Saturday, June 20, 2009

CW, WCBN, Nick Strange, 2 Kirtan, TOP

Hello and welcome to summer!

   I am now sitting in my kitchen on a beautiful summer day listening to the birds outside and getting ready to finish off a big deck building project I have been working on.  I am happy to say that I made it thorough another great year at Go Like The Wind, and now I am looking forward to a nice summer break from that environment.  
Over the past two weeks the effects of the 'bad economy' that I have been hearing about all over the news has hit home for me.  I was supposed to teach a hand drum camp at a school in Brighton, and also a teachers seminar about Indian rhythm at Madonna University. Both were cancelled due to low enrollment.  It sort of put a damper on the start of summer, but also made me very thankful that I still have my job at GLTW, especially in a time when music programs all over the country are getting cut.  
From an artists point of view, a downturn in the economy usually means an upturn in creativity.  You see all around you the word 'creative' being used.  You are being urged to be creative with your spending to get the most for your money, be creative with the idea of recreation time so it doesn't involve so much spending, be creative with the clothes you buy so you don't have to rely on a huge wardrobe.  It seems that when you take the money away, creativity becomes valued.  Common phrases like "the best money can buy" are replaced with "the best minds coming up with the best solutions".  I see commercials urging people to simply "think", and businesses talking about "social connections" rather than their usual 'innovation' and 'competition' talk.  
I get the sense that everyone is a little tired of all the talk of money.  When you replace the desire for money with a desire for real, tangible experience, then the artist becomes more valuable, and the message of the art gets more time and consideration from the observer, which in turn grows appreciation, and increases the value.  
All this talk comes from what I notice as I sit behind my drums.  In the late 90's and early 2000's money, power, competition, spending, and investment were what it was all about.  I would play lots of house and corporate events that seemed to be a celebration of wealth and excess.  Now I seem to have more shows that are about education, community, and helping people in need.  The one constant in all of these shows has been the music.  I learned early on that every time you sit down to play is just as important as any other time, no matter where you find yourself sitting.  I now have a renewed appreciation for that idea.  You can not make people pay attention to you, they have to want to. So when they are ready to pay attention, will you be doing your best work?
June was a good month for music in my life.  It started on the 5th with a show at Crazy Wisdom Tearoom with Sumkali.  It felt like a pre-Top of the Park gig more than a gig all it's own.  We had been rehearsing to perform with dancers, so a couple of the pieces that we usually improvise on were now tailored and structured. This is not a bad thing. I think the repetition helped us solidify some really good musical ideas, which made us tighter as a group. The following Wednesday I found myself at the WCBN studio for a live broadcast of some free improvised music with Rob Crozier on bass, Kelly McDermott on flute, Jason Burbo on guitar, a viola player (whose name I have forgotten), and Michael Nastos on percussion and electronics.  It was 2 hours of intense listening and free exploration.  The end result was broadcast out live.  One thing about working with microphones is that they create a second, very different reality of the sound you are hearing come out of the instrument in front of you, so you have to know, and sometimes guess what that other sound is and play to that reality.  For instance, while we were playing, Kelly was quietly whispering into her microphone.  None of us could hear it during the session, but when we listened back to the recording it was the dominant sound.  It is what my friend Jared calls the 'big illusion' of sound.  Once you understand and work with this other reality of sound, your musical possibilities grow exponentially.
Two days later I was onstage at Goodnite Gracies in Ann Arbor with Rob Crozier and Dan Orcut for another Nick Strange show.  Jessica, the lead singer, could not make it so Dan filled in and we expanded some of the songs out with instrumental jams.  It was a good night and is always fun to play with those guys.  Not to mention Dan, being a very handy guy, gave me a lot of great advice on building my deck!
Exactly one week later I was playing with the Kirtan again at the Friends Meeting House in AA.  This was one of the first Kirtans where I had the day off, had no double bookings, and felt very well rested.  It was nice to be at full strength for the kirtan. I felt like I could participate more, rather than just stay focused on making through the night.  When everyone in the group is relaxed and the sound is good, it is some of the most peaceful, quiet, and relaxing music making I have ever been a part of.  The group has not gotten to the point yet of giving totally into the music, (which, by the way is probably one of the hardest obstacles to overcome as a group of artists), but when we do, you could not ask for a better setting.  There are moments where the group does gel and some great energy is created, but it is not quite happening consistently. I feel good about what is happening though, and I look forward to playing more with them.
In fact, after a week of  hand drumming with some very happy 3-6 year olds for the Go Like The Wind Summer Camp, I was back behind the tabla with the Kirtan group again for a more informal kirtan at the Interfaith Center in Ann Arbor.  It was part of an ongoing music series they have once a month. We did some kirtan, talked about the instruments and the music, and then did more kirtan.  At the regular kirtan we never talk once it starts. It goes from chant to silence right into the next chant. I found that having a break and talking actually made it harder for me to sit for 2 hours straight.  When music is happening, especially when it is good, time seems to fly by, unless you are trying to focus on the length of time you are playing. Only then does it creep along.  At this show 15 minutes of talking was like doing an hour and a half of chanting and I got 'cold'  We ended with about 3 chants in a row, and by the end I had to stretch out before I could even stand up.  It is so fascinating to me how little changes in experience manifest themselves physically. The more I think about it, the more I am thankful to be a musician, surrounding myself with such good vibrations and energy all the time.  It makes me a happy guy.
Speaking of being happy, I was so happy the following Tuesday when it was time for Sumkali to finally take the stage at Top of the Park.  Ever since moving to Ann Arbor I have heard about and enjoyed many Top of the Park performances and I was so happy to finally be a part of it.  It is all done on an uncovered, outdoor stage and is free to the public.  It is always well attended and it is a great venue to play.  We were all watching the sky all day. It was cloudy and just north of Ann Arbor it had been raining constantly.  By the time we reached the time to play, the sun actually came out and the weather was perfect.  Everything went so wonderfully.  We only had a 35 minute set, so we had to be quick, efficient, and good.  The dancers looked great, the music went great, and aside from a slight problem with a buzz in the monitors at the beginning the show went as well as any of us could have hoped.  I am hoping to have some great pictures soon.  The crowd seemed really receptive and I heard nothing but good things.  I was proud of the group and I am looking forward to what is next.

That is all for now, please check back, there are some good things on the horizon.  Thanks for reading!

John

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