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“… walking in this house of bones…” Linda Hogan

March 28, 2016

It has been a marvelous privilege to have students write music as they study with me. Many times we see the concept of progress as a ladder to climb rather than a vista to experience. What I wish most for my students is to have the joy of playing something with confidence and sharing it in some manner. I have done this with students at all levels and in various styles from traditional notation to tablature. One of the ways I used to teach teenagers who couldn’t read music was to get them to compose a work then write it out in tablature. This dispelled the fear of reading since they had written something and in doing so found how much patterning was involved in music.

IMG_20160320_140910346At university most of the compositions I coach people through are in the finger-style idiom. Students typically learn a piece by a known master and then compose a work of their own in the same tuning. I have been impressed at how often these pieces drift into baroque or renaissance styles when the student often has no knowledge of that musical period. It is as if there is a need to go back before going forward. To discover the ways in which chords and melodies were strung together in an earlier time.

I am reminded of this lyric from the 1969 song In The Court of the Crimson King:The yellow jester does not play/But gently pulls the strings/And smiles as the puppets dance/In the court of the crimson king. We are always looking back as we look forward and some of the most progressive music needs deep roots. Certain images entrance us: the jester, the puppets and the royal court will grace us a thousand more times in songs and poems.

When we think of ourselves as music creators our listening changes. Sara McLachlan laughed about her early piano recitals saying, “We were always waiting for the person playing to make mistakes so we wouldn’t feel so bad”. When students play their own music for each other they listen for ideas they might themselves employ. They listen for the ways someone else solved problems and ways to use those solutions. One of the best ways to own the music is to create it.

One night the IMG_20160320_135152264Nasrudin dreamt that gold pieces were being put into his hand: first one, then two and three, until there were nine. At this point he whispered in his dream “please let there be ten”. He was woken by the barking of dogs and looked to see that his hands were empty. He closed his eyes very quickly trying to recapture the dream, saying over and over “Nine gold pieces is a wonderful gift.”


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