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Monthly Archives: January 2015

Musicians can get on each other’s nerves. Whether being personal tension or artistic tension, it happens. Whether being projected onto others or kept to yourself, it happens.

It not only happens, it’s inevitable.

When we find ourselves getting angry, annoyed, and picking fights, we should stop and think.

Why did we start becoming friends in the first place? Why did we start a band in the first place? Why did we play shows with each other in the first place?

Because of music. Music destroys boundaries. Music makes connections.

Any tension caused between musicians is not music’s fault. It is projected onto the music and sometimes called “musical differences”. Tension is made up of ego trips and personal vendettas.

Why can’t people rise above themselves and choose music instead? It’s a simple choice.

When we choose music, we’ll find solace. When we check our ego at the door and apologize, we open up the door making more music with this person, to making more art. Only renewed friendship and happiness can come out of that.

A lot of the time as musicians we are filled to the brim with self importance: “I need to be heard! Can you guys quiet you parts?” “Can’t you read music? Come on, we’re wasting time!” “He’s not a good guitarist anyway. We shouldn’t have him in the band.” “Can I get a couple more bars of soloing time?”

What’s fascinating, however, is that great music is anything but self indulgent. Music is built on support: symphonies are made beautiful by the whole rather than the few or even the soloists, bands are awesome because of the chemistry of the group more than individual virtuosity, a great piano sonata is built on the performer’s sensitivity and respect for the composer’s work and the composer’s sensitivity and respect for the work around him ad infinitum.

There is not one brick that is of most importance in a house. All the bricks are needed for the house to be a house. Let’s not forget the support we receive and we should give to others as musicians.

When we practice we have a safety net. It’s always there when we fall. “Oh it’s just practice!” we tell ourselves as we slip up and forget where we are. The comfort of that safety net lulls us into a feeling of security as we practice. We’ll just start over and begin again.

Then performance happens.

The safety net is taken away. We have to walk across the wire for real. If we fall we fall with the ground being our destination. If we mess up we mess up with awkward silence and panic being our destination. We can’t just start over or repeat the phrase until we get it. This is for real.

What if we practiced without a net more often? Perhaps it’s not enough just to have a net all the time. Granted it has its purpose, we all need the net, but knowing how the experience of not having a safety net feels like is crucial.

The more we get comfortable with the safety net the more we can be ourselves, the more we can let the art shine.

The Internet changes the way people read. We take things in bite sized chunks, always skimming for more. It is the antithesis to books where one has to follow a narrative or argument for a long period of time, connecting the dots patiently.

With Spotify, Itunes, Facebook, and Youtube, listening to music has also taken a whole new turn.

Listening shows the same symptoms as those of reading: shorter attention spans take bands and artists in bite sized chunks. These chunks are not whole songs, let alone albums, but a collage of songs pastiched together. Enter the mixtape, enter the playlist, enter the mashup, enter the shuffle.

The medium changes the way we listen to music.

For better or for worse…now that is the question.

I forget who said this, but the subtle nuance of this phrase cannot be shared enough: “The guy who invented the ship also invented the shipwreck”.

Mistakes come with making music. We can’t separate performance from slipping up. Failure comes with creating beauty. It’s built into the system of music.

Should we mope about that? No! I say embrace the shipwreck. Encounter it, searh for it, and use it to your advantage. Go as Walt Whitman declares:

“O to struggle against great odds, to meet enemies undaunted!
To be entirely alone with them, to find how much one can stand!
To look strife, torture, prison, popular odium, face to face!
To mount the scaffold, to advance to the muzzles of guns with
perfect nonchalance!
To be indeed a God!”

For behind every outstanding performance are little shipwrecks that led up to it.

There is a short tale about Poseidon, god of the sea, who is tasked by the administration of the waters with doing all the accounting of the oceans. He is so swamped with paper work that he has no time to reign over the sea (his real calling), let alone catch a glimpse of it. He dreams that one day, at the end of the world maybe, he’ll be able to “make a quick little tour” of the sea.

Poseidon’s anxiety can be likened to ours as musicians. We feel like we are swamped with practicing, with mixing our next album, with making our music just right. The problem is that we get caught up with all of this polishing to the point of paralysis. Our music doesn’t get out there. We never get out to the sea.

It’s safe to perform at an open mic, to put your music online, to organize a concert, to put yourself and your music out there.

It’s risky to sit on the sidelines, to procrastinate with your music.

Like Poseidon, we all have the potential to be musicians. It’s a matter of whether we can throw that paper work to the side and start being the artists we are.

Inspired by Franz Kafka’s “Poseidon”