Open for Business…so to speak…

Ok, so I’m not gonna draw this out.  My beautiful mom recently had the idea that I might get some pleasure out of writing about music, and even more so if I found a way to include others.  My wonderful Mama Bear said I should do it “because of my beautiful life.”  So here it is, my very own Life and Music Corner, finally open for business.

See, for years I’ve had people calling me at all hours of the night, asking me questions about music like “what is that time signature in Bobby McFerrin’s ‘Stars’ from Hush” or “what makes that chord progression in the Fauré piano quartet so magical?!?!”  I wish I could say they ask me because they think I’m smart, but I know deep down it’s because they know in their bones that music is my obsession, and that I’ll satisfy their curiosity because they know I’ll find everything that catches their attention worth a little (or a lot) of my own.

See, I loooove music.  Former students of mine have reported they think I couldn’t live without it.  My nephew used to plead with me when I’d begin my daily practice, “please auntie…please don’t go into the vortex!!!!” (insert wavy scooby-doo arms).  But this love is something I’ve always taken for granted.  It isn’t until recently that I’ve even begun to uncover why this might be.

Here’s my theory: music is the study and practice of co-existence.  We humans have a fairly developed story when it comes to existence.  Whether you’re a big bang theorist or a creationist, first there was nothing, then there was something, and the how and why of it expands from there. Although science, philosophy and the world’s major religions all seem to point towards the truths of interdependence, when we go to talk about it, a lot of us just don’t buy it.  We want to be selfish and we want more and more to create a mythology about self-interest.  I get that, and that’s why I’m so thankful for music.

Music, in its most basic form is the study of one thing in relationship to another.  Whether it’s one note next to another (melody), on top of another (harmony) or fixed in specific time (rhythm),  music doesn’t exist outside of “relationship.”  Miles Davis said “there is no such thing as a wrong note.  Everything depends on what you do with it.”  Even a single note sustained by a single person requires a relationship – a relationship with breath, a relationship with an instrument, a vibration to a resonator, etc. Relationship!  Nothing musical can happen without it.

If you’ve ever been in the room with a great spiritual master you experience a certain harmony around them.  Everything seems to be a ok.  The same is true when great music masters, practitioners, are making music together.  There’s an intangible euphoria that is sometimes so palpable, the idealists among us feel it could “save the world!”  We see and experience the grand possibilities of co-existence and it lifts us.

We are even able to learn among neophytes who’s self-interest is still firmly on display when they attempt to play with others.  In these circumstances, and I think we’ve all been there, while we are attempting to appreciate their effort (perhaps in our better moments), we experience the value of a good relationship, the value of a “harmonious” expression of space, time, matter, etc.

That doesn’t mean we expect or demand that all music be “pretty” or easy to experience, but we learn to recognize harmonious relationship in a visceral way, and the more practice we have at perceiving this harmony, the more the body and mind lends itself to subtlety, nuance, a more challenging palate.  We learn to be curious about what we may not initially understand.  Eventually, we may even learn to be excited by it!

Music gives us a way to practice the big deal of “co-existence” without even trying.  We have not choice in the matter.  For better or for worse, it happens to us whenever it is in the room, and that makes music a big deal to me.

So this blog is intended to open a conversation about music, about life, about whatever is a big deal to the people who decide to hang out here with me.  I want to know your questions, whatever they may be… Who’s first?

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2 comments to “Open for Business…so to speak…”

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  1. Sofia Echegaray - June 8, 2010 at 12:29 am Reply


    Ok, here’s my question: I’ve recently started listening to Stevie Wonder’s “Songs in the Key of Life.” I knew a lot of the songs before, but I didn’t realize they were all on one album, *and* with such awesome new material I’d never heard before!

    So what I’m curious about is, What was the reaction when this came out? Did it make everyone’s head explode? What was so groundbreaking and revolutionary about it? And do you have anything to say about how it influenced musicians to come? We generally hear African-American artists credit him, but I hear Pink Floyd and stuff like that coming out of this, too. All the trippy synthesizers and stuff.

    Sof’s in Need of Love Today

  2. Chris K - June 10, 2010 at 10:25 pm Reply

    As long as I’ve known you, you have been very talented and knowledgeable about music. I’m wondering about the back-story about what lit this flame in your life. Was it love at first sight when your parents let you hammer on a piano at church one day? Did you have traditional music lessons growing up, or were you more self-taught?

    Speaking as someone who took years of lessons on Saxophone, Piano and voice, but still has very little musical knowledge, per se, your skills have always been a bit of an enigma to me.

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