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Musicing About Music

January 28, 2013

There were people all around me but all somewhat hushed. Someone gave me a guitar, and I was suddenly playing a Keith Jarrett tune along with four other musicians. Following the chords was fairly easy. Someone else was doing that too, so I could watch and copy. There came a moment however when it was my turn to solo – something I do not do. Among the musicians playing was a dear friend and colleague Brian Katz who cheerfully urged me on. Through some strange process I was playing through the changes and sounding okay. Brian was playing along and smiling, yet it seemed as if he had put a spell on me, I was doing things that I had never atoscar_cacerestempted before or since and for a couple of minutes I didn’t recognize myself. This is an example of learning through induction, a process that succeeds by influencing someone to do something.

I had experienced something similar a few years previous while in France, where I had been studying with Maestro Oscar Caçeres. The school where we worked had been burgled, and in a gesture of generosity, Caçeres volunteered to do a fundraiser for the school where he would play duets with all his students. He chose duets and quartets for us to play, and our lessons turned into rehearsals for a few weeks.

I have been thinking about the DSCN2957duet we played – My Lord Willoughby’s Welcome Home – because for the past few weeks i have been reading Wolf Hall and Bringing Up The Bodies, Hilary Mantel’s account of Henry the 8th. After about 35 years, I found out whom the title referred to. The welcome home part probably refers to the fact that he was baron of an estate in Suffolk who also spent a great deal of time at the court in London.

Dutifully I worked on my part, but now realize only had it partially ready. On the day of the concert Caçeres let us know that he was so worried about the program and had stayed up all night practicing. When I performed alongside him it was an easy, graceful experience  and I played better than ever before. I now realize that Caçeres carried me a goodly part of the way, his feeling for the music and deep listening made it easy to play the right notes, in a very musical way. It was a very powerful experience, and I still remember it clearly. One of the best ways to teach is in this way – to share the essence of the music. Charles Seeger used the term musicing about music to express the notion that one could communicate via the experience without the verbiage.

One of the corollaries of this occurs from time to time in the teaching studio: a student and teacher playing through a piece together will sometimes make the same mistake at the same time. It is as if something possessed them at the same time to stumble in unison. At first, I used to think this was by chance, but it has happened often enough that I believe it to be a natural phenomenon. If we can be drawn together by a common thread to play better than ourselves, we can also be drawn together to make false steps. Once I brought a newly copied score to a musician who started to play through it. She added some notes that were not in the score, that I myself had also played a few days before and subsequently taken out. She had not seen that version – and yet played the same notes that I had before deleting them. Sometimes we a drawn by the same thread but at different points in time.

Nasruddin took a jobt as an imam in a town not too far from his own. In this town there was a tradition: people saved their money and when they had enough gold coins to fill up an earthenware pot, they buried the pot full of coins in their gardens. Once a year, they dug up the vessels from their hidden spots, looked at their coins and then buried them again. When Nasruddin learned about this practice, he found an earthenware jug, filled it with pebbles and buried it. `But Nasruddin, that won’t do.’ said the townsfolk, `You are supposed to fill it with gold.’
`Good people,’ the Nasruddin laughed, `as long as you are not going to spend it, what difference does it make if it is gold or pebbles?’

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