How to begin?
A year ago minus a day, I never would have thought that I would now be wrapping up a project such as this. It did not occur to me that improvisation is something that I would one day feel somewhat comfortable with. In complete truth and honesty, the day I found the resolve to do something like this and took a decision to make it happen was the very day I started WhereWeGoWhen. I started it on an impulse. To want to know.
I remember googling the way to upload easily from my iPhone so that I would not feel hindered by my lack of computer savvy on a day to day basis. And I opened my blogspot account with determined fervor and frenzy... I did not care what the title would be, nor the layout. It was only important that the account was open, to force myself into the project without a moment to second-guess what I might be getting myself into.
It turned out that the project was a far larger commitment than I might have anticipated. There were many days... MANY... when having to get my daily improvisation recorded interrupted other plans and/or obligations. (For those of you who waited an extra twenty minutes for me to arrive at an agreed destination over the past year, I take this opportunity to blame The Project.) I'm lucky that I was able to always find a piano at hand, each and every day. Even when I wasn't in town. I feel VERY lucky that I never had to resort to an electric instrument, nor had to pass off my improv to any other instrument... voice, violin, tin cups... none of which I am very skilled with. And I'm really proud, very proud indeed, that I never missed a single day in the entire year.
One of my most valuable lessons from this project is that the idea of perfection in music is total hogwash. It's something that we already know, but few of us dare to accept in practice. This is particularly true for my classical musician friends. And I know that, however hard I might try to fight it, I will never fully be able to give up the notion of perfect playing. Not really.
But it is easier now to accept whatever ideas might come out of me in improvisation. At the beginning, I used to record several improvs a day, and then pick the one I liked best to post. This continued for a long time. It was difficult to find satisfaction in just the first one, knowing that it was going to be public. The improvs, in the first half of the year at least, felt terribly awkward. And since I'm a "professional pianist," I felt expected to put out something that was, at the very least, tasteful, and hopefully something that would make sense.
I don't want to say that I was wrong to do that [record a ton, pick one], because ultimately, it was part of the journey that got me to a place where I could be more comfortable. And to be fair, I was essentially practicing improvisation, and needed
the practice. I don't think many people would be willing to put their practice sessions online in any
genre of music. What we want to present is our final draft; not the rough, unedited one. Certainly not the little exercises that mean diddly squat, and expose our many, many weaknesses. Anyway, as the project wore on, it became easier and easier to risk the embarrassment. Maybe because the improvs got better and better, but probably just that I desensitized myself to that fear. I couldn't, after all, give that much time to recording and listening, day after day, for the whole year. (At the beginning, it would take hours. Literally.) So I think the endurance factor forced me to let go of my pride and ego, both of which bind us all, anyway.
What I did not expect from the project was the extent to which my life changed because of it. I thought this was just going to get me into improvisation. But having to examine the improvs, the good and the bad, the confusing and the obvious, made me become a philosopher. The connections between music and life are vast; time, nature, physics, emotions, mechanics, dreams... the whole gamut. And I considered all of it over the year. There's certainly a lot that I missed, but some things crept up that had never occurred to me before, and this project was the magnifying glass that made me take notice. The people that I spoke to, the situations that arose, and the conversations that came up were so fascinating and explorative; and were often, either directly or indirectly, results of being in the midst of this process. I'm so grateful to those of you who were part of this project, in big ways and small, whether you know it or not. If we talked at all over the past year, or if I taught you, you taught me
. And I learned from you.
It was startling to listen to live music during the project. I no longer listened to music as a product, but rather to the elements that contained the process. Most classical music turned into improvisations before my very eyes, and I started to feel grateful that I already knew what was going to come next as I played written compositions. I gained a closeness to classical composers, and began to recognize their idioms in a much clearer way... in almost a funny way, as I found many motives that would present themselves over and over, subconsciously and unintentionally in my own improvisation.
After this year, I realize that I have a very recognizable style and voice. This was a concern for me all along. I didn't know what my voice would sound like, if I would like it, or if it was something I would have to consciously develop. I didn't know if it was important to try to break away from what felt comfortable and easy, or if I should just follow what was natural. To be honest, I still
don't really know how to approach that, because I feel it's important to push ones boundaries, yet remain true to oneself. But what I have been able to conclude is that the voice comes out no matter what. Day by day, it started to become more and more clear, and resistance was futile. My stamp is on every improv I do, whether I want it there or not. And the recurring motives, patterns and intervals that you might catch on any number of the improvs are not there by any choice of mine... they just live there.
Now that the year is up, I want to be able to answer all the questions that I had when I first began. I know that would be impossible. The questions never dry up. They're not to be answered with any degree of certainty. And in fact, the questions were actually never part of the initial goal... they were just side-effects. But it's interesting to note that I had a lot of preconceived notions about improvisation when I started... for example, the idea that I didn't have any language to begin with. At first, I was under the impression that improvised music must somehow be based on "jazz." Well, I think it's pretty obvious to anyone who's heard any of my improvs that they are clearly not
jazz. It never really mattered that I didn't know chords or charts or any of that. I had all the language I needed, as Jesse advised early on. The hardest part was simply letting go of what I thought I should know or be. Expectations, whether they were mine or what I thought were others', were the biggest hindrance to my progress.
Two words I mentioned in the first post that should be addressed: fear
. They'll never leave us. It is only human to have these, and if you don't, you've got no self-worth. I mean, it's only natural to want to preserve the self, and these two things, well... they're necessary for survival. That being said, it's healthy to exercise them in the proper context. And still, beyond the end of this project, I will continue to have a certain amount of irrational fear. But, I can say that this project has forced me into scary places that I've walked away from relatively unscathed. I'll never regret having done this, and as I stated a few days ago, this project has been the best education I've ever received. So fear and vulnerability, we've got each other by the throats; strong wills and strong grips, but with a wink and a smirk from all sides.
Just as I didn't know how to begin, I don't know how to end. I'm beginning to feel pretty emotional to set the pen down. I'm relieved and apprehensive at the same time. But let's just say it's only for now... a break to celebrate the year's achievement. At the very least, I'll come back to begin the next project (whatever that may be). Maybe we'll even get some new improvs on here at some point. Until then, goodnight. And with that, the journey ends.
Here we go, Day 365: https://ia800304.us.archive.org/8/items/Improv81312/20120813162014.mp3