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Your Guitar is a Spirit Horse

July 9, 2012

Your Guitar is a Spirit Horse

Making music is a bit like magic. What makes a melody melodic – a mysterious coming together of singable pitches and memorable rhythms? Some pop songwriters have a gift for hooks – those especially memorable bits of a song that stick in our head, but as to what particular things that render notes melodic is a mystery. I like the definition given by an ethnomusicologist, “ melody is when the heart sings.”

Sometimes I think back to the early times of shamans – music carried them to the spirit world. For this they used various percussive instruments like shakers around the legs or rattles in the hands, which accompanied the chanting. At this point in history the horse was the fastest means of transport, and shamans used a spirit horse to travel to the spirit world.

The strings on a modern guitar sit on a small piece of bone called a saddle that sends the vibrations to the top. I like to think that somehow this history has been maintained, that while we live in a modern age, there is a tiny bit of the ancient left behind. Even the name saddle conjures up horses. The bowed stringed instrument shown below has a horse head at the top. Many of our bowed and plucked stringed instruments were first developed in the steppes of Asia.

I like to think of the guitar as a modern spirit horse, and the coming together of melody, rhythm and harmony moves us outside of time and space to the land of unspoken dreams. Great performances have a way of doing that. Great actors have held an audience rapt while bombs dropped outside the theatre. In modern times Patrick Stewart comes to mind, and while watching Star Trek: Next Generation I am always riveted by whatever he says.

Our guitar is just a vehicle but it is one that can make magic happen. When we play we enter into a dialogue even when we are alone. Playing the Sor b minor study, we are communing with Sor’s spirit, and in some ways the dialogue includes every recording you have heard of that piece and everyone who has played it. We may also share music with the great creative spirit that surrounds us [Buddah, Allah, Yaweh, God etc.]: may the circle be unbroken.

One day the Hodja invited his friends over for dinner. He told them that he was going to prepare a meal with roasted quails. Nasreddin’s friends, in their quest to baffle him, thought of a prank and came to dinner prepared.

When the quails were cooked, the Hodja placed them in his old, big, tin serving platter and put the lid on to prevent them from getting cold. He brought the covered platter to the dinner table and went back to the kitchen to bring other things. While he was in the kitchen, the well-prepared pranksters, hid the platter with the cookedquails and replaced it with another one that contained live ones.

When Nasreddin  was ready to serve the dinner, he opened the lid of the platter and all the quails flew out. The Hodja watched the birds in astonishment, darting this way and that , eventually flying out the windows.

`Sublime Allah’, he spoke looking up, `it is very well that you gave life to these cooked birds, but how are you going to reimburse me for the butter, salt and tomato paste I used?



From → 10 Rules

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      • “Earth’s Shadow” at The Canadian Music Centre was my favorite project of the entire night!
        It was a very rare and unique experience to be able to witness the incredibly intimate relationship between musician and dancers. Most dance performances do not afford the audience an opportunity to directly observe the subtle yet powerful communication that occurs between musician and dancer(s) and vice-versa. At first, my focus alternated between narrowing in on the dancers and their movements, and then being drawn into the musician (the talented William Beauvais) and his music.
        After bouncing back and forth between musician and dancers, dancers and musician- as if watching and experiencing a “sensory rich tennis match”- I began to witness the ways in which the dancers and musicians co-created and informed one another! I couldn’t tell whom was inspiring whom. The musician appeared to create a sound that perfectly matched the dancer’s movements, while the dancers appeared to move in precision with the musical transitions. I had never before seen the romance of music and movement at such up close and personal levels. A true gift.

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