Tuesday, March 11, 2014

The Metronome

It's been almost two years since taking up the mandolin as my first instrument. From my Aikido and other experiences, I suspect I'm still one to three years out from "black belt" status--having the basics integrated and being prepared to really start learning. Like an Aikido mudansha, though, I'm competent enough to impress outsiders with by demonstrating a few favorited techniques--or, in this case, fiddle tunes.

... or is it that outsiders will sometimes be impressed when they stumble upon my practice?

In my case, it's admittedly both. Early on, a warm day, a portable instrument, and the natives growing weary of hearing scale exercises in any key were formula enough to take my practice to the patio and to the park. Eventually I took the few simple tunes I was studying with me and played them poorly--but I wasn't lynched, nor did I drive off any crowds, so I continued. Sometime later, I'd notice the occasional stranger tapping a hand or foot to the rhythm--and then cringe when I lost the beat or missed a note. Seeing their enjoyment encouraged appearing more often and studying more songs; seeing the effect of screw-ups spurred better practice; and, seeing that I could recover from those screw-ups and continue on may have sparked some improvisation.

The other night, I went to the local marketplace after work, had a meal, and started practicing my fiddle tunes just to pass the time. One time I looked up to see a pair of very young children dancing right in front of me. Later, some passing teens caught my attention with a "That's so cool!" their gaits set to the rhythm of the mandolin chop chords, Finally, a woman in her 80s or 90s, whom I noticed had been visibly taken by a run of a few Irish jigs, stopped by to thank me for the music.

Maybe I didn't notice the folks I drove off--who knows?

On different occasions I've gone out with the hope of finding connections and found none, or I've gone out with the intention to practice and been bothered by interruptions. Whatever the motivation and whatever the near-term result, the practice grows; or, maybe it's the practice that grows and takes me along for the ride--it's hard to say sometimes.

Regardless of whether I was practicing the mandolin or considering those questions, one thing is certain: I haven't been posting here. Truth be told, few if any seem to mind.

We'll see where it leads.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

"And the Days Go By..."

The song comes to mind, but not the meaning. Is that possible? Sure, why not?

Summer has been a quiet time. For me, my focus has remained on my mandolin practice with the addition of a Songwriting MOOC. A MOOC? A Massive Open Online Course. This course is offered periodically through Coursera in conjunction with a professor from the Berklee College of Music. The course is completely free over the Internet. There are reportedly tens-of-thousands enrolled worldwide with students over eighty-years-old participating. The lectures are pre-recorded. Every week for six weeks, new lessons, quizzes, and a writing assignment are released on Friday. The quizzes are automatically graded; the writing submissions are peer-reviewed by at least five fellow students. In the end, a grade is assigned.

The course is useful and fun for me, bringing me all of the way back to my high school days and earlier, analyzing and writing poetry and prose. In truth though, I'm enjoying it even more as a Zen exercise.

Ultimately, the only thing the course offers is what the student takes from it -- that and perhaps a certificate suitable for framing. There's really no notion of "passing" or "failing." There is no "permanent record;" the student registers online with any email address and can drop and take the class as many times has he or she likes. Still, just entering week three, there is already drama in the class forums. There are heartfelt class resignation notices, complaints about peer grading, complaints the video professor and fellow students don't understand, questions about whether to sacrifice personal style to bend to the will of the course, and even the infusions of eternal optimism… People pursue the points. People pursue the validation from their peers. People enjoy the social aspects. Others are networking, maybe falling just shy of advertising their work.

So, the interpersonal and personal struggles aside, there is also the technical aspect: Given the proscribed form, highlighting the important aspects of the lesson, express yourself. 


There's more, of course. Stay tuned.

Friday, June 21, 2013

By Invitation Only

Approaching you in the hallway, walking in the opposite direction, I offer "Good morning."

What if I offer "Good morning!" with a bright smile?

And if I asked "Good morning?" with some hesitation, might you wonder why your day is off to a less-than-stellar start? Or maybe you wonder what I've heard that you haven't?

Maybe it's more illustrative to ask how you saw the one who asked? Was I a friend, a stranger, or a foe? What if I preemptively tell you that I was greeting my friend walking behind you in the hall.

... or should I point out that we're not actually walking toward each other in a hall right now at all.

I throw the ball; the dog retrieves it. Before I ask if you like being my dog, I'll ask what color was the ball? Before you answer, though, ask yourself "How would a lion respond?"

Are you looking for clever things to say to show that you understand the point? There's no need. The universe constantly invites us to show ourselves and we respond in kind. But what do we invite?

Perhaps today we will invite the very best in each other and in ourselves to step forward and respond.