Two Months Deep

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11/4/13

As the second month of my CalArts graduate education concludes, I am venturing into vast new worlds of melody and rhythm. Latin salsa arrangements, frame drumming fingertip techniques, Ghanian Ewe stick drumming and dancing, Indian talas, arrangements in 7, and in 9, an arrangement in 63 (!!!) and a mountain load of music theory are expanding my horizons faster than a nuclear shock wave.

I’m enrolled in fifteen units and have no schoolbooks. I record my classes, lessons and rehearsals onto my phone and spend twenty to thirty hours a week listening to it all and practicing. I’m enrolled in weekly piano lessons to (hopefully) survive music theory, and hour-long private lessons with the indescribably talented Randy Gloss to (hopefully) survive my two-year-long World Percussion MFA curriculum.

Every day I feel like I’m drowning. At the end of every week I wonder if I’ll ever make it to the other side. For all the hours of concentration and sweat, I cannot perceive growth on a daily basis.  But now, after two months, I realize how fast and far this train may carry me, wonder how much personal growth may be possible, ponder how deep these new knowledge pools may really be, and imagine the possibilities to come.

I am indeed living the dream.

May I find the strength to persevere and the diligence to waste not a single day in the pursuit of these goals.

~ Amen

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Surfing 2-4-13

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Sunday morning I went to the beach. The surf was good and the weather was great, but the scene was shocking. My three favorite local spots had more guys in the water and cars parked along the road than I had ever seen before. I go to the beach to decompress, not to haggle. The thought of paddling out amidst a hundred other guys was nauseating. So I opted to drive for an hour and then hike for another entire hour in order to surf one of my favorite un-crowded spots.

I wasn’t prepared for the hike, brought the wrong backpack, had no food, was only wearing sandals, and my ten foot-long-board was brutally heavy. My surf session cost me an entire day, $25 in gas, and significant personal discomfort. And I woke up the next morning with so many aches and pains I could hardly move.

But ever since, as I work, email, text, manage my bills and negotiate traffic, my thoughts keep drifting back… back to the beach… back to the feeling of my toes in the sand… the surf all around… the sublime enjoyment of the sea.

When I’m surfing, the exercise, the rhythm of the waves, and the natural beauty of the beach always make me feel happy and relaxed. As each set of waves passes by, the rhythm takes over, and everything else just slips away. You forget about your concerns. Your internal chatter calms down. You unwind. As the hours pass and you settle deeper and deeper into your session, all your worries wash away, until your thoughts are only about the beauty of nature around you, and how stoked you are to be a part of it. The steady rhythm of the waves, paddling and breathing is all that matters. I cherish the days I surf. I enjoy it every single time I paddle out.

Make time for the things you enjoy most.

They recharge us for the days and ToDos ahead.

Prioritize nature.

Please show me, I’m blind

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August 6, 2012

Saturday I taught my Fundamental Djembe SOLOS class, and began the class by demonstrating the three essential hand drum sounds (bass, tone, and slap). Most of the participants had less than one year of drumming experience, so we spent significant time practicing. After about ten minutes, one of the people in the circle said, “Can you please show me how to do this?”

I paused. We had been practicing technique for quite a while, and I thought I had shown and described the content several different ways. I wondered if I had heard his question accurately. Then he said, “I’m blind. I cannot see your hands. Can you show me how to do this?” So I went over and asked how to help.

He asked me to put his hand in the shape and place it was supposed to go. I slowly placed his hand and fingers on the drum, slowly moved his hand up and down, on and off the drum, and talked to him about the areas of the hand that make contact, and where the sound comes from. His question brought everyone’s focus to the precise details of micro muscle placement. He was calm as we proceeded. Several people got out of their chairs and came over and sat on the carpet so they could watch what we were doing. Everyone copied the slow motion demonstration on their drums. It became the best demonstration of technique I have ever been able to provide. When he succeeded in making tones and slaps, everyone cheered.Note to Self: Because I slowed down and patiently helped him with his question, everyone benefited. We all paid more attention to the micro muscles involved in the techniques, and we all connected in the teaching moment and learning process. I never would have planned to spend fifteen minutes teaching three notes, but it ended up being the most valuable section of the class. I feel like I am the one who learned the most. I learned from his calm, strong, patient request, the way he accepted the help, and the reminder, “The slower you go, the faster you learn.”

The lessons continue…