“The longest journey begins with a single step” You’ve probably heard this quote that originated from Lao Tzu whose name (I think) means “Old Man” in English.
Developing yourself as a musician should mean keeping a dynamic balance between the big picture and the seemingly little things you do, the micro and the macro.
Think of it like this:
Every time we do half an hour’s practise, we are laying down another piece of track for our “train” to run on, so to speak. What is the ultimate direction of your train? Is what you are laying down right now, pointed in the right direction? Lao Tzu was a wise geezer.
Musically, whilst focusing on particulars such as our sound, or sense of time for example, it will help to have also developed a clear long term aim. Why are so many of us slow to put our Big Picture into concise language?
Are we afraid to share the question of what it means to be creative, or of being judged as an un-spontaneous intellectual or a new-age dreamer, or are we just a bit lazy?
Creative souls such as jazz musicians tend to follow their impulses and do not tend to go in for things that are already clearly defined. Writing down a list of personal aims for your future may well feel like over-defining things, against your nature.
How many people know that the origin of the word define means to “bring to an end” ? Musicians know that “fine” will mean the end of the piece, I guess that’s a clue.
To define is to create a boundary, it is to make apparent that point where one thing becomes another: your garden, his garden. The lick you invented, the lick he says you stole from him etc.
Something becomes defined, say, a musical genre, through having a repeated experience of it. As soon as it becomes readily recognisable, familiar, we can stick a label on it, (and probably try and sell it).
Creatives are doomed to be at odds with this to some extent. They will take great pleasure in choosing a piece of existing material, say a still-life model or a piece of music, breaking it up and recomposing it so that the original definition is bravely challenged.
I was at Ronnie Scotts a few weeks back and saw TRIO HLK open up for Chris Potter’s gig. Travelling by tube I passed an advert for a new Tate Modern Picasso exhibition, with the wonderfully distorted picture of the seated girl (The Dream).
I connected the two experiences half way through the trio’s set. Creativity is to redefine. There can be beauty, humour and something rejuvenating in having the defined things in our experience twisted about, in fact we need this in our lives.
I have just finished my latest album, and needed a name, and artwork. From the furry edges of creative play had to come something very defined, I shiver to use the word “product” but that is essentially what “Weather Walker” is of course.
So how do we join together our need to stay loose, adaptable and spontaneous with the disciplined visualisation of a predetermined plan?
Lao Tzu also spoke of the “cloud of unknowing” where trust is necessary. Fog patches come and go and are actually a vital ingredient and a sign that you are moving forward.
If your train track stretched from America’s west coast all the way to New York, you wouldn’t spend the whole journey looking around exclaiming, “well that’s not New York, and that’s not New York!”. It is understood that the experience of the journey itself with it’s changing landscape, is what makes your destination the prize that it is.
Put into practise, that would mean that the next time you set half an hour aside to work, it is as worthy a “life moment” as the goal, the final point, itself.
The very way we are processing information these days is short-term, rapacious, impatient and often unconnected to the body, like a brain on two restless sticks.
To be in that “final point” as you settle into practise means to sacrifice the Urge To Splurge. (Please read my earlier rant on smartphones).
Here is the pay-off: You will come to know whether your train is running on the very best track for you much more clearly this way. So to get the Big Picture, increase the quality of the Little One.