Ups and downs to end the term

I was sick in bed all day Thursday with a 24-hr stomach flu (or some such sort of nuisance) and then began slowly recouping on Friday morning as I headed to the audition for our summer theatre project.

I went home to rest in the afternoon to prepare for the evening gamelan fest. We had to set up and rehearse at 5pm and then have a parade/blessing ceremony/food & snacks from about 6 to 7pm, when the concert was to start.

I received very upsetting news while I was home resting.  My group was chosen to receive funding for the summer project BUT a condition that we had to “confirm” was that all participants be under the age of 30 – a condition of the provincial arts grant that the Burnaby Arts Council was receiving to support the project.  Apparently, it is a grant to foster “youth” employment (“youth” referring to those between 15 and 30).

So, I’ve been left out in the cold after all the work and time we put in just to get it to this stage.  I’m not sure there’s anything I can do about it since it isn’t a clear-cut case of organizational discrimination based on age.  I believe IT IS discrimination but I think it would be difficult to argue against such a youth-supporting initiative from the government.  It would almost be like arguing against any sort of age restrictions at all on anything.  However, I think after one reaches “adulthood” everyone should be considered equal and any programs to assist adults should be on the basis of a particular demographic situation, e.g. student, retiree, unemployed, etc.

Needless to say, the news covered the rest of my day in a shroud of gray, even as the unfolding evening was quite enjoyable and successful.  Since I was still recovering from illness I felt I hardly had the emotional energy to face what had happened, especially since I had to keep energy up for the gamelan event.  In particular, I was happy at how Chris’s piece went since we were all sure it was the best we’d ever played it so far.  But everything else went well, too, and I think the audience enjoyed the evening.  I’m looking forward to doing more gamelan stuff this summer.  Apparently, there are a couple of community groups to get involved in and there may be a weekly meeting at school as well.

Speaking of summer plans, things are now up in the air a little.  At least, I have time to sort things out over my upcoming vacation to Newfoundland to see family and friends.


Winding down (and some things still winding up)

So the semester is winding down.  Another one for the annals.  I submitted the score of my quartet today as well as a book of improv or “open score” pieces that I compiled from my work with my improv group this term, including Alternate Takes for Ethos Collective.  I called my book A Study in Plaid: A Music Improvisation Sketchbook, and it consists of seven pieces.  I dedicated it to mentor, colleague and friend Professor Paul Bendzsa at the Memorial University of Newfoundland School of Music.

I attended two dress rehearsals today, one for the summer music-theatre project audition, which is on Friday morning, and the second for the class gamelan concert, which is on Friday evening.  Basically, all work for the semester is done except for these two engagements on Friday.

All in all, it has been a very productive few months.  It has not been without disappointments, however.  The readings for my quartet, for instance, didn’t go well and I let my frustration and discouragement get the better of me.  Stewing in negativity for a few days, I opted not to submit the piece for presentation in the final concert, which I now regret considerably.  I think it would’ve been played given that there ended up being only seven pieces on the concert – two less than last term.  I really could’ve benefitted from the extra rehearsal that would’ve come about, not to mention the exposure the concert would’ve afforded.  Bitter lesson learned, let me tell you.

Another disappointment was the gamelan final project presentation this past Monday.  My group came up with a decent piece and we polished it pretty well.  I spent extra time on the weekend working on my part and was nailing it.  But in the class performance I totally bombed.  I was quite distraught about it.  I don’t know what happened.  I didn’t really feel all that nervous.  But I played as if I hardly practiced at all!

Anyway, it looks like in the final gamelan concert we will be doing Chris’s gamelan-inspired piece, which we also played on Monday.  That presentation went reasonably well.

It’s good to get some performance experience on saxophone these days.  I’ve had a few interesting appearances since (re-) beginning playing last fall.  It’s been a long time coming!  And, really, that’s all still winding up.

Strategies for Increased Creativity

I published this in a past blog called “Riffs, Rants and Remarks” in March of 2011.  I believe it’s important so I’d like to share it again.

Strategies for Increased Creativity

1) Believe you are creative.  It’s surprising to me how many people think they aren’t creative.   I think creativity is an instinct we are all born with.  Some people eventually develop the belief that they aren’t creative.   It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy that ensures you’re defeated even before you start.

2) Feel free to make mistakes. There is often more than one right answer, to begin with, and realizing this can alleviate the fear that we develop of making mistakes.  The next step is to realize that it’s not “wrong” to try something and fail.  It’s just a natural part of the process, and continues to be so for the most creative people.

3) Re-capture “play”.  Creating anything comes out of a sense of play, of having fun.  We develop this sense, as we grow older, that play is something for kids or for adults as a break from work.  We also develop a belief that play is a distraction from important matters (a necessary one to avoid too much stress) but that it has no practical value in itself.  In other words, most adults believe play is frivolous and extraneous.  However, creative productivity will only flow from a sense of play.  Artists of all walks – the pros, as it were – learn to conjure this at any time.

4) Explore new things.  Often creative ideas come out of experiencing something new (to you).  The combination of your unique combination of experiences – in the broadest sense possible, i.e. the sum of all your past sensory input, which is a huge part of what makes you uniquely “you” – with a new experience can result in a wonderful creative output, like two chemicals combining for a dramatic result.

5) Avoid what is practical sometimes.  In today’s society we have cultivated a widespread belief that everything we do must be practical somehow, that it have some utilitarian value.  We, therefore, become slaves of practicality.  Of course, we can’t avoid practical matters entirely – we have to get things done!  But this way of thinking doesn’t have to apply to all aspects of life.  In our society, we primarily view music, for example, as something entertaining people or relaxing people, and, therefore, we view it as a commodity or service.  Musicians know it is more – it is a primal drive, and a source of true joy, something we must do regardless of “what for”.  If you’re in a habit of always thinking “I need to do this because”, you will not develop the habit of doing something for the sake of doing it.  Only through the freedom this habit affords can the creative process be supported.

6) Go for quantity over quality.  You will get trapped or stifled by constantly judging how “good” your efforts or their outcomes are.  In order to come up with a good idea, write a good story, compose a good song, paint a good picture, etc., we must go through the process of creating stuff that might end up being considered “sub-par” (by ourselves or anyone else).  If you worry about this beforehand, you won’t reach your creative potential and you might not even get started.

7) Listen to your hopes and dreams.  They highlight more about you than anything from your experience.  They are the beacons for where you should be exploring and they will inform your personal creative process more than any skill that you have.  This is the realm of your imagination, and your imagination is the ground from which all things creative stem.

Gamelan frenzy

So this week my group from my gamelan course finally got together to begin work on our final project: a collective composition.  I’ve decided to put my own gamelan piece aside for now and get back to it when I have a bit more time.  We met Weds evening for the first session.

We first had to decide what instrument we each wanted to play and then what kind of piece we would like to make – basically, by determining how close to the gamelan tradition we want our piece to be.  We decided that we’d establish a piece based on some of the core structural principles we’ve learned and then stretch out from there.  Our first step was to come up with our “balungan” – the core melodic line.  We thought a piece based on a five digit security code, which we all know, would be a good place to start (each digit would translate into a pitch in a particular tuning system).  We extrapolated the five pitches into sets of four-beat groupings (standard gamelan structure called “gatra”) and then created a contrasting line to combine with it, which is also used as an intro.  Our next step was to create a second section in which this melodic line would be expanded and developed, again in a typical way that we’ve learned and practiced in one of our class pieces.  Beyond this planning, we each had to come up with patterns on our respective instruments that would compliment this main melody.  My goal was to use a mixture of standard techniques of embellishing the melody with more personal ones (e.g. I’ve been obsessed with “paradiddles” for months now and so I’m incorporating some patterns based on those).

Our second session on Friday was basically devoted to practicing what we’ve established already, finalizing the number of repetitions and working on transitions, as well as creating a contrasting section where we could experiment with rhythm a little more and be less conventionally “gamelan.”  This took basically our whole session since we also took the time to notate what we’ve done.  I expect we’ll continue with this approach next time, expanding the piece a little and then planning a way to transition back to our primary material and ending off the piece.

Also, last Monday night improv group spent a portion of our jam time working on Chris Blaber’s gamelan piece, which he has expanded and plans to present as his final project.  It’s quite challenging for us but I think it’s going to turn out well.  The rest of rehearsal was taken up with a recording project for a film score.

So, as the semester draws to a close, it’s basically all about gamelan.