Wednesday, November 20, 2019

I have harboured a dream of working therapeutically with music for a long time. This is on the back of witnessing the therapeutic possibilities of music in both my own experiences, as well as fellow band mates and audiences.

Feeling good. I feel this is a basic driver behind being involved in music. Close on the heels of this feel good component, thinking in a therapeutic context, is the possibility of being challenged. Overcoming challenges in music, be they technical demands of performing, social hurdles around group interaction and participation, or aesthetic demands of listening, cultivates a set of skills directly transferable to other spheres of the life. 

These skills might include:
  • acknowledging a gap in ones knowledge and taking on a “beginners mind” attitude.
  • breaking a problem down into easily achievable component parts.
  • Learning to be mindful simultaneously of ones own inner responses (reflecting) and the contributions of others in the group (listening).
  • the ability to manipulate structural and narrative elements.
  • developing ones own aesthetic approach, implying that care is being taken to function with authenticity and beauty.
  • meeting differences of opinion without judgement.
  • being flexible in ones own notions of “how it should go”, ready to drop preconceptions and proceed with a new perspective.
  • insight into a collaborators inner state, and techniques to help optimise said state.

I have adopted each of these strategies (and many others) in musical contexts, largely as an accompanist, in collaboration with other musicians. The role of an accompanist specifically requires the skill set hinted at above. These many methods/perspectives allow a possibility for an easy and natural and beautiful experience of music. As an accompanist my offers and provocations strive in that direction.  

So when music is easy and natural and beautiful, what is going on? 

Crucially there is a generous listening attitude. From the outside, I am not listening for anything in particular, but merely enjoying the uniqueness of the tones being created, and their combinations. Wonderfully this requires no particular training in music, but seems rather to be some innate capacity humans have, to be enchanted by sounds. From the inside I am comfortable playing with the group, and feel confident that our sound is good because I can feel my own joy in playing, and see/feel the joy in others, be they fellow muso’s or audience. This generosity is infectious, self perpetuating and transformative. 

There is an expression articulated in NZ early childhood education Play Centre circles - “Patient, open, encouraging, and joyful! As with our tamariki, as with each other!” Here is another formula for optimal functioning in both musical and therapeutic contexts. 

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

MBMU 1st music session

Tonight the cast - well most of the cast (we missed you Neil!), of My Bed My Universe met me at my wee Queen Street studio to begin our musical training. Sam (Director), Gary (Writer) and actors Miriama, Max, Dominic, Tuyet, and Wesley.
We started out clapping some subdivisions along to a metronome. Without explaining too much about what they were called at first, we got familiar with clapping crotchets, quavers, quaver triplets and semi-quavers.
Soon I introduced the common note value names using both the "crotchets" and "quarter notes" terminology interchangeably, as well as their counts. We discussed time signatures, and had a crack at playing in 2/4, 3/4, and 4/4, swapping subdivisions, and going up and down the Rhythm Pyramid.
The group did very well indeed! I love working with actors. In general they tend to be very fleet of brain, with excellent kinetic skills - a great combo for getting percussive skills together.
We then moved onto an extremely fun stomping/clapping game from the From Scratch Rhythm Book called Call and Response. I think this will be a regular exercise for us.
After this I armed the guys with sticks and I taught them about rudiments, starting with singles, doubles and paradiddles. We played these along to a metronome pulse, weaving the rudiments into some subdivisions and time signature structures. Again the crew caught on fast.
Two hours went real quick!
Tomorrow will be my first session with NZTrio, and I'm very excited about that too.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011


I have just played a wonderful set of music with the Spoilers of Utopia Brass Band. The group has been put together by John Bell to play the music of jazz saxophonist Albert Ayler and some other brass band gems. I love this music. I hardly played a beat, as such, all night. I was able to range freely through the sound world of the drum kit in support of the music.

It was an excellently timed gig in relation to some persistent thought grooves I been jamming around - what is the relationship between music (or any discipline) and play? 

I keep coming back to this possible answer - master some simple fundamentals to get started, master them so you can forget them. The more "second nature" the techniques become, the more freely you can play. Up-skill as you go to make the game more sophisticated but never lose sight of playing. 

My not quite 2 year old daughter already knows how to play... it seems the essential ingredients of real play, when you are actually, really, forgetting yourself in the fun of a game, have to do with strong contrasts:

Now you see me, now you don't! 

Keep the ball and run with it or pass it to someone else. 

I have to get to there and you have to try and stop me.

It strikes me that in music we are presented with a series of contrasts that comprise the material of play, and the contrasts can be two extremes of a continuum - quiet to loud (silence/sound), slow to fast (tempo/frequency), sparse to dense (rhythm/harmony), low to high (pitch), rough to smooth (texture), relaxing to agitating (intentionality). 

The implications are profound. There are life affirming skills and attitudes to be gleaned from this process, the process being acquiring/exploring techniques and subsuming them in the service of play.

Monday, September 26, 2011

I am a master of shoe lace tying.

Human beings are sophisticated and confused creatures.

Here in New Zealand, the confused part comes to the fore in our attitudes towards the so called 'creative arts'. Take facility in music for example. It's commonly understood that participation in music requires something mysterious called 'natural talent' and unless one has this 'gift' then well, its just not worth the trouble. But the acquisition of this facility, to play music, is misunderstood.

My belief is that we are inherently sophisticated enough to be exceptional musicians, all of us.

Acquiring the skills to operate an instrument is not too dissimilar to learning how to tie ones shoe laces - an exceptionally sophisticated act if one stops to think about it... I, like you dear reader, am a master of shoe lace tying. I have done it every day, numerous times, since I was a young child. I come from a family of master shoe lace tiers. Both my parents, my grandparents... this tradition goes back many generations in my family, and I witnessed the act many times every day. It is such a common and ordinary thing that it seems a bit ridiculous to apply words like talent and genius to the act of tying shoe laces. With master musicians I bet it's quite a similar picture. And I would suggest that it is society, not the musician, who feels the need to use these labels.

My bone of contention is that our use of the words 'mastery' and 'genius' are too selective, and that the range of activities we are willing to call 'creative' are too narrow. We are all 'masters' of the things we take for granted because of our inherent brilliance (through repetition) in their execution - writing txt messages, driving forklifts, reading braille, tying shoe laces, preparing food... its a long list.

Of course, making music is NOT as common place as say making a good cup of coffee, and so it seems a special thing, but that is more a reflection of an impoverished culture than our innate ability to do this or that.. Of course there are individuals that will outshine others in every field, but why should that mean that others can no longer participate? I meet too many people who would love to be involved in making music and feel they can't because of some perceived lack, and this is a state of confusion i lament greatly.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Rhythm School

Had a great session this morning at Rhythm School. Three students came at three different levels.. Young Bella, all of 10 years old and her first lesson. Stephen Thomas the boy wonder, studying under Ron Samson at AK Uni, and Rich Pharoah, working man and keen drummer, purveyor of solid beats and seeker for more proficiency... We played some rhythm pyramids, some Concertina Hand Teasers, working basic rudiments, each taking it as far as they could comfortably go. It works wonderfully. looking forward to growing this class. I can imagine a room of 15 - 20 folks tapping happily away... My vision is for an open class that anyone interested in learning about rhythm can attend. See YOU there.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

My website

I have made a website for myself at long last. There you can see what I've done, what I'm up too, and other bits and bobs... Go check it out:

Monday, August 22, 2011

music that hurts and music that heals

Julie Hill is writer of plays and maker of radio programs. She made a couple of interesting ones for Radio National a while back - Music that Hurts and Music that Heals. She talked with me a bit in the Music that Heals section.
Here is a blurb and photo.
Listen to it here.