A woman who started reading my blog this year mentioned how vulnerable it makes me, that I bare myself in a way she would be uncomfortable (If I understood her correctly).
Since she said that I have thought more than once about vulnerability.
If by vulnerability one means exposing oneself without defenses, it strikes me that this is an essential part of doing music and probably any artistic endeavor such as writing.
I do know that when I improvise I am attracted to spontaneity.
I have listened to teachers tell me to prepare my improvisations. There is a bit of wisdom in this.
The teachers who said this were organists and they were talking about improvising in church work. Specifically improvising interludes and harmonizations in hymns. Here it makes sense to me to occasionally prepare an improv. After all I even use printed composed interludes and harmonizations, why not prepare my own stuff.
But I also know that at least one excellent organist completely worked out his improvisations to the point that he was presenting them in public concerts as improvisations years after they had been published note for note.
This seems extreme. Certainly not very vulnerable.
I associate vulnerability with spontaneity and risk taking.
This is how I often approach improvisation. My work this semester with ballet classes has involved this exact approach. I use the class as an opportunity to try to create spontaneous music that not only reflects what I think the teacher needs for her ballet exercises or “combinations,” but also has an element of meaning that reflects my impression of human body movement.
I think dancing is wonderful. And that it contains the range of human emotion. So even exercises have expression. I often attempt to capture this emotional expression in simple disciplined melodies.
This works best when I lose my defenses (i.e. make my self vulnerable) and pursue a beautiful musical thought. I like doing this.
This seems to contradict some people’s notion of masculinity or something.
I have noticed that men sometimes hide themselves for one reason or another. Sort of a macho thing, I guess.
Not being forthcoming, not seeking expression, inability to express a felt emotion, reluctance to share information; all of these are sort of a stereotype of masculine “guy” stuff.
I have never been good at “guy” stuff. It’s just not me. I’m emotional to the point it routinely embarrasses me. I have to work at hiding myself.
My inclination for whatever reason is to “wear my heart on my sleeve.” At this stage of my life, I rarely give in to this inclination with people other than my nuclear family.
Yesterday I was overcome with emotion when the advanced ballet class expressed such approbation of my work as musical accompanist with their class. I realize that young college students are exuberant and even idealistic. Their actions are the actions of people taking shape as persons. This energy is one that attracts me. I find people who have given up on life or unconvincingly act as though they know the secret of life pretty boring. These actions are certainly not vulnerable, that’s for sure.
So I was taken off guard when during a period where all of the students do their individual stretching and relaxing, I quietly ended my improvisation and one dancer asked me to keep going. This was a big compliment to me. Though I make myself vulnerable with my music, I often sort of forget people are listening. In fact it surprises me when they do.
Another dancer came up after class and told me that she was so inspired by my piano playing that she planned to practice piano over the break between semesters. Again high praise.
Maybe I’m just feeling sensitive about “guy” stuff because I had to connect with several men yesterday around the home ownership issues. We are having leaks in our home (this, after spending over 10 K or so to put on a new roof and siding). I have been trying to track down the cause of these leaks and get them fixed. Usually Eileen does this. But this time I grabbed the reins and made the phone calls and arranged to meet the workers.
I should say that the roofer, the siding man and the electrical company man I talked to yesterday were all pretty relaxed and not macho idiots or anything. It’s just that dealing with them made me aware of my own inability to do the guy dance. I’m sort of glad about this. I like who I am.
FWIW I contracted with the electrical guys to install heat tape that would allow snow and ice to melt off the roof in a more efficient manner. They will do a temp solution this winter and follow up with a more permanent solution in the spring. Whippy skippy.
All of the men were very helpful yesterday.
I keep reading short stories by Dylan Thomas. I am enjoying these quite a bit.
I also finished English Music by Peter Ackroyd. This book got me thinking about my own relationship to American music and culture. Ackroyd’s book is a wonderful tour de force about his take on “Englishness.” He uses a fantastical device of a character who lives at the beginning of the 20th century in England. Timothy Harcombe somehow helps his father heal people. He also slips in and out of dreams in which the greatness of English arts and literature takes concrete form. Harcombe not only interacts with great musicians, poets, painters in these chapters but also experiences their worlds. This includes entering a dream where he is a boy chorister who is studying with an elderly William Byrd or another chapter which is all in verse and is in the style of William Blake but mentions many other English poets.
Anyway, I admire Ackroyd’s sense of culture and place (He has also written a biography of London which I have done some reading in and admire).
This has made me ponder my own relationship to my love of American arts.
The music, poetry and art of people who have identified themselves with this place is extremely important to me. The blues, jazz, gospel, sorrow songs (spirituals), poetry (from Walt Whitman to James Dickey to Sharon Olds), architecture (Frank Lloyd Wright), Mark Rothko, so called primitive American art, American folk music of all kind really. This all mixes in and is a part of me both as a person and as a (maker) creator.
My sense of place is difficult to pin down. I have lived in the South and the Midwest. I definitely have a sense of place about my childhood in East Tennessee. Subsequent visits as a young man were both enthralling and disappointing. I lived in Flint Michigan for a while and experienced a slight taste of the city life there. I have loved the beaches of Michigan and now live not too far from one. I love the place of Michigan, the seasons, the local fruits and vegetables.
But being the son of an itinerant preacher, I, like my father before me, moved from place to place and never had the experience of living in the same area for too long. I know people who have lived here in Holland all their lives. I wonder how they experience this place as a result. I know that I am very impressed with trees and beaches. What would it be like to know the same trees, beaches and other landmarks all your life? I imagine it would be extremely different. Maybe it could create a sense of “rootedness.” And maybe “stuckness” as well.
Well I’m letting myself ramble a bit this morning because I am marking time before visiting the doctor. This is my four month check up, I guess. I am “fasting” so they can draw blood. I allowed myself coffee this morning because the woman who drew my blood last time said it would be okay.
Later this evening I will be playing for a Christmas Carol sing-along for the people who come to my church for free food from the Feeding America program. In between I will have ballet class, possibly meet with my boss and have a piano trio rehearsal. Life is good. Even when you’re burned out.