Shinybass Journal Entry 10/08/2018
The mind is a funny thing. It can focus, wander, and then focus again in the blink of an eye. We can be in the middle something important, and for a split second a thought pops in, walks around for a minute, then leaves. Sometimes that thought does more than pop in: it looks through the fridge and might try on some of your shoes. This is normal, I believe, for most people. It may happen more for people like me who have a hard time shutting the brain down. I’m always thinking.
Now let’s move this to our professional world. This is tricky (not nearly as tricky as for fighter pilots, however…). As musicians, we are supposed to focus on everything at once: The performance, the execution, the tone, the feel, the vibe, the smile, the energy, the edge of the stage, the volume, the ensemble, the setlist, the impending fight in the front row, the feedback in the monitors, the pressure I am applying to the strings, and occasionally, the correct note(s). How the heck are we supposed to do all this at once?
Well, it’s kinda what we do. A lot of it has become second nature, and the oneness of it all sort of takes over if we don’t think about it too much. And that comes with time, so if you are a young player ‘worried’ about all this, then don’t be. Come to think of it, I was never really worried about all these things. I just played and let the chips fall. I will say this – playing in an ensemble since age 8 helped all of that. One learns very quickly how to play and share with others in a large ensemble. And they want to cut funding for school band programs… shame.
So here’s a question I have been asked: ‘What do you think about when you play?’ Now, this can be taken two ways. As in ‘…because it certainly doesn’t sound like you know what you are doing…’ or ‘what is running through your head as you play?’ I’m hoping the question is more the latter than the former.
You know, it really depends on the night as to what I am thinking. I am usually not thinking as the steady stream of consciousness takes over. We let the brain get us there, then the soul takes over. Once the brain learns the songs, then the soul (should) take over from there. I say should because it doesn’t always work out as such. Nothing worse than thinking our soul is going to help our fingers figure out what our brain is supposed to know and NOBODY shows up to the party.
But many nights the fingers, soul, and brain are working in perfect harmony (not to be confused with perfect tuning, mind you, cause that never happens), then the mind, oh that wonderful creation, does, in fact, wander. So back to the original question…
The answer is, well, everywhere. There are several big thoughts that creep into my head almost nightly. One of my band teachers in elementary school was Ziggy Harrell, who apparently had quite a career with Woody Herman and playing in jazz circles. He taught me early on that jazz cats kept time with their toes (instead of a big distracting foot stomp). I find myself looking down and seeing my toes bobbing in my shoes, and then traveling back in time some 35 years, remembering the moment he told us this tidbit in class.
This past weekend, I happened to look up and there, in the crowd, was a guy waving his hand and pointing his finger toward me. I kept playing, and scanned back toward his way a couple minutes later, and he was still with arm outstretched, and I gave him a nod and a thumbs up. Right then I was transported to Bessie’s Boat House in Norfolk as a teen watching the Athens band Dreams So Real perform ‘Bearing Witness’ as I raised my arm to the bass player in hopes for acknowledgment. He gave me a head nod, and I was the happiest kid in the room. That band has long since broken up, but somehow that memory has stuck with me. Just a simple acknowledgement made my night, and therefore, I do my best to do the same. (Let’s be completely honest – not many folks ask to be acknowledged by the bass player).
I have countless other little tidbits I’ve taken away from interacting with folks, however, these two pop out today for some reason. I guess because sometimes we don’t realize just how far-reaching our actions can go. That kind word or bit of worldly advice, even in a brief interaction can carry someone through. So maybe, just maybe we can say some nice things, be genuine, and help others through a simple acknowledgement? Just a thought.
So there’s some of the mish mash that runs through my head on a night-after-night basis. All the aforementioned plus much, much more. Mostly, quite honestly, is about gear. I am always thinking about a different way to do something, maybe a tweak here or there to get it better. Always moving forward, at least that’s what I tell myself.
And for the musicians out there looking for a takeaway from this entry, I give you a few select words. Don’t think. Just play. Play the notes and if they are wrong, then maybe they are just wrong for this song. Keep trying. Never give up. Remember, most music advice was given to us in kindergarten: Listen, Share, Have fun, Play fair, Wash your hands, Clean up your mess. That’s really about it.
So go play some music. Now. Like put the device down and go play right now. If you don’t play an instrument, then start. If you really don’t want to, then turn on your preferred music streaming service and find an indie band that’s doing it because they have a dream. And then get outside and play. It’s nice.
See you on the road!