Wednesday, January 31, 2018

3.32- The Tuning Slide

Weekly Reflections on Life and Music

The heavens, whose aspect makes our minds as still
As they themselves appear to be,
Innumerable voices fill
With everlasting harmony;
The towering headlands, crowned with mist,
Their feet among the billows, know
That Ocean is a mighty harmonist;
Thy pinions, universal Air,
Ever waving to and fro,
Are delegates of harmony, and bear
Strains that support the Seasons in their round…
-William Wordsworth, On the Power of Sound

One of the joys of our winter stay on the Gulf Coast in Alabama is the ability to practice on the balcony overlooking the beach and water. I put my silent mute in and do my daily routine whenever it is warm and sunny enough, which is at least 75% of my time there. One day recently I finished my 30-40 minutes of playing and then sat and meditated for another 15-20 minutes. The result was the following reflection on both the practice and how music itself pulls us in and we become part of something greater than any one of us could ever be.

The surf is the constant background. It is a rhythm without a pattern, or better yet, a rhythm and pattern combining into breath. Its constancy is a heartbeat, a watery drum keeping all in motion. There are days it is as soft as a baby’s sleeping breath. This is, after all the Gulf of Mexico, not the expansive ocean. Even at fifty yards it can easily be overpowered by my muted horn.

But it is never lost. It is a pianissimo of my inner heartbeat, a drum cadence. It allows, even invites, movement. My long tones follow in order. They fall in sync with the surf. Then I play scales and it becomes a counterpoint. Play the chromatics too fast and I can lose the rhythm, the pattern under it all.
Slow down, the surf calls.
Follow me, the rhythm beckons.
In my time frame the surf is infinite, perpetual. Any time of day or night I can walk out on the balcony and it will be there. When it isn’t, life itself will have come to an end. This surf, formed by the world-wide waters, has been the breeding source of life itself. It shapes and reshapes the shorelines, constantly changing and challenging what even human grandiosity thinks is permanent. It will destroy and remold what we- and it- have built.

Then come the louder days. Gale force winds whip the tops off large swells. Though it is still the Gulf, its power is beyond what we can know. Most such days I am forced back inside, unable to compete in sound or comfort to the surf. In between the extremes, though, after a storm has moved through, shifted the winds, and roiled the surf, I can take the routine back to the balcony. Now the sound and pattern of my playing shifts. I get a little more aggressive, a little more stubborn in my insistence that I be heard, even by me.

I never win, humbling for a trumpet player to admit. Perhaps if I removed the mute my sound would carry a little further but I don’t want to disturb neighbors- or the surf itself. I must be in tune and time with the surf. Chromatics, Clarke #1, have to fall into the proper places, not just the silence but the ebb and flow of sound. The exercise on thirds must find the note solid in the right place of the surf’s rhythm. Amazing how many things it takes to make music. But with time and experience they do fall into an intuitive second nature. Harmony.

At times I realize I am also hearing and seeing other parts merging in this chamber composition. The birds in the tree below, the silent hopping of the sparrows on the edge of the balcony, the gulls laughing, pelicans soaring and diving. Whom am I to intrude, to insist on the importance of my part over theirs? That’s the harmony. I am not here to force my will on that of the world. I must not or the music will be more than dissonant, it will be destructive.

In between exercises and runs I pause. One is to rest as much as one plays, is the old adage. Here, on the balcony, that is a pleasure. As I stop the surf remains. It brings a moment of refreshment before I pick up the horn again. The others instruments continue their own song, unaware that I am listening. The call and chatter of the gulls, Laughing Gulls, in fact, challenging my hubris that I of all creatures can think I can accompany the greater symphony. Or they just do what they are supposed to do simply because their melody is needed to fill out the sound.

I take an extra 15 minutes at the end of the routine to just improvise over different chords, working on my favorite tunes I want to play at jams- Amazing Grace, This Land is Your Land, and Horace Silver’s The Preacher. They are now my contributions to uniqueness, more than just routine, foundation, they are different every time, influenced I am sure by the mood of the Gulf and the melody playing around me.

I am both humbled (kept in my proper place)
And empowered (given the direction to do what I can do)
By these practice times on the balcony.
  • Humbled at how little power I truly have;
  • Humbled that I am allowed to accompany such beauty;
  • Humbled that the surf and sand, birds and beach could care less!
  • Empowered because I, too, am part of this symphony simply by being here in this moment;
  • Empowered to play and seek ongoing harmony with nature’s music;
  • Empowered by the inner and outer beats of the Eternal Heart.
Music is a gift of God!

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