The Minneapolis band Saltee (I think it is ok to say they are a band, though that word does not necessarily bring to mind cello and beatboxing, in addition to the electric guitar that maybe it does bring to mind) visited two classes of mine this term, most recently yesterday afternoon. We talked about timbre as a driver of improvisation, collaboration as an essential part of music-making, how the young ones relate to live music, and A Great Many Other Things.
One of the first things I did over the course of these two conversations was to invite them to play a house show in our living room (their ideal performance space, they said), and one of the last things I did was to ask a specific question that feels as basic and fundamental to write down now as it did to ask yesterday:
(actually I can’t even remember how I was able to frame it even to get it out of my mouth with properly coded academy-speak, so I’ll just say what I meant here:)
“Jacqueline, Terrell, Mike, what is the point of doing what you do? What conviction about its meaning do you carry into your music-making?”
Everything about each of their responses was about collectivity. People in close proximity, making and experiencing and celebrating and sharing something. Small rooms, said Terrell, in which you can hear people inhale when you do something surprising or compelling. Bodies in space, to paraphrase Mike, being transformed at the cellular level by forces that are literally hitting them. Being together is the point, was Jacqueline’s early claim. Premise, even. Music is meant to be made with and received by others. It knits us together.
My own psychology on the matter, historically, has been a bit different. I learned to do things to avoid this basic premise (ignore sideburns), tried to become a band, alone, performed in virtually empty spaces.
A tree falls in the forest, no one is there, is it still a tree?
That is how to reframe the question if you are talking about music.
I have spent so much time thinking (shaming? anxious-ing?) myself into a knot on this. Wanting people to listen to what I do feels like a fundamental problem, a corrupted intention. Same for wanting people to read what I write. I should just want to do it because it feeds me and if people come to the door and ask if I have anything to share, well maybe then I can share. But until then one just makes to fulfill an inner need. That feels like the ideal scenario. Departures from it are embarrassing. Overstepping. Getting swept up.
What this way of thinking disallows is that making and sharing could actually offer something to the world outside of one’s own basement/head. What would that be? More importantly, though: if the work is an offering then that status-as-offering changes the work. Changes its nature. I am not here to trot out some thing I made to set my brain on fire/because my brain was on fire, so someone can say “good job, I liked that, you are good at igniting your brain.” I am here to make some kind of offering to you, to say that we exist together, entwined. To say “did you see that?” or “have you ever felt like?” or “how about?” or “what if?”
So: “did you see that” band with the guy beatboxing and the cello all over the neck and the guitar that sounded like eagles? “Have you ever felt like” your ideas about what you do are giving way to ideas that are both more congruent with who you’d like to be and more supportive of a daily life that feels pretty good? “How about” I send you one of these every week? “What if" it was an offering to you, not to me? What if it was about making your day better? What if making things could be about that, turned out? What if we all thought about our work that way and our lives as our work?
Someone I love noticed that these big revelations lead to throwing away an old way of being and adopting a new one wholesale, and that there is a disavowal and a loss that accompanies that process, which is sad and difficult and, more importantly, pretty disorganizing and disorienting on a moment-to-moment-successfully-existing basis. What if, she asked, you made a few-degree shift, instead? Where would the vessel end up, at the end of its journey, if you just tilted it a little at this point, versus where it would have ended up without that minute intervention?
Certainly not where you thought you were going, but somewhere that honors the course-correction you know you need to make, right now, on this day, on this page, with this word. Tilting towards sharing and towards a possibility that this can all be oriented out, that facing out is actually more generous than facing in, that you might be receiving this broadcast because you want to and not because you are indulging me. And that we are knit together and helping each other put one foot in front of the other with some degree of dignity, because that is all there is to do in this life.
Til next week?
P.S. I am playing some songs, speaking of next week, in body but also over the internet. Thursday, June 3, 8PM Central. Link coming in the next broadcast.