“If you saw this notated, you wouldn’t know how to begin to learn this,” said Eugene Friesen at our recent workshop in Vermont. We all agreed. We were moving our feet in one pattern, our mouths in another, and using rhythmic shakers in third. Pretty shaky, overall. I would think I had achieved some sort of groove, then would lose it. And then gain it back by NOT thinking, but by feeling the pulse “in the lower part of your body” as master percussionist Glen Velez suggested.
“Your Rhythm, Your Life” was the title of the workshop, but we often felt as if we were being mugged by our fears. And yet, we each improved, improvised over the patterns and gained confidence. I learned a lot about how I learn and how others do as well, and I had a barrel of fun improvising with the other intrepid participants, a gaggle of string players and singers.
I LOVE being a student in musical workshops. I get to be nervous and excited, want to please the teachers, ask questions, get plenty of feedback, and not take up too much space . It reminds me of what my students must go through in my classes. Beginner’s mind. Well, advanced intermediate in this case, but you get the idea.
I learn best when I’m not expecting too much or trying too hard. I have had some of my best lessons when I was feeling under the weather–lower expectations. When I can play at something, I discover for myself and learn the best. When I am praised for small victories, I thrive and feel safe to take more risks.
The third teacher at this marvelous workshop is a singer, Loire. She demonstrated, sang duets with us and played with us musically. The last session, she said that as she looked around, we were all scowling and focusing our faces so hard. She observed we could say “I have no idea where I am” with either a frustrated voice or a very playful voice. We all laughed and someone said that we actually hear better with our mouths open in a smile. Is that why it is so pleasant to have a little open mouthed yawn as we inhale to sing? We hear better? And I thought it just opened the physical apparatus so I could sing better. Hmmm…
Polyrhythms. Easier to learn through play and body movements than thinking too much. In through the back door. Start with something we CAN do and build on that. Expect fun, set reasonable goals. Aim high as we like and be willing to allow ourselves to make some messes along the way.