And Now, Today’s Musings on Self, Music, Writing and Employment

My dog, George, wants my attention. When he discovers that I’m occupied, he makes an old man groan and goes over to the window to look out over the back yard, his personal domain. There has been a trio of opossums out back this morning, resulting in George having to stay in as opposed to roaming around out there. I know it frustrates him, but I’d rather not have to try to either pry a dead opossum away from him, which would result in me bleeding, or have to take him to the vet because he’s been chewed on by the opossum.   Either way doesn’t seem positive so George is staying inside today. He’ll get his afternoon walk, but he’s not going out back until I’ve seen evidence of their departure.

Classes have ended for the semester at the community college where I’ve been teaching. I decided that this was my last semester teaching there. There’s no opportunity for advancement and I’m tired of teaching essentially the same three classes over and over again, which has been the case for the past six years that I’ve taught there. I have occasionally had the opportunity to teach a creative writing or literature course when the full time faculty can’t, but it doesn’t happen often and between that and the abysmal pay check I find it time to move on.

I’m a creative type through and through, which when combined with my personality, tendency toward ADD and various other things, leads to needing to have a certain element of change in my life from day to day. I don’t thrive in situations that are repetitious, such as the one noted above, and when they are I feel like I’m stagnating which quickly leads to losing interest in the project, work, or whatever it is I’m engaged in. This is one of the reasons why I work best as a musician when I’m dealing with multiple projects simultaneously; it builds variety into the workplace and I’m able to shift focus in a way where I don’t lose interest.

I’m also a bit odd when it comes to my creative expression. This is closely tied to my tendencies toward being both an introvert and, to an extent, an extrovert. I seem to function at my best musically when I’m working on projects with other musicians, particularly from a performance perspective, and I creatively feed off the interplay between the musicians in producing the resulting performance. However, when it comes to writing, my other means of creative expression, it’s something that I need to do alone, preferably in a quiet environment with few opportunities for distraction. This doesn’t mean that I don’t want to be involved in sharing with a community of writers or workshopping what I’ve written in order to get feedback, because I love that aspect of being a writer. What it does mean, however, is that when I am actually writing, I need that alone time otherwise I can’t get it done.

My blogs are a direct outgrowth of both of my interests, writing and music, and a way to work together the two aspects of my creative life in a way that makes sense. I’ve tried various ways to combine both of my major interests together. Originally I thought about songwriting as a means to do so, but found that while I am, upon occasion, good at writing poetry, that is not the case when it comes to writing song lyrics, so the blog seems to be one area where I can combine both interests well. When it comes down to it, in both areas what has really always excited me most is working with ideas, hammering them into shape and presenting them to the outside world. This has manifested itself in various types of writing, performing in different genres of music, and finding myself teaching both music and writing in one way or another.

So here I am once again down at the crossroads, not to make the proverbial deal, but rather to try to decide which fork in the road to take. I have come to the conclusion that while it might not be the most environmentally friendly route, I’m taking neither fork. What I need to do is not take the road most or less traveled, to borrow from Robert Frost, but instead make my own road and move on from there; so that’s what I’m doing and where this rambling monologue is going, a commitment to the creative life and acceptance of what goes along with it. There will be more on this and my usual topics in future blogs. Right now it’s time to start building, but first, a few minutes for George.

Perspectives on Performance – Finding the Spiritual in the Visceral

Different musicians have different approaches to performances, and how one approaches performance can say quite a bit about how one views music. Many of the musicians I have worked with have a more blue-collar approach and perspective. They do care about music very much, and it is their passion in life, but they approach the gig in the same manner as one would go to work. You arrive, set up, maybe socialize or get something to eat before starting, and when start time arrives, you go up and go to work. This is a very common approach, and is one that gets the job done while maintaining a level of professionalism and decorum. You’ve been hired to perform a service, and you deliver that service just as anyone would in any business relationship. It does employ your creative energies and specific skills, and you do get something more from it than the money, but it’s a job. There are also many musicians out there who carry a somewhat different perspective and approach to their performances. Most of these individuals tend to move in a higher skill set and mental attitude toward their profession than the usual bar band mien.

For these musicians, and while this is more common in classically trained circles it does extend to higher level musicians in most genres, each performance is a significant event that requires spiritual, emotional and mental connection and preparation going into the performance. The musicians prepare themselves as if they are performing a sacred duty, often following pre-performance rituals such as meditation, stretching, and centering prior to the performance. Every performance, regardless of the venue, audience, or any other venue is of equal importance and requires total focus and 100% dedication to giving the best possible delivery of the music to the audience that the performer is capable of rendering. There is an element of love and respect for the medium that goes into the preparations and intent behind this perspective that infuses the experience with a deeper seated meaning, making each performance an event in the performers’ lives as well as, hopefully, the audiences’.

From this type of perspective, each performance is both carried in the actual moment of the performance but also into the hearts and memories of all present, and if it is a successful moment, then it will be carried for years by those on the receiving end. It’s not over with the last note of the night. It nurtures the souls of the performers and the audience, leaving both better than they were prior to the performance and with the sense that life is best lived when one has the opportunity to have a long succession of such fulfilling experiences. For this type of musician, it’s not simply an evening of work, enjoyment, and some cash at the end of the night, though it is that as well, hopefully, but rather a fulfillment of their purpose in walking the planet and extending that relationship to whomsoever is willing to take the journey along beside them.

From the blue-collar working band performance perspective this train of thought might be met with a defensive perspective that the other approach is just a bunch of romantic drivel. So you have a performance, get over it and on to the next one. But herein lies the rub, why are you doing this? What are you getting out of it, and wouldn’t you like to get more than you are? One of the reasons for the difference in perspectives does lie in the types of performance situations the players find themselves in. Most classical and higher level popular genre performers are doing their jobs in venues that cater to specifically music. People go to these places solely for the music and with the intent of giving their focused attention to the performances. They’re not going to dance, meet and talk with friends, or find someone to go home with. They’re not going to drink away their troubles, worries, and concerns, nor are they going to watch their favorite teams on the big screens while the bands are doing what they can to garner their attention. They are there for one reason only, for your performance and the music you are presenting to them, for them.

How we go about things as performers does have an impact on the outcome and so do our expectations and perspectives on things. If you are happy and content as things as they are do you need to change your approach? Not if you are truly content and desire what you are reaping from your performances. For many years I have been performing with bands and musicians who have the more blue-collar approach to performance. They have a definite passion for music, and they do well with what they do, but it is definitely a more informal perspective on making music than what I encountered so many years ago at the conservatory. In some ways this has led me to experience more freedom, specifically from performance anxiety, and has led to some risk taking that I wouldn’t have taken in a classically oriented situation. For the last two years I have been straddling both worlds and have been encountering both perspectives on a more regular basis. This has led me to reconsider the approach to performance that I want to take because if the medium is my passion, shouldn’t I dedicate myself to presenting it in the best manner I can every time I perform? Doesn’t it deserve my full focused attention and abilities? How one approaches something often dictates what one gets or achieves from the experience. Go beyond the immediate, and look to the world.