Some of you are already aware of practicing situations at conservatories in Europe. Not exactly ideal. Many conservatories do not even have practice rooms instead using conservatories exclusively to give lessons. I get the impression that administrative personnel decide to make it difficult for students to study on purpose so they can weed out the chaff. The fact that the Teresa Berganza Conservatory has such limited hours and availability, especially on the weekends, sends me to the park at the the corner of c/ Francisco José Jiménez and c/ Alhambra. Check it out on google maps with satellite imagery using those street names if you like.
Practicing in a park is a bit distracting compared to a cubicle or any room for that matter. Obviously, you’re outside so you get to deal with the environment if it’s sunny or cold or thinking about raining. It reminds me a time I was playing in Argentina a couple years ago for a church service outside, in the cold as the sun was setting. For a few moments, I thought my fingers were going to fall off. Playing outside brings a whole host of different factors into play such as intonation depending on the temperature and consistency of sound.
Music carries much differently when there are no walls to create an acoustic environment. It helps me appreciate the kind of work people like Ezra Hallman work towards, i.e. Architectural Acoustics. The thought that goes into designing a concert hall with good acoustics is an incredible process that takes years of training. Two of the best music halls I know of are in Springfield, Missouri at Evangel University, Barnett Recital Hall and in Athens, Georgia at the University of Georgia Hugh Hodgson School of Music, Hugh Hodgson Hall. Simply stated, they are world class.
Practicing outside has the added element that people are going to hear what you play. Inevitably people approach you, perhaps to stare for a moment and pass on, sometimes to throw things at you if they are not very nice. One time, I was working on the changes to “Inner Urge” by Joe Henderson (youtube it!) when an 75-year old man named Justo approached me. When it became apparent he wasn’t going to leave, I said hello and introduced myself. He told me he used to play trumpet for a professional wind band in Ciudad Real. Naturally enough, he had no lack of opinions out my playing. Turns out Justo was a neighbor who had already heard my playing when I had tried unsuccessfully to get away with practicing in my apartment. He didn’t like my sound very much because it didn’t fit his perspective of a good wind band mix. Having done most of his playing in the 50’s, he seemed to prefer the jazz style of Stan Kenton, Fletcher Henderson and other early swing greats—unfortunately for him not a style I have worked towards emulating. However, I had to give him credit for his ear for melody. He called me out on my practice habit of playing a myriad of scales with no focus to practicing melody, the most essential part of nearly every piece of music. He noticed I yelled a lot too when something didn’t sound out the way I wanted it. A bit of an unsolicited teaching session I soon won’t forget.
If you’re the only person who appreciates what you do, there will eventually come a point where you have to invent a position for yourself or figure out something else do.
Today is the National Day of Spain. It culminates what has been a four day weekend celebrating people and different cultures with an overarching emphasis the contributions of Spain in the world. On Sunday they had a grand parade where each Central and South American country had a chance to bear their flags, play their traditional music, and celebrate their heritage. Naturally as an American, I think Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade or the Rose Bowl Parade. Take a moment to reconsider with me how parades are presented.
The obvious difference is there were no floats. Not even one. The closest thing to a float would have been the cart they rolled along with each country group that contained a couple stacks of loudspeakers and maybe a DJ with a laptop. Surrounding this sound cart were dancers dressed in traditional clothing. Each group would come by with a white banner announcing their country and at least two flag bearers. The Uruguay group got a little excited with their flags and brought a third enormous flag that would hit you if you got too close, just to make sure we didn’t forget them after their stellar 4th-place World Cup showing. The Cubans were the most exciting. They had enthusiastic and talented dancers who knew how to get the crowd going. The Dominican Republic were well color-coordinated to fit the red, white, and blue of their flag. The Peruvian girls walked around with unopened wine bottles on top of their heads; some stacked two on top as if to say, “Hey look at me, I’m young, beautiful, AND graceful.” Beauty definitely has some different aesthetic between cultures. The Ecuadorian dancers had what looked like mini tents on top of them with bananas and meat and maybe some onions draped down the sides of the tent. I think they were supposed to be animals. My Ecuadorian friends were not impressed. They said that the group only represented the traditions of the sierra in Ecuador and not that of the coastal people.
Which, of course made me think about American Democrats and Republicans, Spain and the Basque Country, Canada and Quebec, Israelis and Palestinians. Seems to me like national boundaries often are like awkward marriages where it’s too expensive to divorce so the couple decides to live together, but in different bedrooms (thank you Brian Snyder for that brilliant analogy).
Anyway, it has been a four day weekend. I’m very ready to get back to the conservatory and started my regimen of practicing again. Lately, it has been two hours in the park just trying to maintain—time to get back to work!
The life you are living today will never come again. It is distinct, unique, and will certainly pass just like the sun will set tonight. One of my college buddies, Luke Ausdemore, died on Tuesday night while free diving for lobster in Mission Bay, San Diego. He was a academic year older than me at Oral Roberts U. and loved smooth jazz. We definitely connected on that level. He was always trying to get me to check out the latest Boney James album; we had numerous impromptu jam sessions in his dorm room- always groovy conversations between sax and djembe. I will remember Luke as an encourager, someone who always had a smile and never missed an opportunity to pick you up if you needed it. It’s to his credit that I am where I am today as a musician; he encouraged me to continue pursuing my dreams when I needed it most.
The loss of Luke reminds me to think of two big themes.
#1- How do I want to be remembered when I’m gone
#2- Who do I have to be thankful to for helping me get to where I am today
It isn’t always easy to think in such broad terms. After all, life moves fast. Christmas is coming. The Chiefs are winning for once. Studies aren’t slowing down. Here, life in Spain is a daily discovery. Sometimes when we take a step back to consider the big puzzle pieces that define our lives it brings the color back into the grayscale moments of the present day. So while the sun is still up, why not take the time to remember someone who was an encouragement to you? Feel free to post on the wall here at my blog if you like, I’m eager to read about your diverse influences. Then consider how you want others to remember you. As I pause to remember Luke’s full life this week, I remember each day is gift. He lived his 25 fast years to the full. Now that’s some encouragement to live on!
The rain is on the plain in Spain. Lame. It finally got cold today. I keep seeing all of these facebook posts about people being happy fall is here. I’ll take that J month, July to be precise. Next to a large body of water if possible. There is a park two blocks from where I live that I like to run at. Plenty of track space and I feel safe enough to run at night. It has a beautiful view of Madrid from the top of a hill that I see 4x each time I run my laps. You can see the financial sector (the only part of Madrid that really has skyscrapers) and into the southwest corner of the city. If you turn your back to the city, you can see about 10 miles out onto the plains of the country surrounding Madrid. One of the beautiful things about Madrid is the variety of architecture. You have red clay colored buildings, historic churches and mosques with their elaborate spires sticking up here and there. There are yellow creme colored residential flats in the La Latina district with beautiful terraces. Upper-scale clubs and hotels will often use decorative lighting on their buildings to draw attention. There is no lack of construction either, often in busy places remodeling a part of the metro or knocking down a building to make something better.
My unique musical experience since the last time I posted happened at a club I checked along the Calle del Prado. It had the anticipated techno dj setup going on. Heart-pounding beats, simple melodies. But there was a sax player. He would hook his microphone onto the bell of his horn and rip out these enormous riffs, piercing the room and snatching the attention of everyone on the dance floor. A fantastic player, he certainly wasn’t above pausing to take a picture with some of the people dancing. He even played a European techno version of the blues. I was amazed because I had never heard someone use a saxophone like that before and jealous because I wasn’t the one up there.
One thing that draws me to the saxophone lies partially in what I saw last night. From a dance club in Madrid to a polka band for a wedding in Kansas to a jazz club on Peoria St. in Tulsa to the concert stage with an orchestra in Atlanta, I have seen the saxophone used in so many different contexts. Certainly, it is one of the most versatile of instruments.
Arthur White, director of jazz studies at Mizzou, just released an album called Vertigo. He brought out vibraphonist Mike Mainieri to help him record it with the jazz band (which I was in at the time). Mainieri is certainly one of the true legends from the New York City scene. He is a short man with greying hair and an easygoing disposition (a rarity for anyone from New York as far as I’m concerned). Never lacking the time to smile and make a catchy joke, he is pushing 76. A true icon. I encourage you to check out the album, there is a nice review of it in the Columbia Missourian that you can find here:
If you want to buy or listen to clips from the album you can go here:
I have solos on Tee Bag (track 1) and Bullett Train (track 3).
If you don’t know who Kenny Garrett is from the last post and want to hear someone I highly respect, here is an example of his work: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K060F3bRXKg