Thursday, August 13, 2009

Music: Primal, Potent Magic

Today, I am prompted to think of how guitars changed my life. Les Paul, who invented the electric guitar as well as multitrack recording, died today, and that led me to remembering when I got my first guitar and taught myself how to play and what happened next.

Music has always been a part of my life. An important part. Before I learned guitar, I wanted to be a classical violinist. After a year and a half of lessons I was eager to play melodies, but the traditional way of teaching at that time was to focus on finger exercises long before attempting melodies. I understand that methods have changed since then, but I quit because I was entranced by melodies, not exercises.

So after quitting violin lessons, I didn't take up anything else immediately. But eventually, I got hooked on rock, and decided that I wanted to try that. So I bought a guitar and within a very short time, I was able to play songs. For a little while I was in bands, but then spent many years playing solo. For a number of years, inviting people over to play guitar and sing was a great way to socialize and have fun. People would come over and we made music, hung out and talked and taught each other songs.

Growing up in Chicago, and hearing lots of the great blues musicians, I also was inspired to teach myself blues harp (harmonica) which can also play lots of lovely melodies beyond blues. When you can play blues harp, your instrument fits in your pocket and you can jump in with other musicians on a moment's notice. And it has the power to transform any space. Back when I was a cab driver, for example, and we were in waiting lines, like at the airport, some drivers would be shooting craps, but I would pull out my harp, and then another driver pulled out a guitar and a long boring wait in a parking lot would turn into a jam.

Later on, my life changed and drumming became my favorite instrument and I spent many evenings in drumming circles and drumming parties, and for a while was the drummer for a band of women vocalists. There were nights around the fire when we would drum until our hands got sore and swollen and people would be falling out having danced and drummed into a frenzy and spent their energy. But all it would take to get them started again was for one person to start a chant or a beat, and people would come back to life.

That was followed by a number of years where contra dancing kept me smiling for many an evening. High energy, work up a sweat, keep your eye on your partner and your ear on the caller, and keep in time with everyone else kind of dancing. If you have never experienced it, a hot fiddler and a good caller leading a band can turn a room full of strangers into synchronized waves of energy within minutes.

I have also participated in the Dances of Universal Peace and sung in kirtan and participated in song circles on a number of occasions. Voices can join and stir up waves of energy that are ethereal and send people floating around in circles.

Any kind of participation in music or dance will lift the spirits of the participants and stimulate good feelings.

In retrospect, I would have to say that music really came into my life in a big way because people like Les Paul helped to make the guitar an even more popular and accessible instrument. I mean rock n roll would have never been without the electric guitar. When Muddy Waters started playing electric guitar, he just blew the blues right out of the folk music arena and into legend. Eelctric guitar opened portals to other dimensions.

And, in turn, music opened portals to other dimensions. Music is one of the first, and still most potent forms of magic that we have.

No comments: