"One Big Beautiful Song"-
As children we were singing daily. Every morning in the assembly hall at school they’d project sheet music up on the wall, with a little bouncing ball popping on the notes as the hymn lyrics scrolled forward. In England and Canada I sang in choirs, played in orchestras and took music lessons. At fifteen, four of us put together a rehearsal music group that became a 20-hour a week workshop of group arranging, playing and improvising. At eighteen I flew to Halifax to play in a “professional” music group. We lived in a one-bedroom apartment on the top floor of a house with the drums and equipment set up for constant rehearsal, and slept on mats in and around the equipment. Playing small concerts our only source of income, we subsisted on fish cakes and apples and drove four or twelve hours on the slippery east coast highways to each gig, in a beat up, no heat rental van. To an eighteen year old aspiring professional musician it was glorious!
Then there were ten years of performing in music groups of all shapes and sizes, either as a key member or freelance sideman, sometimes learning the repertoire of several new shows each month. Then eight years forming groups as a bandleader, overlapping with teaching and forming several recording studios. So, including the childhood years and early adult years, I found myself playing the violin & flute, choral and solo singing , six string and (especially) bass guitar, and percussion. When MIDI came along this expanded to keyboards, sampling and programming. This long span opened at least a visiting awareness of Handel, Beethoven, Holst, Coltrane, Miles Davis, James Brown, The Beatles, BobMarley, various other roots music, reggae, latin, jazz, funk, disco, progressive rock, wedding music, gospel, Indian & Pakistanian Bhangra and Classical, African, English & North American folk music, Euro/tekno/house/dance music, hip-hop, avant-garde, freestyle, “down tempo”...labels and categories disappeared after awhile.
This role morphed from player to writer to band leader to producer/arranger. If this sounds scattered, it didn’t feel that way. Things
more or less came about organically over a period of years.
I’d meet a drummer while playing a reggae gig, and later he’d be on a C&W
gig that needed a bass player where we'd meet a singer who wanted a backup funk band put
together... Later perhaps the
singer would leave the band, I’d step into that role, we’d end up featuring some songs I wrote – we’d book into a recording studio and I’d naturally become
the “producer” of the recording. On other dates someone else would be doing their material and I'd be supporting their vision as a player. Later, to cut down recording
costs (at least that was the plan!) the idea was to purchase equipment and set up a recording studio which
eventually “grew” out of the house and into a commercial location.
Then it was natural to meet other writer-producers who made music for film & television, which led to meeting some directors & creators. Through a friendship with Mathew Bates, Museum exhibit designer I found myself writing music for interactive installations. Then the internet started to happen. And on it went.....
At fifteen years old, three of us became Jehovah’s witnesses for about a year. Much of what was awakened was meaningful and opening, but within a year, the feeling of belonging to a "cult" fixed in specific ideas as though other possibilities weren't the real "facts" seemed narrow. One night, in bed with my then girlfriend who really wanted to do it (for our first time), I refused based on my adopted "moral" commitments. Later I wasn’t sure it was a good decision, somehow seemed unnatural. Did these commitments come from embracing something that resonated from an inner understanding? This kind of questioning led to resisting dogmatic or prescribed systems of singular approach.
In a way you never fully leave anything
behind. If your involvement was sincere, you will undeniably see truth
and light in some parts of it – how could those parts fall away even after you have stopped that particular practice or membership?
Still, one can expand and evolve one’s perspective spiritually.
There was an awareness that doing any one practice
sincerely and compassionately can take you far in spiritual development,
including how you eat, how you deal with people or how you play music. Jazz musicians for example, engage in a dedicated demanding constant "practice", have taken a vow of poverty, and become intimate of the workings of spirit and unblocking personal blocks -much like a monk who has taken vows of renunciation. Through learning of
others’ path and practices, it became evident that there are many ways, many teachers worth listening to, practices worth trying, and that we as individuals all share very similar issues and aspirations.
Later was an encounter with the book “Remember: Be Here Now” by Richard Alpert / Baba Ram Das. It’s content was so compelling
partly due to the brief yet potent “Diary” format of the first section,
which intimately told his change from a somewhat self-centered, successful American
Psychiatrist to the quietly ecstatic, service-focused, Buddhist and Hindu influenced Baba Ram Dass. In it’s
gentle way, the book also outlined philosophy, methods of practice for
self-transformation, and a sense of waking up to gratitude, appreciation and sacredness. These insights, along with many other wake-up calls
and pointers, rang true to my heart and influenced the unfolding of years
that no matter how you frame it, one’s innate desire to rise up finds
it’s way into one’s plans. I found myself working as a waiter
in cutting edge fine dining restaurants, under the guidance of insightful Maitre D’s and
sometimes visionary proprietors – learning the art of sincere service. Here we practiced
purity of uncluttered thoughts and intentions, graceful movement, appreciative,
selfless attitudes, cheery uplifting demeanor, discipline and reliability.
How different was that from other practices I had engaged in or aspired
to? It wasn’t long before I was quite active musically again and
eventually settled into a more conscious and focused spiritual pursuit.
For several years I was engaged in a Korean style of Buddhist Zen practice. I have taken Buddhist precepts
and the name “Kongch’aek” (Empty Book) from Korean Zen Master Venerable
Samu Sunim of Zen Buddhist Temple. This involved daily meditation
and physical practice, chanting, ethical observances and cultivation
of compassion, celebration and service in all activities. My teachers
have included my family, my friends, my musical friends, the many music
and spiritual teachers, inside and outside of “courses”, and my loving (and deeply loved)
partner twenty years, Diane. Gradually there is a sense of all
this merging - music, spirituality, love, life. A highly accomplished
musical / spiritual friend recently said to me “I’d like my life to eventually
become one on-going beautiful song”. His thoughts have helped to set
a tone for my current aspirations.
What does this lead to? Love. Slowly we learn to love it all. All the work, all the music , all those around us, and through this love, we see truth and peace - within one's self, and for all beings. All living is the yoga to experience and spread this Love. Now that's a party!top