Knowing the Next Note, Not Just Reading Ahead -- Flute Technique

Dawn's Azumi flute


I haven’t seen this particular and helpful flute technique mentioned. There’s discussion about embouchure, about fingers, about breathing, about tone, but not much about something so simple and easy to do that it should go into every flutist’s (maybe even every musician’s) knowledge base. It was taught to me, so I’ll pass it along. It’s ‘knowing the next note’.

I’m not talking about reading ahead, where we are reading one, two, or more measures ahead of what we’re actually playing.  No. This technique has nothing at all to do with whether you are playing something that you are reading off a score or something you are playing from memory.

‘Knowing the next note’ means: Have the next note you are going to play after the one you are presently playing already in your head. When you do this, your brain already has set up for the transition.

A lot of players play ‘in the moment’ only, note by note. They may know the piece inside and out, they may read ahead, but they’re concentrating solely upon the note they are playing — its intonation, its quality, its dynamics…a lot of things, including quality and type of vibrato. But. They fail to ‘know the next note’, much less the entire phrase, both of which are exceedingly helpful, giving your body, via your brain’s mental preparations, a head start in preparing for the fine motor skill changes that lead to smooth, clean transitions, note-to-note, regardless of difficult fingerings or of interval jumps. Here’s how:

When playing, simply ‘know the next note’. So, if I’m playing a first register A and the next note is a third register E, I already ‘know’ that, next, I will be playing that third register E, no matter how fast or slowly that E comes after the A. And as I’m playing that third register E, I ‘know’ that the next note I will play will be a second register D. Then, as I’m playing that second register D, I ‘know’ I will be playing a first register C# after that.

The ‘know’ is an active ‘knowing’, instant by instant, note by note.

If it’s a run that comes after, then, ‘know’ the run, and, especially, ‘know’ that run’s target note while playing the previous note.

In essence, you’re focused on the note you’re playing, but, underneath, are actively aware of the note you’re going to next. And it also helps to know the entire phrase in your head in the background, behind the active ‘playing this, knowing that next is this’ technique.

This is a ‘brain technique’ that, once mastered, effortlessly does magical things to performance for smoothing out transitions between even the most difficult fingering changes and intervals one must play.

Hope this helps you.

Azumi flute


For Each Note?! Really?!

Dawn's Azumi flute


I got a good chuckle yesterday. Somebody I know was working on intonation, clarity, and truing pitch, and, in frustration, turned around and asked, “Do you have to adjust your embouchure for each and every note on the flute?”

“Yes,” I answered, not bothering to clarify with specifics and cases of exception, because I know this individual doesn’t like the ‘if’s, ‘and’s, and ‘maybe’s.

“For each note?!”

“Set for each note, yes — each note and each type or quality of tone.”

“Really!” — snapped in disgust. “I should have taken up electronic keyboard. Then I wouldn’t have to worry about embouchure and I’d always be in tune!”

They turned around and stared at me, then. “For each and every note you play on the flute, you adjust your embouchure?!”

“Yes.” Now, I added in a small clarification, inaccurate at best in the interest of keeping my response brief and comfortable for them. “Unless it’s a speedy run where you start here on this note, then aim for the target note of that run. Then, it’s a sort of smooth transition through the embouchure adjustments.”

They sighed in disgust, rubbed their face, complained about muscle fatigue, and put their instrument in its stand.

“So every note you play, you set that note with your ear and with embouchure adjustments!” they stated.

“Yes.”

They shook their head. “I can’t even imagine how long that took you to get perfected.”

I didn’t respond. The truth is, it takes a long time to master a wind instrument, because of embouchure requirements. It’s taxing; it’s long, tedious, slow work, note by note up and down the chromatic scale, the major and minor scales…. It’s working slowly and methodically through all the intervals. It’s doing a lot of long tone work and even more harmonic work. It’s not something mastered in a year or two. Maybe four if you work really, really hard, but usually at least a decade. I didn’t mention that. I know that knowledge wouldn’t sit well, not with a beginning clarinetist.


Music as a Career - NO.

Learning an instrument is wonderful. Learning the written language of music does wonderful things in brain development — yes, really. Best, the experience of playing with others under a decent conductor is an exceptional experience, as I cover here in “On Being a Member of a Great Orchestra“. Learning to play an instrument with an eye to the skill and art of it as a career, however, is not a wise choice. Let’s put that notion to bed, right now.

At any given moment across the globe, there might be eleven (11) — count them — well-paid, not-so-well-paid, and unpaid openings for, for example, flutists, mostly in temp, part-time, or teaching positions. Same is true for performance artists of other instruments. The available openings probably won’t be something that’s your dream job. If one of them is, I can pretty much guarantee that you won’t get it, because there’s a lot of “who knows who” involved in landing those positions, never mind that there’s usually a better player competing for that rare-as-hen’s-teeth (hens don’t have teeth) job.

Orchestras are vanishing — too expensive to maintain. Performance venues are more interested in contracting for sports events than for music events. The public is more interested in old, has-been rockers or in the latest young pop star who’s good at stirring their hormones or giving them a dopamine high than in a bunch of skilled musicians performing flawlessly. If it ain’t got glam and bling, if it ain’t got some schtick, forget it.

Want to teach music for a living? Really? Okay. But real teaching jobs are, again, rare. In the U.S., public school music departments are being slashed, as are art departments. In fact, all the creative arts are being reduced to unpaid extracurricular activities. The money is in sports, also an extracurricular activity, but usually quite well funded by local booster clubs. Music? Nah. Art? Nah. Drama? Nah. Go to an upper crust school, and, yes, music, art, drama, and all sorts of other things, like horsemanship and archery, are supported. But these are all activities to broaden scope, not taken as serious career pursuits.

There are, in fact, less and less opportunities in every type of career, but especially music, and more and more competitors for those fewer opportunities. So, unless you want to spend your life chasing after success in entrepreneurial endeavors, which means get a degree in marketing, not music, don’t focus on performing, or even teaching music as a career.

At best, you can look for a future to utilize your skills as a musician and a teacher as an avocation, something you do on the side to maybe generate some ‘pin money‘, but you’ll be hard-pressed unless you’re absolutely the hands down best in the world to expect to put bread on the table and money in the bank with a career in music. That’s the reality now and in the future. There are just too many people competing for dwindling opportunities and not enough public interest to sustain you as a musician.


Glass Curtain Shattered in Sandpoint Last Night

I met a cellist, Sam Minker, at Kathy’s veterinary hospital Wednesday last. I was staring at an unwanted Windows update that had interrupted my computer fix, chatting about our latest recording project with Georgette, the resident receptionist with whom I have a humor-filled rapport. This twenty-something guy leans in over the counter and says, “What did you say?”

I thought he was asking about my grumbling about Windows 10, but, no, he wanted to know about the music project …so I told him a bit about Zentao Music. He seemed genuinely excited to meet a working musician.

Outside, he mentioned that he was performing, and, after a harried day of interruptions, I changed clothes, ran a brush through my hair, and carted twenty bucks with me for a ticket. (Forrest opted to stay home, which was probably a good thing, though, originally, I’d arranged to go because I wanted Forrest to meet Sam.)

Anyway, I pulled in about quarter to seven, went in the main door — a mistake — then, with guidance, found the ticket person, got processed, and found a seat. The auditorium was about two-thirds filled.

Young dancers were first, and their pirouettes were quite good, and the last performer was graceful and elegant. Next came a has-been jazz pianist/vocal act. I won’t say anything more about it, thanks. Now came the trio I’d come to see. Comprising piano-forte, cello, and violin, the trio began with Brahms. It was going quite well, indeed. Then, the grand piano broke.

Really.

Literally.

The pianist, an old hand, got up and engaged the audience about the problem. Someone got up and, with the aid of a flashlight, began to address the problem — the whole upper end had gone dead silent. Somebody in the audience offered that they had jumper cables in their pick-up, which got delighted laughter from the audience — that’s my town, thanks. That broke the ice, the stiffness, the stiltedness of the evening that had been rather palpable. The glass curtain, I call it. Even when you all pretty much know each other, there’s the us and there’s the them on both sides, audience and performers. The gift is to be able to shatter that curtain and have the performance be a co-experience with performers and audience literally ‘in concert’ with one another. It happened here. Wonderfully. All thanks to the piano tuner having erred earlier in the day when reassembling the grand piano after tuning it up. It was a blessing, and everybody benefited, the performers keeping their aplomb, the audience rallied to their cause. Great stuff, that.


If You are a Flutist, Beginning or Advanced, I Suggest This Book

This is a very slim volume written by my teacher, the pre-eminent flutist, Professor Richard Hahn. It’s only $5, so it isn’t going cause you any pain and may, in fact, bring a good bit of ease and practical help.


On Being a Member of a Great Orchestra

Azumi flute

I found this quote a while back when following a conversation about the future of classical music and classical music performers.

…Orchestral players are trained to become highly-skilled performers who can turn little black dots and lines and all kinds of mysterious indications into a free-sounding musical experience. The exhilarating experience of playing in the middle of a group of some 90 musicians with an inner freedom and [at] the same time, perfect inter-relatedness with the others as if being a member of one large body, as a communal achievement, an experience where the dead letter of the text has been internalized so strongly that the music freely floats as one voice in a communal synthesis, is the freedom which has been struggled for by years and years of study and training, carried by love for the art form. It is difficult to explain this if you are not an orchestral musician of a (good) orchestra yourself….  — JOHN BORSTLAP July 28, 2017

Yet, in my opinion, Mr. Borstlap describes only the very surface reality of the experience that is playing in a good, even great, orchestra, conducted by a good, and better, great conductor. There is absolutely no experience that I know of, save maybe that of performing in a seriously superior choir, that comes even close to it, certainly not the common experiences most players have in their performance history. It’s an immersive experience that transports the performer to heights and breadths of humble — yes, humble — awe and ecstasy. One is humbled that one has been gifted this experience, that one is worthy of it and of contributing to it.  And when it happens again and again, time upon time, then the realization that what you have in that group of musicians, bonded together by a conductor and by the scores you play, is priceless beyond scope. Everything else musical pales by comparison.

If there were one wish I could have for anyone who plays or yearns to play an instrument, it would be this experience. Sadly, that’s not possible. I could plant people amidst such an orchestral experience, yet they’d never really feel it. Oh, sure. They’d feel themselves immersed in the power of that sea of sound, in the energy of the musicians creating that sound, but they would lack one critical element — contributing to the creating of that moving sea of symphony. There is, in fact, nothing like it, and the proof comes at the end.

In the silence that follows the last note of the last bar played, breathing as one, the orchestra stills. And the audience, enraptured, holds that silence, seemingly interminably, until, all at once, something breaks the spell and, as one, erupts into applause, whistles, and cheers, tears streaming from some, laughter from others, giddiness or radiance from yet still others.

Or sometimes the music hasn’t even stopped when the audience breaks to its feet in wild applause, overwhelmed with the emotions stirred in them.

When it happens in rehearsal, though, and it does quite often when playing with a good orchestra, we all just sit, stunned by what we’ve accomplished, in a long moment of shared and humbled awe at ourselves and each other — at the fact that we just created a ‘moment’ in sound …that what we did was magical.

This is why I played. Those days are long over for me, but this is, to me, the ultimate experience in playing. It surpasses anything else one can do as a classical performer, and I wish, I really do, that every player could experience this, even just once.

 


Professional Self-Publisher vs Professional Author, the Bottom Line

I just read an article about professional self-publishing authors versus hobbyists. I thought it was reasonably presented, well-written, succinct, and to the point. There were a couple of things, though, that niggled at me, mostly because my brain is always adding in the qualifiers, quantifiers, and outliers — the means and the extremes. First, though, a short synopsis:

The author, Peter Mulraney, first defines professional versus hobbyist quite nicely. There can be no argument from the tax authority, which is where the distinction is most critical, much as many a self-published author will dodge that comprehension until after they’ve gotten themselves stuck in some auditing mire.

From there, we get a quick summary of product-based business basics:

  1. the business plan
  2. the product and its marketing
  3. diversification
  4. record-keeping
  5. self-discipline

And, of course, this is where my brain releases devils within details, the first and foremost being that, in order to do #1 on the list, you have to have previously mastered #5, no small feat for many. Heck, for the majority, it’s tough to even muster enough self-discipline to get up in the morning in time to shower, dress, and head out for the day job with enough time to spare that some unforeseen delay like a train at a railroad crossing doesn’t send them into a frothing frenzy because they’re going to wind up fifteen minutes late for the job …again. Hence, you see that frenetic driver, their body leaned forward in urgency as they weave in and out of traffic to then cross three lanes in a dive for their exit, tires smoking as they round the last corner to scream into the employee parking lot.

Luckily, Peter lays out a nice road map, though, defining a business plan as “setting measurable goals.” He then gives a tidy example:

  • writing and publishing a book every year – that means scheduling time to write
  • building a body of work within a defined timeframe, for example, ten books in five years – that means committing to the long term view
  • setting sales targets, for example, selling 10,000 or 100,000 copies – that means scheduling time for marketing

Let’s take a look at those, shall we? Write and publish a book a year, and — very important this — scheduling the time to write that book. Okay. Do-able. …For some.

But, wait. Check out bullet point number two: Build a body of work within a defined timeframe — ten books in five years.

[Sputter.] That’s two books a year, something even big-name, trad pubbed authors often sweat to accomplish …and they (supposedly) have editors and agents to help them along in meeting that goal.

But there’s help once you’ve got number one out the door. It’s NaNoWriMo!

Voilà! That should get you book number two for the year.

Okay. Onto the second part of bullet point number two: committing to the long-term view.  Now, I ask: How many folks can you name, including yourself, who can make a monthly plan and stick to it?

How about just a weekly plan?

A day plan?

Okay. Let’s lower the bar: How about just making and fulfilling a monthly shopping list of everything needed in your household for the month, vowing to never venture out to the store again until thirty days hence? …How about just a week’s worth?

I’m sorry, but most everyone I know these days, save myself and Bill next door, can’t even manage a full day! And you think a five-year plan is going to be a functional reality? Do you remember that research paper you had to turn in by the end of the month in high school? How did that work out? That book you were assigned to read and give a book report on? That chapter of reading for History class?

If the honest answer is, “Great! No problem. Always got my goals and assignments done” or, even, “Usually got my goals and assignments done,” then, yes, do give long-term goal-setting the go. If not, practice completing short-term goals, increasing the length of time for each practice goal by twice every time you succeed. Once you have managed to succeed at setting and accomplishing a yearly goal, then, okay, give longer-term planning a try.

And now we come to bullet-point number three: “setting sales targets.”

In a word, don’t. Not even if you’re a best-selling, trad pubbed author with an awesome advance release team and publicist, plus an in on Oprah …unless,of course, you’re the mob boss in some mafia, syndicate, or cabal with enough influence that will guarantee the numbers you set yourself, by hook or by crook.

As to some of the details Peter mentions, I’m only going to address this one, because it’s to-the-point and on-target:

“Being in business means being flexible with what you write and publish. There is no point in persisting with a product line that does not sell.”

Bingo!

And here’s the translation: If the books you’re passionate about writing don’t sell, are you willing and able to write what does? Because that’s the difference between being a professional self-publisher and being a writer. The bottom line drives the former; passion, the latter. I count as the latter, which, because I do make a profit, because it’s work, not a hobby, makes me, not a professional self-publisher, but a professional author who now just happens to choose to self-publish rather than go back with the trads.


WHY!!!! (I don't promote my books)

 

“Dawn, why don’t you…”

“Because it’s a waste of my time.”

“But… .”

There are no ‘but’s.

What the hell am I talking about? Book promotion, that’s what.

As an author, specifically and mostly a novelist, I write ’em — books, that is, (used to publish them, too …until the pirates pissed me off) — but I’m not interested in spending my life chasing futility, much less paying for the dubious honor of being stupid …which is what happens when and if you fall for all the bullshit out there about book promotion.

Oh, sure Number One: Release a new book, and, maybe, a past reader will care, if they see the promo, always chancy because emailed announcements get ignored, posts on social media don’t get seen, ads get missed and blocked.

Release new books regularly, as in every three months, and, yes, you’ll sell some, both the new and some from your back catalog. It’s all predicated on luck and happenstance, though. There are no guarantees.

Oh sure Number Two: Facebook advertising works and doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg …or, maybe I should say, will cost only an arm and a leg, depending on your target demographics.

And, yes, oh, sure, Number Three: Amazon advertising works, with the same caveat as with Facebook.

Newsletters? Oh, sure Number Four: You’ll sell some books because you dun your mailing list subscribers, but you’ll also net a whole bunch of ‘unsubscribes’ in the process, people who will never, ever buy another book from you because you pissed them off by hitting their inbox at the wrong time.

Reality: A check of the numbers, especially when penciled out against time and money spent, means that you are, literally, paying for the privilege of irritating people who may be somewhat interested in your new release …maybe, but, mostly, are irritated by getting yet another “See? Look! I just released another novel” dun on their social media notifications or in their inbox.

I’m sorry, but my time is worth money, plus, I’m not interested in providing folks an extra excuse to dislike me more than they already do because I’m a mouthy, opinionated so-and-so. I especially am not interested in alienating those who do appreciate me because I am a mouthy, opinionated so-and-so, but who don’t like having me push my novels at them. And I’m certainly not into paying for people to unlike, unfriend, and unsubscribe …which is what happens, much as the “How to Sell Your Book” gurus don’t share that consequence — a real consequence!

And that brings me to the “How to Sell Your Book” gurus.

Did you ever notice that the “How to Sell Your Book” gurus never offer to use their “guaranteed formula” they claim works so well to sell your book? That’s because they know that their “tried and true” system doesn’t work. Did it and did they offer such a service, there isn’t a book author out there who wouldn’t part with 50% or even 100% of their royalties for becoming a ‘known’ author to readers.  Heck, wannabees would flock to cash in on the service at 1k, 2k, maybe even 5k in USD $$$$ per book. Heck, the gurus would be rolling in the dough, wouldn’t they?

But, no. That’s not what the “How to Sell Your Book” gurus are selling …for a good reason. They couldn’t do it. Their tried and true method would not work, even for them. It’s all smoke and mirrors, and they know it. They know they’d be spending innumerable futile hours, getting way less than minimum wage trying to, no matter how many starving third worlders they employed at pennies a day to plug in their magic formulas.

Instead, they take the easy route to fame and profit. They sell their “guaranteed formula” for success to hungry-for-fame-and-profit book authors, their guarantee only valid (read the fine print) if you meticulously follow all their rules and keep at it …forever. Oh, and buy their latest how-to book, because, y’know, don’t you? The market is always changing, so you’ve got to have the latest greatest along with their previous books on the subject. (“Secret #4 referenced in book 1, secret #9 referenced in book 2… .”)

Here’s the deal: Most all the folks who claim to have the inside edge on how to sell your books make their livelihood and niche best seller fame by selling “How to Sell Your Book” books to pantingly desperate and gullible authors. Now, while some of those methods worked for the instances shown, they don’t work by the time the “How to Sell Your Book” book hits publication. It’s a done deal, that strategy only working for a few weeks, maybe months at the outset for the strategy’s originator and a handful of others who immediately copied them. After that, nope. But the ‘how-to’ formula is still saleable, of course.

Well, what about services like Book Bub and Book Gorilla?

Book Bub is expensive and a PITA to get into (See concluding sentence of paragraph below.); Book Gorilla, inexpensive. But you know who signs up to those mailing lists? Authors interested in checking out those services as a possible path to more sales. (It’s part of the sign-up process, getting you on their mailing list.) The other most notable demographic are Bargain Basement book shoppers, mostly those who read lots and lots of Big R romance. Oh, sure, Number Five: Bargain Basement book shoppers will always grab freebies and, maybe, 99 centers. But that’s it. They ain’t into payin’ for books. It’s gotta be free or dirt cheap.

Onto oh, sure Number Six: There are a minuscule percentage of readers on those Book Bub and Book Gorilla mailing lists that actually are interested in discovering new authors and are willing to actually pay for subsequent books from an author’s catalog, but those folks are rare as hen’s teeth (and, for those not in the know, hens don’t have teeth. Hence, their ‘rarety’. That’s the irony embedded in the saying.) Oh, and, PSST! Book Bub has now become the tool of Trad Publishing, don’t you know? Indies really need not apply, please.

I’ve already covered “How to be a Hugely Successful Published Author“.  If you want to know my secret for promoting my books, it’s this: I occasionally and prudently advertise. I put my dead tree books in shops I know will attract buyers. And how about on the Net? My advice: Be yourself. Be active and interesting. Don’t badger people with duns to buy your books or keep announcing them over and over, ad infinitum. It’s enough to put the covers there for the seeing. Folks who become interested in you, the person, might happen to finally decide to read one of your books. And, if they like them, they might buy more of your titles.

If you seriously want to write books for a living, I suggest you either write the consistent best selling genre on Amazon — erotica/BDSM — or find some hungry non-fiction, self-help niche …like book authors seeking the magic secret to fame and fortune, then pump your books out at a rate of one every couple to three months, because, anymore, that’s about what you’re going to have to do for folks not to forget you and your books exist.

 


Living in the Past Performance Video Released ...Finally.

I actually started this a LONG time ago, but…. Heck! You know. Life, and all that. Mom deciding to up and head off the planet didn’t help matters. Well, by the time I got back around to this, the file had somehow corrupted, the visuals squeegeeing faster and slower than they were supposed to in chaotic, no formulaic, and, therefore, not easily fixable ways. Wound up having to start all over, something I’m never good at. I rarely procrastinate. Ever. But, when it comes to re-making something already done, then, yeah, I postpone, avoid, defer. But, a promise is a promise, so I beat myself over the head until I sat down and spent the two weeks necessary to redo the editing and splicing. So, here you have it. Jethro Tull’s Living in the Past, performed by zentao Music, namely me and Forrest. As ever, this arrangement is Forrest’s, who somehow manages to capture the essence of any piece he sets his hand to.

If you want to read about the flute playing in this piece, I talk about it here, in “Playing Tull’s Living in the Past“. That’s how I do it, but (…and here’s the biggy) it’s because I can’t get that airy sound that comes easy to Ian Anderson and to beginner flutists. I’ve tired every which way to try to make myself sound airy, but, to no avail. I guess I spent too many hours working very hard not to sound airy. I suppose I could sabotage my flute’s pads, but I won’t. 😀


What's Important?

A friend of mine — a best friend of mine (Anita Lewis) — spoke today about gratitude on Infinite Matters. She just came through Hurricane Irma. Having survived what I consider to be more than my fair share of life’s critical emergencies and traumas, I could totally relate. And, of course, as with everything, relating brought analysis and conclusions based on my own experiences with a forest fire-storm, numerous tornadoes, proximal lightning strikes, floods, being under siege because of armed federal fugitives with the resulting response of county, state, and federal law enforcement and their (thankful) invasion of my farm. Worst of all, brutal, physical assault that completely changed my life.

There seems to be a real disconnect in a solid majority of everyday people between what’s really important and what, lacking experience with real danger and disaster, only seems to be important, so much so that what is actually important doesn’t ever really hit home with most people until they face extreme crisis, catastrophe, trauma, unbearable pain, and, yes, death. That disconnect is, I think, what separates war veterans, military and civilian, from those of us who have never experienced war firsthand. It’s what separates law enforcement from the rest of us. Mostly, especially today, it’s what separates cultural combatants from reason.

When the biggest issue in your life is whether you’re going to make the mortgage payment or the rent, get to work on time, earn that promotion, or, even more trite, going to be able to get that limited edition iPhone, your nails or cornrows done by your favorite beautician, catch a date with some hotty, or be able to walk around publicly flaunting some aspect of yourself without criticism, then cultural issues can, for some, seem really significant. When faced with true hardship and trauma, though, everything pales, except what really is important: love, life, health, safety, sustenance, shelter, and freedom from terror and from physical pain for you and your loved ones and kin, maybe even, at least for some of us, extending that, too, for your kith, and your neighbors, near and far.

I think a solid majority of the well-off — and, no, I’m not speaking ‘financially’, but, rather, those who, regardless of circumstance, have love, life, health, safety, sustenance, some sort of shelter, and freedom from terror and from physical pain — need a hard wake-up call, a lesson in what’s really important, a hands-on experience that nails them in the forehead and dumps them into survival crisis. Maybe then they’d realize that all this fuss about varying cultural and political differences is, in fact, a luxury allowed them because they are not having to focus on base survival.

My husband, Forrest, has it quite right, I think. Are you willing to give up everything for it? Even your life and the lives of your loved ones? If the answer is no, then, no, it isn’t important. If the answer is yes, then, yes, it’s truly important.


My Morning Funny

Dawn's Azumi flute

So, husband texts, asking which pieces I’d like to rehearse when he gets home. I give him a rather extensive list of well over a dozen difficult pieces. An hour-and-a-half later, when I’m working through number four on the list, he texts to tell me that he’s hit all of them, so we’re good to go, and he’s heading out …which means he’s starting his assigned heavy-haul KW semi- and heading toward customs to get back into the U.S.

I sit there staring at that text, thinking, ‘You hit that entire list? In an hour-and-a-half? Wow!’ Then comes my sigh of frustration.

Music is so totally in his hand, and so is his instrument. What I have to work weeks at, he manages in a few minutes, or, at most, a few run-throughs during his practice sessions.

Laughter strikes me. It’s only fitting, I think, that me, who spent decades in formal study, grilled and drilled, has to work very hard to come up to speed, while he, who had no formal education in music or his instrument, can toss off really, really intricate, difficult riffs like it’s nothing and hit them every time.

I used to be that good, but with a qualifier: only after years and years of determined practice and only by continuing daily practice, practicing every day, at least four hours a day, could I be that adept and agile, my sight-reading top-notch, my ability to toss off brand new pieces superb, and my repertoire flawless — four hours of practice a day. And that, my friends, is the difference between a virtuoso musician (him) and somebody who’s just talented.

Azumi flute


An Epic Session Despite Residual Effects

Nothing Else Matters

Residual effects from recording our video tribute to Chris Cornell still plaguing me, namely an ear-worm that’s been playing itself over and over in my head for a solid week, we set up for recording again, this time to record Forrest’s arrangement of Metallica’s Nothing Else Matters.

Nothing Else Matters has special significance for Forrest and I. It’s our love song, describing in music and words, how we feel about one another and, truly, about life with each other …and life in general, too. The music evokes the kindled essence of who and what we are to each other, to life, and to ourselves. The lyrics express our attitude, feelings, and perspective about life, others, society, and, yes, even the core of our love to and for one another. It’s our song in a lot of ways, far beyond normal significance.

Enough of all that stuff, though. Back to the session.

Because it’s rock, we keep it strictly in time to its intended tempo, recording under headphones to a click track …which makes it a bit of a trick, because intonation (staying on pitch) on the flute requires subtle adjustments, note by note on the fly …which requires both ears listening. To complicate things, the flute has delay (sometimes called echo) on it in places, and, later, both the guitar and the flute are under heavy distortion, the guitar chunky, the flute gritty and reedy. For me, this makes performing it a careful thing, because I must compensate accordingly for the signal lag that happens to the flute under distortion patches.

Add to that, in this session, my red light fright made my back and neck rigid with tension. Halfway through, it felt like I had knives or, maybe, ice picks, stuck, both, in the back of my neck and in my lumbar region — nasty, piercing, metallic sensations that worsened with the most subtle movement. By the end of the session, I was greedily, needily eyeing a bottle of pain killers, something I rarely ever take, no matter what. I managed to finish the session without resorting to chemical numbing, but just.

A few stretches, bends, and deep breathing techniques cleared the problem within minutes once I fled the studio, escaping outside into the night, there to assuage my taut nerves with gentle darkness and kind evening breezes. Then came the sound.

Session done, Forrest had opened up the studio windows and was playing the recording. It filtered out into the night and, listening, I felt awed. That was us!  From a distance, It sounded epic, and that’s saying something for a flute and guitar duo of a song that brings me, a woman who doesn’t cry, to the brink of tears.

“Nothing Else Matters”

So close no matter how far
Couldn’t be much more from the heart
Forever trusting who we are
And nothing else matters

Never opened myself this way
Life is ours, we live it our way
All these words I don’t just say
And nothing else matters

Trust I seek and I find in you
Every day for us something new
Open mind for a different view
And nothing else matters

Never cared for what they do
Never cared for what they know
But I know

So close no matter how far
Couldn’t be much more from the heart
Forever trusting who we are
And nothing else matters

Never cared for what they do
Never cared for what they know
But I know

I never opened myself this way
Life is ours, we live it our way
All these words I don’t just say
And nothing else matters

Trust I seek and I find in you
Every day for us something new
Open mind for a different view
And nothing else matters

Never cared for what they say
Never cared for games they play
Never cared for what they do
Never cared for what they know
And I know

So close no matter how far
Couldn’t be much more from the heart
Forever trusting who we are
No nothing else matters

 


How to be a Hugely Successful Published Author

First off, you have to write a book …or get somebody to write it for you, but it has to be one that is going to strike the fancy of ‘the mob’. (Think 50 Shades….)  If you don’t have something that’s going to strike a chord with the masses, then you’re just one insignificant among the millions of others publishing in the U.S., never mind globally.

Now, before doing anything else, and I mean anything (no queries to literary agents, no submissions to publishers, or, if self-publishing, no announcements, no pre-publication notices or pre-release sales, no cover reveals…NOTHING), lets go down the checklist:

  • Are you an extrovert? Yes?  Good.  Continue.
  • Are you part of one or another ‘in’ crowd, hugely popular both in the real world and on social media, and do you have a frenzied bunch of followers who dote on your every word, video, and image share? Yes? Good. Continue.
  • Do you have a bunch of money to fling to the winds? Yes? Good. Continue.
  • Are you already famous? Yes? Excellent. If no, continue at your own risk.
  • If self-publishing, get a really good cover made for your book. If going the literary-agent-to-big-traditional-publisher route, start querying the big agents, but, after landing one who actually manages to shop your book to one of the big five, expect to wait about 1.5 years before going to the next step.
  • Whether self-publishing or going with one of the big trads, hire a top-of-the-line publicist, buy lots of advertising, and get on with it.

And, no, this is not tongue-in-cheek. And, yes, you’ll come out behind for the first book, but, if it’s a hit like 50 Shades…, no problem. You’ll make it back on books 2 and 3. If it’s not a hit, continue with books 2 and 3 at your own risk …and, yes, if it’s not a hit and traditionally published, your publisher may very well dump you; your agent probably will, too.

One more thing: If you do make it, hire a financial adviser and learn what NOT to do so you don’t wind up blowing your wad and end up in the poor house.

 


Blunt Honesty from a zentaoist POV

Here’s some honesty:

In social circles, or, better said, by human judgement, your value is often measured by ‘successful’ achievements, by your name and heritage, by what you do for a living, by how lucky you are, by who likes and loves you and who doesn’t, by how much money you have in the bank and your status in relation to others. These are quantitative measurements.

And it’s all false.

In reality, your value, which can only be measured by you and no one else, is a qualitative, not quantitative one. It’s based on who you are as a Self, an entity, or, better said, as an entity consciousness. It’s not what you do for a living, how many assets you control, what you own, what kind of car you drive or the house(s) you own in which neighborhoods, who you’re friends with or related to, who values you and who doesn’t, your status amongst peers or any other nonsense. And it is nonsense.

In zentao, we say that we are what we do, but that ‘saying’ — those words — can mislead the uninformed. It’s not whether you dig a ditch or perform successful brain surgery. It’s not whether you build rockets, lead an organization, or raise children. It’s not ‘what’ you do, as in some job label, that defines you, but, rather, the ‘what’ of yourself with which you do anything. It’s the quality that matters. It’s the intent that matters. It’s the essence of the very doing that matters.

If you cut wood for a living, it says nothing about you, the self. If you clean septic tanks, likewise. Or write legal briefs. Or build cars. Or run a multi-national conglomerate. Or a country. Rather, it’s the nature of your intent and intensity — what you pour into the doing of yourself into that project, that job, that ‘doing’, that is the measure of yourSelf. And the judge of that doing isn’t others — it doesn’t matter whether they deem it of value. Rather, it’s what you yourself KNOW — that you did your utmost with pure heart and clean intent.

Labels mean nothing. At all. I tire of friends who brag upon the supposed accomplishments of themselves and of others whom they claim as friends, the very fact of that friendship some supposed measure of their own value as a person.  Bunk.

I tire of the long lists of Fortune 500 names they drop. I tire of the relations they claim as uncle, aunt, grandfather, or great grandmom. It means nothing — nothing at all.

What matters is who they are, not who they know, not who they are related to by blood, nor the mammon they have managed to hoard. What matters is how they do anything, even breathe — how they live their lives, in their hearts and with their minds.  Do they, when they set out to do something, whether they fail or succeed in that task, do it fully and completely to their utmost? …Because what matters is what of themselves they commit to any and EVERY moment of being and doing. And that’s the blunt truth of the matter.

It’s not ‘what’ you do, as in job, but how you do it, not measured by false standards of success or failure, but, rather a ‘how’ of pure intent and pure self-immersion in expression.

When we say ‘we are what we do’, what we mean is: Every doing we undertake, we do with our utmost, pouring ourselves into it to the fullest perfection, willingly and thoroughly, with complete commitment of ourselves in that doing. If you don’t commit yourself to that level of doing regardless of what it is — washing dishes, taking the garbage out, raising a child to majority — anything — then you’re doing injustice to your Self and insulting, even, yes, vulgarly desecrating the very resources utilized to perform that any action, activity, or project, including the resources utilized to maintain your life  — the very air you breathe and foodstuffs that sustain you.

In short, if the quality of your every moment of being isn’t committed to the utmost expression of being and doing YOU, then you defame your Self.


Resolve to be Kind

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I have an aversion to cruelty. I especially have an aversion to cruelty perpetuated by humans. I think it, not just unnecessary, but the true evil, the only real evil–sentient-made and sentient-perpetuated.

We humans don’t need to perpetuate cruelty/evil. We don’t need to embrace and accept it, much less applaud it.  Yet, we do. And, while I very much understand the underlying factors which contribute to the behavior, I refuse to give credence to any permissive-minded excusing of it.

No.

As sentient beings, we humans have choice–a choice to refuse to act out our fear-based hatreds and craving-based greeds. We have a choice to be kind or cruel in any circumstance. And we have an obligation to be kind, not cruel. To ourselves and to all other entities, sentient and insentient. To do otherwise, to choose cruelty over kindness, condemns us in our own self, by our own memories–etched in our brains, our cells, even our DNA, to self-condemnation.

You can scoff. You can cry out that your personal savior, be that Jesus or some other, will wash away your every sin and you are forgiven. But the fact of your deeds is indelibly scribed, and while your personal savior might forgive you, you remember and, by your every cruelty, will self-condemn.

Now, psychologists will argue that self-condemnation requires conscience, and conscience is determined by cultural conditioning and neurology. They will point out that cultural norms define what is and what is not identified as cruel, as bad or good. They will point out that the sociopath has no conscience.

Right and wrong, according to psychology, is relative, yet science identifies a moral generator that develops in primates and in human children, the latter beginning at the age of four, despite culture and upbringing–a sense of fairness, scientists call it. It’s genetically ingrained, probably rooted in evolution of the species. Regardless, it exists and can be measured. It’s very much past time that we employ it for our own peace of mind and for the betterment of ours and every other living thing’s existence. To do less, even if conscience must be learned, as in the case of the sociopath, is to condemn yourself and the human species as truly, remorselessly evil.

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