Several years ago I bought and started to read a book by bassist extraordinaire Victor Wooten. Called simply The Music Lesson, Wooten tells a magic realism story of a strange music teacher who shows up in his life one day. I never got past chapter 2. Not because I wasn't interested- the book intrigued me- but because I now know I wasn't ready to hear the teacher on its pages. Last week I picked it off the shelf and started over.
Talk about getting blown away. When the student is ready, the teacher appears; when the mind is open, the book jumps off the shelf. I realized as I worked through the book that I needed to be more involved in making music before the book would make even greater sense to me. So, in the past 4 years I have been playing my trumpet a lot. I play in two bands- a Big Band and a community concert band- and a brass quintet. I have gone farther in my musicianship in the past 4 years than I would have believed possible. I still have a long way to go. I now see that what Victor and his teacher, Michael, have to share is where I am heading.
From the book's website:
Michael and the student decide on ten areas of Music to look at and explore from a completely unusual and unorthodox point of view. The starting point is simple and profound- as most simple things are.THE STORY
The Music Lesson chronicles the story of a young bass player desperately in need of improving. He awakens one day to find a strange man in his house. This man tells the young bass player that he is his teacher. "Teacher of what?" the student asks. "Nothing," the strange man replies. This is the start of an interesting and entertaining journey.
After choosing Music as a subject, the two musicians start on an expedition that opens the student's eyes, mind, and body to things he never before dreamed of. He quickly realizes that he is learning much more than Music. He learns, along that way, that as well as helping himself, he is actually helping his Life and the Life of Music in the process.
Music is a language and we learn language as babies by "jamming" with professionals at it- our parents. Yet we don't do that with music. With music we go to lessons with other amateurs like us. We do rote exercises. We don't feel good when we make mistakes. Wooten has a TED Ed talk on this. It's short and worth the listen.
As I read on in the book, I discovered that a synchronicity was occurring with several things going on in my life right now. Michael is teaching mindfulness and meditation, awareness and acceptance, meaning and celebration and gratitude- in other words the themes I have been studying and experiencing in the Attention and Interpretation Therapy course I am involved in with Dr. Amit Sood of the Mayo Clinic. I have also been working on developing a deeper mindfulness and meditation group for work including Tai Chi and Yoga. In addition I have been working through a book on Improvisation for the Spirit. All of these, and a few other thoughts in the past 5 months or so, meant I was ripe for what the book has to say.
In other words, I am ready to make a change in my music, excuse me- Music Life. It means I am going to have to listen and feel differently when I am working with Music. I can no longer just "play" music. I have discovered some things about being in the "groove" and dynamics, articulation, and listening to the rests. I have learned that zero is not nothing, but gives shape to the Music. I have to be involved with it. But I am not to work hard at it. I am to work easy at it.
Music is also about relationships- not just of the different parts, but the notes and rests with each other. It has to do with the relationship of emotions and thoughts. It is about the relationship of the people in the group with the people listening. It is even about the greater relationship with Music and Life and the world I live in.
Fortunately- I know the language, I can "read" it. I have listened to it and experienced in thousands of ways over the past 65 years. I have even "jammed" by singing along with some of the greats in the privacy of my car. I am now, finally, learning to speak it, to jam with it more fully, and to listen to the silence and emotions.
I have already been having a great time playing music over these past 4-5 years with these different groups. Now I am going to be part of the conversation, instead of just one of the voices and helping make and share Music.
You know what- I have absolutely no idea what any of that means. But I am looking forward to being there when it happens. I will keep you posted.