3/12/13 Each of us comes up against situations, at least occasionally, where finding the way is just not happening for us…. Another approach to the challenges of life is the one attributed to Hannibal when he declared his intention to crossover the Alps with elephants: “Aut inveniam viam aut faciam” – or in plain English – “I shall find a way or make one.” This is often taken to be advice advocating stubbornness… maybe, but I think that the appeal to creativity, and to the necessity of making a decision which relies on creative energy, is the hidden power which makes an essential stubbornness possible. And then one’s stubbornness is linked to something deeper than the varying judgments of historians.
I’d gone into a café where live music was playing, hoping to slip in anonymously. As I sat down, I was recognized by the musician who was playing, and invited to play music for awhile there myself. But for some reason I declined and left – and discovered that I’d parked in a traffic lane (somehow I’d not noticed, before heading into the café), and that my car had been towed! Next, I was just starting to ask myself about alternative ways to get home, when I awoke from the dream. In my waking re-cognition of the dream that morning, it seemed to me that I need to be more aware of where I choose to go and be, and to be more clear about parking in the parking lot, and to be more willing to enter café’s through the front door, and to not be so shy about announcing who I am – nor so shy about sharing what I do.
For many years, I nursed a hope that great music, in and of itself, could awaken a moral conscience in people. As Plato put it and apparently believed: “Music is a moral law.” This hope continued for a number of years even after I was introduced to the notion of a necessity for successful performing musicians with ethical aspirations to introduce sophisticated means of “rehearsing the audience”. This introduction happened in 1974, in sessions with the visionary futurist and exceptional amateur musician Anthony Hodgson. Investigating this question of music vs. “music plus” on my own, again and again, with audiences open to rehearsing – as well audiences that remained non-rehearsed or even non-rehearsable (resistant to listening sensitivity exercises) I gradually began to see things differently.
1974 was a big year for me in several ways… Aside from starting to introduce some of Hodgson’s music listening exercises to my own concert audiences, I graduated from Clark University with a degree in psychology. And – something I will try to write about in detail some other time – I had a particularly exceptional experience while performing some of the G. I. Gurdjieff – Thomas de Hartmann piano compositions for a group at Boston University, that opened me up to the sense of St. Paul’s famous line “Whether I was in my body or out of my body, I do not know.” 1974 was also the year, for better or worse, that I became a working professional musician in Los Angeles, California.
I had been involved with the Gurdjieff-de Hartmann literature from 1972 on, having been introduced to that unique repertoire by J.G. Bennett and various “Gurdjieff Movements” teachers – notably Pierre and Vivien Elliot, and Anna Durco – who along with Bennett himself, had been at least for awhile in contact with Georges Gurdjieff and/or Thomas de Hartmann personally. This training and experience in an esoteric art form was built upon many previous years of traditional lessons and classes in Western classical music, and some familiarity with jazz technique and theory as well.
Various musicians in the Western classical tradition have affirmed this striking notion that art in and of itself may be practically amoral, and must be intentionally linked with imperishable values if it is to have significant ethical weight. But the idea is by no means universally accepted. Two outstanding examplars of “music plus” from the world of popular music would seem to be the late John Lennon, and Bono. In the classical world, I think that obvious proponents of the principle of linking art with something more than art include Dame Myra Hess, Pablo Casals, and Albert Schweitzer. Historically speaking, the great Baroque era composer J.S. Bach was as clear as anyone has ever been about this ethical basis: “All music should have no other end and aim than the glory of God and the soul’s refreshment; where this is not remembered there is no real music but only a devilish hubbub.”
Albert Schweitzer said about himself that his life was his best “argument” for his beliefs. Nonetheless, he was also actually a very articulate thinker and writer. I recently came across the following article, profound and amazing in its relevance to the ongoing Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster that began March 11, 2011. Although not about music or even referencing music per se, the article strikes a tone that is quite congruent with the search for a universal harmony:
Prelude to my concert in Portland, Oregon, Oct 27, 2012 – 3 pm – at the Sherman Clay Pianos facility (no tickets necessary): Now I’m really gearing up for the concert this Saturday, which is dedicated to the recent discovery of the Higgs boson. I can’t pretend to follow all the scientific details and speculations about sub-atomic particle physics, what’s next in terms of research into the Higgs boson and how it operates, etc. But I still believe that it’s useful for non-scientists like myself to try to follow the gist of it. And also – as a non-scientist artist, I think that it’s important for members of the society at large to contemplate what these contemporary developments on the frontiers of discovery might mean to us. So, I’m dipping into several books on the topic – even one published just after the Higgs boson discovery was first announced out of CERN in Europe on July 4, 2012. You know, (you may know this) the physicist who’s work was central to predicting the existence of Higgs bosons some 40 years ago, particles which are said to go along with and somehow interact with quarks and gluons… a veritable “zoo” of sub-atomic particles… in order to give them “mass”, a fellow named Peter Higgs, was still alive to see this validation of his theoretical work! That alone is interesting to me, that a person might say to the world that such and such a “thing” must be there, according to his calculations and ideas, somewhere in the virtually unseen world, and then to be validated some decades later when the technology and testing procedures catch up with his predictions. So, I’m enjoying some far out reading, and imagining different ways to make music to match…
Concert musings re the 10/27/2012 event… For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been reading the book (published in 1993, Houghton Mifflin company) by Leon Lederman with Dick Teresi, entitled “The God Particle – if the universe is the answer, what is the question?” – which was the origin of the controversial “God Particle” nickname for the Higgs boson. I’ve been looking at a lot things, actually, in an effort to prepare my mind to do a musical exploration of “The Exploits of the incomparable Higgs boson” on October 27, 3 pm at the Sherman Clay Pianos recital hall in Portland, Oregon… Among the many things I’ve discovered is that Lederman is extremely funny – I recommend his book to anyone who enjoys literary humor. It’s the best funny bone book I’ve read since Robert Benchley’s “My Ten Years in a Quandary” (1936, Blue Ribbon books/Harper & Brothers). Many of the more recent books explaining particle physics take themselves too seriously… and this is how I would express it… As many artists know, a painting you are making, or a novel you are writing, takes on a life of its own. The first time this happened to me, with someone else’s composed music that I was performing for a live audience, I was really shocked. How could this music, in its actualization, seem to be more real than I am? How come it had a life of its own, and was expressing itself in ways quite different to the expressive ideas that had informed my preparatory rehearsal? If you remain totally serious about your manifestations, and imagine your rational self to be totally in control, the results are likely to fall flat… Well, enough said – please share this post with your Portland friends who are open to magic in the broadest sense. Based on certain peculiar experiences I have had over many years, all I do when I sit down to create or play music is “invoke magic”. As the great Amer-Indian folk singer Buffy Sainte-Marie used to sing… God is alive, magic is afoot… and as her more irreverent friends used to sing… Magic is alive, God is a foot!
In reference to the question of trusting our experts to understand the big picture: “What surprised me was that not one person I met knew clearly why we were going into space or how it had come about. Each man had one story and his opinion, each had the rationalization of his own speciality and background, whether in science, engineering, politics, war, or business.” Alexander Marshack, recalling research in 1963 for a space book written in collaboration with Dr. Robert Jastrow, then head of a division of the Goddard Space Flight Center, and including interviews with President John F. Kennedy’s science advisor – and planners, leaders & scientists associated with NASA, Rand, the big aviation-space corporations, and including some Nobel Prize winners from various fields of science, et al. This quote was excerpted from Chapter One of Marshack’s now-classic work The Roots of Civilization (1991).
An exciting scientific announcement July 4, 2012, out of the CERN scientific facility in Geneva, Switzerland has brought fame, if not fortune, to our most incomparable worker for the masses, i.e. the Higgs Boson. In order to facilitate a creative contemplation of the significance of this scientific breakthrough, I am presenting an admission-free program of cosmic piano improvisations on Saturday, October 27, 2012 – 3 p.m. – at Sherman Clay Pianos on 131 NW 13th Ave, Portland, Oregon, USA 97209. In respect of some of the early work leading up to this recent accomplishment, I am dedicating the concert to the now famous Peter Higgs, who along with other contributors decades ago theorized the existence of the boson that is now named after him, and also to the memory of Satyendra Nath Bose, whose name is immortalized by the term “boson” but whose contributions are largely forgotten (except among physicists, of course).
This free concert (donations to support my artistic project are welcome) will be preceeded with a short digression into the history of the discovery of the Higgs boson and what it means or could mean, both in terms of scientific and philosophical speculation. Of course, there have already been many articles written about this discovery, as a simple web search will demonstrate – how it came about, where the science is going next, and even about what it means to the rest of us! Fun reading, and many cosmic repercussions!
This “boson” concert – musical investigations, if you will – aspires to be a worthy part of the artistic evolution that our increasingly technologized culture sorely needs in order to nurture and maintain a healthy, balanced, and resilient future civilization.
After years of creative work, a pianist may discover that the emergent metaphorical roles of the right hand vs. the left hand in piano playing (as opposed to what comes only from copying, training and tradition) take on or project quite different psychological forces. Regardless of whether we “like” what comes out of that collaboration… the aim is all! When the weaker partner (the other side of the brain, symbolized by the left hand, etc.) takes on a conscious role in our lives, equal and complementary to what is more typically dominant in our modern experience, new possibilities emerge. I see this developing in my own music making over time, as I get older and hopefully more mature… Some of my spontaneous improvisations go far beyond what I might have “planned” to create! The “Into the Dark” concert, especially Part Two, which you can find on the video part of this site (recorded by videographer and multi-instrumentalist John-Henry Dale) is a good example of the right/left integrative progress, when compared with my improvisations of some years ago. If you can observe examples of such progress in your own life – whether you play piano or find personal expression in other ways – please write… I’d love to develop this kind of evolving awareness and integration in collaboration with others.
Sat, March 24, 2012, 3 pm – no charge, but donations welcome
THE COSMOLOGICAL CONSTANT: DARK ENERGY – Sherman Clay Pianos
131 NW 13th Ave (parking across the street) – Portland, Oregon
The program will consist of improvisations (although not without much hidden preparation) inspired by the notion of the vast unknown. In cosmology, the unknown can be symbolized by the still unexplained “dark energy” that could account for the evidence of recent years showing that the expansion of the universe is accelerating into the future at a remarkable rate. The unknown is also perhaps exemplified in our own lives, by the experience of the interplay in psychological terms between the various levels of personal consciousness and the great, largely unknown collective unconscious postulated by C.G. Jung. With the help of an attentive audience, I’m hoping to musically evoke a sense of relaxing deeply into these cosmological and psychological worlds in ways both restful and exhilarating… this is an artistic/poetic music meditation, of course, not a scientific experiment. Aside from a few suggestive ideas here and there, I leave it to you as to how you will listen to the piano improvisations I create, and as to how the meaning or experience you create for yourself will unfold. I hope you can join us – and feel free to invite your friends!
Sonny Rollins, the wonderful saxophonist and composer now in his 80′s, was announced last week along with several other great & famous performing artists like Yo Yo Ma, Meryl Streep and Neil Diamond, as a recipient of 2011 Kennedy Center Honors. For those of us believing in the positive and open-ended potentials of genuine spontaneity in improvisational work, Mr. Rollins represents a highly inspiring success in both theory and practice. As Eric Nisenson enthuses in his book Open Sky (page 213, published in 2000) “Listening to him play those long solos that can veer in any and every direction, solos that he has created on the spot, and that will never be heard again, is a deeply spiritual experience. It reminds us that we are living in the here and now, in this very moment even as I write these words or you read them. How many of us remain trapped by our past and spend so much time worried about the future, while life is flowing right through us?”