Poseur to Composer

Yesterday has me reflecting on the importance of silence. First I was verbally thrashed by a co-worker for my friendly 4am banter which he took personally. Then a few hours later a shelter resident publicly berated me for failing to explain our towel policy. Both incidences were self-inflicted because I didn't keep my mouth shut.

I'm usually concerned with saying the right thing. To be congenial and soft spoken. But in a workplace where tensions are high, every word is a step in a minefield. It's better to be strategically silent.

Miles Davis was a master of strategic silence. He's known for pithy sayings like “I always listen to what I can leave out” and “if you don't know what to play, play nothing”.

Listen to Miles and you'll notice, if you haven't already, how judicious he was with the trumpet. It's an approach he adopted near the beginning of his career while playing with Jazz legends Charlie “Bird” Parker and Dizzy Gillespie. Miles couldn't keep up with Bird and Dizzy's fast-tempoed solos so he (re)invented his style. Instead of trying harder, he was sparse. His musical statements became pithy like his quotes, but he was more apt to let others talk then punctuate at the right moment.

It was the beginning of the iconic Miles Davis we know, and the style that made Kind of Blue possible.

Meditation Time bookstanding today: 40 Quality of meditation (out of 10): 6

Practice Minutes on the keyboard today (out of 40): 20 minutes Quality of practice (out of 10): 6


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I'm using Jump by Van Halen for developing hand independence. The left hand part is so simple, I can't imagine a better song to start with. And it's working. Under an hour of total practice time and my left hand is playing independent of the right.

While practicing, I recognize an important truth about control: when I focus on either hand I flub up immediately, but when I zoom out and just observe, I play better. It reminds me of something Shunryu Suzuki wrote in Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind.

About control, Suzuki said:

To give your sheep or cow a large, spacious meadow is the way to control him. So it is with people: first let them do what they want, and watch them. This is the best policy. To ignore them is not good; that is the worst policy. The second worst is trying to control them. The best one is to watch them, just to watch them, without trying to control them.

This is so true. At my new job at the homeless shelter, I serve all different kinds of people. Many have a mental illness or drug addiction, and some self medicate their mental illness or trauma with hard drugs. Others have violent or anti social temperaments. Most are angry. None want to be there. All of them want their own space and live independently, but due to life circumstances they cannot survive without the shelter's help.

As a staff member, I try to give as much leeway and as many choices as possible. If they are in violation of one of the shelter's rules, I inform them but then step back and give them space. With a bit of time and space, most people of sound mind do the right thing of their own accord.

Suzuki goes on to say:

The true purpose is to see things as they are, to observe things as they are, and to let everything go as it goes. This is to put everything under control under the widest sense.

Try the Zen of Control for dealing with people in the fairest possible manner, and paradoxically enough, for developing left hand independence. Just add Van Halen's Jump for best results.

Meditation Time bookstanding today: 40 Quality of meditation (out of 10): 5

Practice Minutes on the keyboard today (out of 40): 15 minutes Quality of practice (out of 10): 6


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A recently published study in The Journal of Physiology shows that neuro plasticity can happen immediately, instead of months or years. The findings show that after just one hour of training with a Brain Computer Interface (BCI), there were measurable changes in areas of the brain specifically required to conduct the tasks.

This answers the question lurking in my mind about how long it takes before these hand independence exercises “rewire the brain” so I can properly play piano with both hands. Encouraging news for anyone who wants to develop hand independence for piano (or any other endeavor) but doesn't have a lot of time.

Meditation Time bookstanding today: 40 Quality of meditation (out of 10): 6

Practice Minutes on the keyboard today (out of 40): 5 minutes Quality of practice (out of 10): 6


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The post title is a quote by American author and Nobel Prize winner Saul Bellow.


Meditation Time bookstanding today: 40 Quality of meditation (out of 10): 5

Practice Minutes on the keyboard today (out of 40): 15 minutes Quality of practice (out of 10): 6


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I was having second thoughts about project Dhymn. I wondered if it would be heretical to mix secular musical styles with sacred hymns. But then I discovered that's just what Martin Luther did. At least some of the melodies for his compositions were lifted from popular bar tunes and folk songs of the time and reappropriated for worship.

Luther even quipped, “why should the devil have all the good tunes?”

The substitution of one text for another without substantial change to the music is called contrafactum. Contrafactum was a common practice in the sixteenth century, as there was no concept of copyright law or intellectual property.

An update on the hand independence exercise: I'm gotten a lot quicker, but can only do it five six times in a row before flubbing up. Developing hand independence requires complete attention and awareness. My window of high awareness is short, even with daily meditation.

I'll work on expanding this window with more meditation and mindfulness.

Meditation Time meditating today: 0 Quality of meditation (out of 10): 0

Practice Minutes on the keyboard today (out of 40): 20 minutes Quality of practice (out of 10): 6


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Luther Making Music in the Circle of His Family by Gustav Spangenberg

Martin Luther advocated for uniting people as a congregation and worshipping God in heartfelt song. Before then, music was relegated to Roman Catholic priests and monks who sang in Latin, a language the common folk did not understand.

So it's not surprising he had strong feelings about music. Here is what Luther wrote as a forward in a collection of musical compositions. His peppery personality is on full display here.

Our dear fathers and prophets did not desire without reason that music be always used in the churches. Hence, we have so many songs and psalms. This precious gift has been given to man alone that he might thereby remind himself that God has created man for the express purpose of praising and extolling God. However, when man's natural musical ability is whetted and polished to the extent that it becomes an art, then do we note with great surprise the great and perfect wisdom of God in music, which is, after all, His product and His gift; we marvel when we hear music in which one voice sings a simple melody, while three, four, or five other voices play and trip lustily around the voice that sings its simple melody and adorn this simple melody wonderfully with artistic musical effects, thus reminding us of a heavenly dance, where all meet in a spirit of friendliness, caress and embrace. A person who gives this some thought and yet does not regard music as a marvelous creation of God, must be a clodhopper indeed and does not deserve to be called a human being; he should be permitted to hear nothing but the braying of asses and the grunting of hogs.

Meditation Time bookstanding today: 20 Quality of meditation (out of 10): 7

Practice Minutes on the keyboard today (out of 40): 15 minutes Quality of practice (out of 10): 5


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This weekend I pondered the words for Martin Luther's hymn A Mighty Fortress Is Our God and made some annotations on Genius.

I used the version by Chris Rice because it's my favorite of the 22+ versions I've listened to.

Meditation Time bookstanding today: 40 Quality of meditation (out of 10): 6

Practice Minutes on the keyboard today (out of 40): 10 minutes Quality of practice (out of 10): 5


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Meditation is most important, now that I'm dealing with so much emotional volatility and mental illness at the workplace. Music practice takes a back seat, but I'm still practicing the left right hand independence exercises in a quiet moment.

Not many of them though.

Meditation Time bookstanding today: 25 minutes Quality of meditation (out of 10): 7

Practice Minutes on the keyboard today (out of 40): 2 minutes Quality of practice (out of 10): 3


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This'll be a short one, as I'm busy and sleep deprived. The new job is intense. There's never a dull moment at the homeless shelter. Not sure how I'll squeeze meaningful practice in between back-to-back 12 hour shifts though.

Right now I'm flipping my circadian rhythm to be awake during the night and sleepy during the day. It takes at least five days to do it, five days before I sleep properly. Once I'm sleeping properly my focus and memory retention will return to normal.

How does one switch from days to nights in only five days? The trick isn't when you go to bed, it's when you wake up. You must awaken at the same time every day for five days straight, and not take a nap during those days either. Works like a charm.

I'm still doing Joff's left right hand exercises, even as I nod off. Will practice Jump too.

Meditation Time bookstanding today: 40 minutes Quality of meditation (out of 10): 6

Practice Minutes on the keyboard today (out of 40): 10 minutes Quality of practice (out of 10): 4


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Tonight I start my new job. I hope it goes better than when I started my last job. Let me tell you about it.

When I started my last job, my employer almost immediately took me from the role I was hired for and put me in a manager training program. This irked some employees (understandably enough) and they scrutinized everything I did.

Eventually, things smoothed over and I earned their friendships, but never had I felt so under a microscope.

Another employee said that from the first moment he saw me he knew he wouldn't like me. He didn't like my face, I guess. I thanked him for his candidness and we never spoke since.

Despite the rocky start, most of my co-workers there were great, and I made the best of a situation I didn't really want to be in. Yesterday I left on favourable conditions.

Today I start my new job, and hope no one hates me simply because of my (very ordinary) looks. I'm probably a touch paranoid.

As for my quest to becoming a composer, I've been practicing those left right hand exercises I mentioned yesterday. The trick, as Joff shows, is to break the task into smaller parts and go slowly at first. It's the fastest way to learn almost anything. Slow is smooth, smooth is fast as the Navy SEALs say.

I also ran through the C Minor Blues Scale and the intro to So What. My fingers fumbled a lot today, and for some reason thought of when my daughter took piano lessons. I was a young father back then, preoccupied with other things, and wasn't supportive like I should have been.

Learning from mistakes. Becoming better. That's a big part of life and what Poseur to Composer is about.

Meditation Time bookstanding today: 40 minutes Quality of meditation (out of 10): 6

Practice Minutes on the keyboard today (out of 40): 20 minutes Quality of practice (out of 10): 6


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