Playing with the eyes closed

The stars are flung across the breadth of the heavens like seeds of light. They wink and glimmer in their bed of darkness and against the wobble of…

The stars are flung across the breadth of the heavens like seeds of light.

They wink and glimmer in their bed of darkness and against the wobble of loon call from the lake their distance is shrunken, brought closer, immediate and it’s almost like you can feel that ancient light fall upon your face.

I had a friend once who told me the root of the word ‘universe.’ He was a philosopher and words for him were keys to the glue that held our talk together.

He studied them. Universe, he said, was actually two words in the original Greek. The first part, uni, meant one and the second part, versa, meant song.

One song. Standing here with my face pressed upwards I can feel the hymnal pulse of that. There’s an energy that exists in open spaces like this slope of mountain.

A wildness you can ride when you open yourself to it, surrender yourself and all your learnedness, your worldly notions. It takes you into the heart of that song, that cosmic music and makes you part of it.

I have always loved music. From my very first recollections music has always been a primary influence in my life. I was born in 1955 and I can recall the music of the late ‘50s and early ‘60s.

I’ve been conscious of my living for part of six decades now and one of the joys of all that time is the great soundtrack to my life.

There are cellos in moments sublime and pure, French horns and clarinets in times when life was joyous, just as there are blue notes in the lesser times, the thick triumphant blare of power chords when life took off, and moody, meandering piano rolls in periods of reflection and framing, preparing for the next move forward.

There’s a song for every memory.

I always wanted to play music. I wanted to recreate the fabulous sounds I heard in my head and felt in my hips and soul.

When I was in Grade 8, there was a kid who played guitar and sang and when he wowed everyone at the Talent Show I knew what I wanted to do.

But when I asked for a guitar I was laughed at and told that I couldn’t carry a tune in a pail and that I had no rhythm. It was ridiculous, they said, to even try.

But the desire was in me always. Guitar players became the focus of my musical thirst. At live concerts I watched them closely.

When I listened to records, I sometimes sat in the dark to hear them and followed the guitar parts with my hands. I could see myself playing, imagine myself creating music and feeling the freedom that music represented.

I finally got a guitar in my late 40s and I sat down to learn how to play. Those first chords were hard. My fingers ached and my hand was sore from the unfamiliar grip and bend of the wrist.

I fumbled about a lot but after I strummed a clean E chord and heard the root note of the blues pressed out of it through my fingers I was hooked.

I spent hours every day teaching myself to play. I read books, watched videos, joined internet guitar groups and downloaded the songs I wanted to learn.

I pressed my ear close to the speakers and listened intently trying to unlock the secret to making music happen.

I could feel the music in me and the more I reached for that feeling through my hands the more I inched closer and closer to becoming a musician.

But the lingering effects of that childhood judgment still haunted me. I doubted my new ability, doubted the possibility of a tuneless, rhythm-less me ever being able to play.

I got into the habit of watching my fingers. I hunched over the guitar and watched them as they moved through chord progressions and runs and scales.

I figured that if I watched my hands I could force them by will to make the right moves and create the right sounds.

I played for a friend after about a year. He watched me closely and listened and when I was finished he nodded and clapped me on the back for a good job.

He was a guitar player so his praise was good medicine.

Then he told me to play the same thing but to close my eyes. I was stunned. When I tried to play it, even though I’d played it a hundred times before, I fumbled it badly. It was unrecognizable as the song I’d learned.

“You need to learn to play without watching your hands,” he told me. “You need to learn to trust the music that’s in you. When you watch your hands you’re not making music, you’re only making sounds. Music needs to be free to be music.”

I became a better guitar player after that. Learning to play without watching my hands lent my music a grace it never had before.

I’m no professional these days but I can carry a tune, and when I play without watching my hands I free myself and the music happens naturally and it sounds better.

Life’s like that, really. When you bend into it deliberately and keep watch over every move you make it’s hard to find any flow, any rhythm, any sense of time.

Oh sure, you can learn the right moves, follow the progression of the thing accurately but there’s no freedom in it, no spontaneous joy, no glee.

One song. It’s everywhere. The cosmos is compelling in its register, the line of it undulating, sinuous, flowing through everything.

There’s a song in all of us, exultant and pure and free. It clamours for release and on nights when the stars cajole you, it strains against your ribs and throat.

The trick is to trust it. Close your eyes, feel it there, and let it out.

Your music joined with the music of everything.

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