this is the 3rd part to my essays on creativity. part 1 is here and part 2 is here.
Several years ago I had an epiphany:
I had been granted an extra year of life.
It was around the time of my birthday and I was assessing what I had accomplished as a musician. Although I never doubted my musicality, I was wondering if it made sense to keep pursuing music. My career just didn’t seem to be going anywhere. Perhaps it was time to switch gears and put my creative skills to use elsewhere. These thoughts continued for several days as I explored more and more possibilities and became more and more depressed. Then suddenly, the day before my birthday, I realized that I was a year younger than I had thought!
I felt that the universe had been given me an extra year. This would be the year to say yes to any musical project that came my way. This would be the year to get over being fearful of playing music the way I heard it and with the people I most wanted to play with. This would be my year of grace; my own sabbatical. Most of all, this would be the year to be open to any crazy ideas I had, to learn anything I felt I needed to know, to experiment, try new things and allow myself to fail.
It may very well be that allowing the possibility of failure may be the most crucial of these realizations. Without the possibility of failure growth is almost impossible. Safety and creativity do not go hand in hand.
Once I had committed to the idea that I had an extra year of life amazing things started to happen. Doors began to open that I hadn’t even noticed before. All kinds of performing opportunities came my way, many of which I might not have pursued or followed-through in the past. Some required endless games of telephone tag with club owners, some required taking on whole new areas of studying, listening and endless hours of practicing, and some required facing the scary “truth” of the recording studio.
Let’s face it. None of us know how much time we have. The notion of an extra year is a little bizarre. But I’ve found it to be profoundly powerful. Each day is a gift. You never know what is lurking around the corner. But if you can tell yourself that this minute, this hour, this day or this year is extra time that you’ve been granted to pursue a dream, it changes everything.
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the universal mind. the collective unconscious.
If you’re lucky, you can learn to recognize and identify that which you have forgotten. If you’re really lucky, you follow…
My body always knows long before my conscious mind tells me anything. The electric shock of recognition will start in my spine as my eyes fill with tears.
Forgotten Melodies came out of Nikolai Medtner’s Sonata Reminincenza. but it also came out of Maria Schneider’s Hang Gliding, and Shalom Secunda’s Dona Dona with a stop-over at Yiddish Summer Weimar in Germany. The seed of the idea came out of a spontaneous duet I heard at klezkanada played by Alan Bern on accordion and Christian Dawid on clarinet. It was heaven and earth and everything in between. And I recognized it at once. It was buried so deeply into my past that it preceded my birth. And it felt as though a vibrant and colorful path which I had never noticed before had suddenly come into view.
Forgotten Melodies is an exploration of Yiddish/Eastern European/klezmer music which I have arranged as contemporary jazz. I started the project a few years ago with Dona Dona and with a Canada Council grant to study with Marilyn Lerner, and on March 29 I will be presenting the collection in concert at the Four Seasons Centre for the Arts in Toronto. The repertoire includes some old Yiddish songs and melodies as well as original compositions inspired by klezmer/Yiddish music. I’ll be playing this music with my fantastic band: Mike Murley on soprano and tenor sax, George Koller on bass and Nick Fraser on drums.
I’ve recorded a couple of the selections on my upcoming CD, Two Kites. Here is a youtube video of Yam Lid/Lustige Chasidm/Balkan Bellabusta played in concert at La Belle Epoque and recorded by the CBC for “Canada Live”.
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The more I think about it, the more illusive it is. The ideas slip-slide faster than a fresh-caught fish. We’re in murky waters here.
When I think about creative thought, the first thing that comes to mind is space. You need space, and plenty of it.
Idle space, physical space, the look and feel of the brown wood on my finally-cleared desk. Psychic space. You need a place in the brain for ideas to float around in.
The brain as flotation tank.
I’ve become adept at filling in space, of occupying my mind with endless amounts of things to do. I’m addicted to keeping my mind busy. Occupied with clutter. Clutter is my way to avoid thinking. To avoid being creative.
But space is only something I get glimpses of now and then. And even given space, in an eye-blink all the clutter rushes back in faster than air rushes into an unsealed vacuum-pack.
Most of the time I forget about space. I forget about silence.
I suspect that silence and space need to be courted. It’s like I need to sneak up on myself and then coax my slippery mind. My fickle brain. Wait. Stay here for just a second longer. Long enough to savour this thought. Long enough to taste it, feel its saltiness, follow it through. Long enough to grasp it before it dissolves into the ether of the hubbub.
And if creative thought is so enjoyable, why do I avoid it?
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I love the newness of the new year. A time to reflect, leave stuff behind and move forward. I just wish it came more than once a year. How about once a month? I’m going lunar! I wish you all many happy lunars this year.
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