Right Where You Are

Colour has got me. I no longer need to chase after it. It has got me for ever. I know it. That is the meaning of this happy hour.

Paul Klee

Striving for beautiful sounds and colours overwhelms me as a musician. I always feel like I don’t quite know what I’m looking for or how it’s ‘supposed’ to sound. I feel like a fraud, like I don’t have any bright ideas and that everything I play is contrived. I’m think I’m lacking and I need to work more hours to find it. Paul Klee appears to disagree.

A few years ago I started a series on my blog called ‘A Commitment To Sound’ in which I set out to discover a more ‘beautiful’ and thoughtful sound on my cello. I was sick of being criticised for ‘not listening’ and knew that there must be something I needed to seek in order to fix the problem. Although it was interesting and well intentioned, the drive was coming from a place of serious stress and lack. I was trying to find fluidity and calm at a time where I felt anything but, and so I didn’t really feel any tangible development at all.

Finding this quote by Paul Klee a few days ago was like coming home finally. It sort of explained to me why the previous method of intense searching didn’t work so well. The quote reminds me of when people say something akin to ‘something can feel closer away the more you look for it’. Colour isn’t something you find, but something you become. It isn’t reserved only for the successful among us, but a vocation as a musician means it is already there, waiting to be uncovered. Klee wants us to see that we hold the colour and beauty within us, able to express and communicate it only when we realise that we have it already.

We are born with an innate sense of creativity that is often dulled by the process of maturity. People often say that musicians need an element of emotional maturity to communicate. This may well be true, but we must remember that creating new, exciting and fulfilling music and ideas requires an element of play, however corny it can sound. A knowledge of the fluidity and weightlessness of beautiful music. We can so easily overthink this.

Staying present to our sound is the key to shaping it. Noticing what body movements/techniques don’t serve us and working at a speed that aids this awareness. I’ve so often been obsessed with a speed of learning repertoire that is, although motivating and exciting, also often quite superficial. Of course, performing often means working at this speed, but allowing sometimes to take a piece painfully slowly might open us up to our ability to change and improve. I’ve certainly discovered this recently. If I learn only one or two movements/short pieces over a month, if this has awakened my overall playing and ability to feel colour and freedom, then I am totally satisfied. I don’t have the energy to speed up something that deserves my time, nor prove a technical facility that lacks foundation.

If you asked most musicians if they were satisfied with their playing, I think few would say that they were. We want to work harder to prove ourselves to ourselves and others, and sometimes study for many years to discover something that is already there. What if it was about seeing each moment with our instruments as listening opportunities? We don’t need to do much other than, show up and think about how we want what we play to sound and feel. If it feels free and controlled simultaneously, then we are on the right track to allowing colour to flow. We find technical ways to achieve this through discovering how our instruments respond to different amounts of pressure, speed and contact.

I’m so far off this sustained and focussed practice method. I think the reason why is held in the words ‘sustained’ and ‘focussed’. If we approach it as an experiment, a bit of a game or a discovery it feels more appealing somehow. If I only discover one new thing about how I work with my instrument this hour, then that’s enough.

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