Erin's Everyday Thoughts

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

I'm With the Band


During the past few weeks, I've become reacquainted with two old loves -- the flute and the piano. A group of friends threw an 80s-themed party, and the festivities included live band covers of a handful of 80s songs. Several of these friends are in a local music group (with drums, guitars, vocal, bass); for this performance, they added to their number, bringing on trombones, trumpet, flute. I played the flute in two songs (Sledgehammer and Word Up) and played keyboard in one song (Separate Ways). I also did some back-up vocals. My parts were small, but I had a wonderful time practicing and performing.

It was interesting to see the different ways people create music. The core band approached the songs with a "listen and reproduce" mindset. It was amazing to me that they could just listen to a recording of a song, figure out their part, and recreate nearly perfectly the song--with no sheet music, no discussion of sharps and flats or time signature. I learned music much differently. When I started piano lessons in the second grade, I had two books--one with basic songs to play, one with information on music theory, a "rulebook" (if you will) for understanding the process of making music. When I learned to play the flute, too, everything was based on the staff. Everything was written out, a clear picture of what to play and when to play it. When I began to practice the 80s covers with this band, the difference in our approaches was obvious. What they could listen to and play, I'd have to figure out the notes for. A-E-G, I'd write it out and look at the notes until my fingers learned what they were supposed to do.

I don't think one approach to creating music is necessarily better than the other. At the end of the learning process, you often end up at the same place. But I found that as I continued to learn with the band, I began to adopt their approach in small ways. Instead of thinking entirely in terms of notes, I saw patterns on the keyboard, heard repetitions and rhythms I miss when I'm focused solely on playing the right notes. This reminded me of another music experience from my past--when I played the flute with a church choir in college. There was often no flute music written out, so I'd get to play harmonies or pick accompanying tones from chords--basically playing whatever I wanted to add to the song. It was liberating to feel that freedom, after years of sticking to the notes on the page.

All of this makes me think of writing. There is a manner of writing that is safe. You write the way you're used to writing--using sentence structures that are tried and true, carefully crafting the rising and falling action of your story. You write as you've been taught to write, from grade school on. You work toward the climax, each comma in a line. You stick to safe subjects and cookie cutter plots. But there is also a manner of writing that is different. You try to step away from what you've done before and work in a way that's new to you. You dive in without worrying exactly where you're going. There are no staff or notebook lines--only open white space full of possibility.

3 Comments:

  • you brought out the rock with the band.

    have you thought about writing under a pseudonym? it sounds silly, but it can be a very liberating experience.....i've found that i've attached a particular style of writing to my own name, but that under something else, i don't feel bound to those same restrictions.

    By Blogger Tripp_Fontaine, at 3:01 PM  

  • "Open white space full of possibility..." I like that very much.

    Judi

    By Blogger emmapeelDallas, at 6:14 PM  

  • "Trip" may have an answer to a common writing dilemma: the pen name. At least the pen name could get you started, even if you ended up having the courage later on to use your real name. It's true that we attach certain styles and expectations to our real name: maybe a really cool pseudonym could help you to shake things us. I experimented with this in one of my creative writing classes. I let them choose an alter ego, and there were some pretty cool results. On the one hand, we all dream of finding our true voice; on the other hand, we sometimes long to escape it. The trick is to know where you are and what you need to do at any given time. I wish I could have heard you play! I never have!

    By Blogger Theresa Williams, at 10:47 PM  

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