I used to believe that music is something we do. Now I know that music is who we are.
Last night I performed with Randy Bales (guitar, vocals) and Cathy Luo (percussion, bass) at the unique, cozy, and inviting Angelica’s Bistro in Redwood City, California. (See this NY Times article about the “rebirth” of downtown Redwood City.) I’ve written a bit about the experience of preparing for this gig. Last night the learning continued, as I recognized that I had always seen music as a set of skills I had, a job that I did, a responsibility like my education. I was very dedicated and disciplined about practicing and building my skills in music, and I had many opportunities to perform on great stages around the world as a very young child. As with most of my accomplishments in life, I never acknowledged myself. I went through life seeking acknowledgment from others, believing that the more I did, the more likely I would be to receive what I most wanted. What may appear to an outside observer to be ambition, determination, and drive, was in fact the passionate pursuit of acknowledgment from others.
I did not realize at the time that what I really wanted was to acknowledge myself, and to believe in myself without needing to constantly seek approval. I did not have that skill, because I was so busy practicing how to see what was missing from my life. I was so busy doing more, that I failed to receive the acknowledgment that was already available to me at every step of the way. Even if others were acknowledging me, I could not see it for what it was, because I had not honed those skills of recognition. I knew how to receive criticism, and I knew how to drive myself to do more. Those were my greatest skills.
In my recent journey with personal growth through music, I have come to experience, in my body and spirit, the deep acknowledgment of self that can come through making music. You cannot “do” music. Everything you offer in music-making is an expression of who you are. There is beauty in all of it. But if you are doing music in order to receive acknowledgment from others, you will miss a very fundamental opportunity.
I have learned, by total immersion in my greatest fears and weaknesses, to acknowledge myself and others through the experience of music improvisation. The backdrop of this was my extensive training in classical music – as soloist, accompanist, in a violin ensemble, and in symphony orchestras. I learned a toolbox of skills during those years. I learned a certain auditory and visual vocabulary.
What I didn’t learn was to acknowledge the tender human part of myself and others through music. Improvisation – starting with the beautiful emptiness of not knowing, then being thrown into a brand new sonic world and just feeling my way around – has introduced me to this human dimension of music. Having no time to be self-critical, having no script to reassure me what the “right” notes are, listening intensely to others, owning what I feel and offering it in the moment — all of these have begun to show me, very gently and gradually, who I am. As I face my fears, I also face an opportunity either to acknowledge myself including all of my imperfections, or to fear the withdrawal of acknowledgment from others. The old me still surfaces as a habit of criticizing myself, judging the weaknesses in my performances, and wondering why I have the audacity to believe I can do this.
Now, I choose to acknowledge myself. I choose to honor the process and the courage it takes to do something brand new. I choose to dare to trust myself. I choose to risk my significance in the world. I choose to be gentle and kind to myself through all of this.
Music is healing because it allows us to feel. As listeners, we love music because it goes straight to a part of us that we feel deeply, yet conceal, suppress, or avoid in our daily lives. As makers of music, we heal because we tap into those feelings and give them expression through vibration. We share our story. We share who we are in sound.
I’ve always had a rich tone and fire to my violin playing, but I have never seen my violin as a vehicle to transport me to the place of my greatest vulnerability, to observe myself, to feel deeply, and to heal the pain of the past.
For me, music is so much more than performing and practicing. It is feeling and healing.
Enjoy these audio clips from our live performance last night!
Singer/songwriter Shawn Evans joined us onstage to perform his original song, “I Believe”, which I had never heard before. Wish you could see the visual of this, because we were all standing and moving with the groove of this uplifting song!
These three clips give you a taste of Randy Bales’ vocal expression and range (and me playing around on my violin). All new songs for me!
“Comedown” by Bush:
“Comfortably Numb” by Pink Floyd:
“Fire and Rain” by James Taylor:
Top photo credit (used under a Creative Commons license): Ginny http://www.flickr.com/people/ginnerobot/
Bottom photo credit: Gabe Wachob