with a couple of absolutely awesome guitarists.

So we have all seen awesome guitarists. They grow on trees. But these guys were, indeed, different. They were listening so intently to each other in a nearly pure improvisational idiom. They deferred to each other so perfectly. ANytime any one of them found a cool idea, all the others got real soft, and listened intently, and then they all pounced selflessly on the new idea, to elaborate it as well as they could.

It was breathtaking.

So one of these magical people was David Tronzo:

Tronzo, who teaches guitar at Berkley in Boston, is re-inventing several things about guitar, including its use as a form of what I would have to call -- prayer.

And he is reinventing how to teach guitar, more thoroughly, with more discipline and selfless dedication.

So I honor you, Josh, for learning the lessons of music as prayer, and for following that with you heart.

Spirit has in mind some musical agenda for you. If you open your heart to it completely, then it will suddenly cease to be about competition or comparison. Your music will just be awesomely yours, uniquely yours.


Patrick Wilson-Welsh
(guitarist, songwriter, software consultant, meditator, troublemaker)