breaking the rules?
november 18th, 2002
I just spent the weekend playing three shows and five sets. And some of the people I performed with played even more sets than that. I think the record was eight sets, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it was more.
To keep things in context, I’m only going to talk about the show the (Richard Nickel) transaction Ensemble played last night with Tiny Hairs. Our (the tE) most frequently used lineup is drums, bass, violin, cello, organ, and vibes. But last night we played the Hothouse, and when we play the Hothouse, the vibes player (Davis Krieg) and I share the piano. We even have a little Muppetts-esque, up & down correography worked out for when everyone else is tuning. The real fun of playing the Hothouse, though is getting to play a fancy piano. It’s all like tuned regularly and has been played by many (semi) famous hands and stuff.
Before I get to the pith, I want to mention the (as always) stellar Tiny Hairs performance last night. They improvised over our trancy piece and added the beatuiful lines, and textural quirkiness that I’ve grown to love about them. (Even though they were short a performer. I missed you, Jonathan!)
Moving on, the reason last night is log-worthy (besides including Tiny Hairs) is that I had a sort of breakthrough during the set. As of this weekend, I’ve been an improvisor for a full year, and that means I’m about a month away from being a one year veteran keyboard player, too. Last week we (the tE) tweaked the arrangement, allowing for more liberty to be taken by each performer in regards to the notes we play. This sounds like a small thing, but it has started to make things more exciting even after just three performances using the new arrangement. So without getting into a tedious explanation of the arrangement, I’ll say that previously, we could only choose rhythms - all the notes were scored before each performance, according to how many ensemble members would be there, and whomever happened to be writing the score.
I had a moment during our performance last night where the keyboard really started making sense to me. Specifically in relation to the other players, and their choices within the arrangement. Up to this point, I’ve been relying heavily on my basic music skills to plunk out rythums that didn’t cause too much trouble, and just tried to stay in the background. I think the allowance for more a more melodic approach (if one so chooses) was what helped me break out of that. Maybe I’m just programmed to hear/create/respond to that kind of thing.
I’m becoming a better musician, and in turn, a smarter (more interesting?) improvisor. My vocal instructor of many years used to love the thing about “learning the rules first, so you can throw them away” - which always rubbed me the wrong way. It didn’t seem very fun. I think I might be following my own path where I learn the rules as I’m throwing them out - which is turning out to be more fun than just doing whatever you want.
Whatever way you slice it, I’m having a really great time, and working with some incredible people. Thanks, guys.