Monthly Archives: January 2015

Everybody’s a Performer and What I Learned About That

You might know that performing has always been my greatest teacher. Performing is kind of like looking at yourself inside a jeweler’s loupe, the audience being the loupe.  Last January 15, three of us comMUSIKats went up to Flagstaff to present our idea for a workshop called “Everybody’s a Performer” where I had the chance to see details of myself I never knew existed.

And the funny thing is that THAT was the point of our presentation, learning about ourselves through performance. I learned that I don’t follow a script too well, particularly if it needs to finish as I watch the timer count down from 6 minutes to zero. I learned that I am truly an improvisor who needs to connect with the audience. The three of us learned of many nuts and bolts that could have made the presentation get across our idea in a very compelling way. But the main thing I learned for myself is that it’s OK to bomb. In fact it might be the best way to learn.

Here is the script that we crafted, which had I delivered as well as I pictured, would have, I believe, garnered ourselves a healthy grant.

(call and response) comMUSIKey… Music is the Key… To community

Hi I’m Jonathan Best, although when I first went to Kenya to work with the Maasai communities I discovered that they didn’t have a word for best in their language so they changed my last name to Sidai Pii which means Completely Good. And because I see music in everybody, maybe we should all change our last names to Osingolio Pii which means Completely Musical.

That would be a dream come true because the mission of comMUSIKey is to build community through all inclusive music making. And that begs the question, what is the community we want to build. I want an all inclusive community where every culture and every person has a voice. where we all listen to each other across whatever divide we have in our minds.

I consider listening to be the most important skill in building community AND making music.

What if, by fostering life skills within a musical group we are actually building community? What if all the skills we develop in our life contribute to our musicality and vice versa? And finally, were we all born musical? When you walk you got rhythm, when you talk you got singin’. Try extending some of your words the next time you talk. (singing)You’ll hear yourself singing. Close your eyes and imagine that your entire body is made of musical vibrations. If it was quiet enough in this room you could hear your blood pumping through your arteries in rhythm.

Our vision for this project is to invite as many people as we can from as many divergent populations as we can into a special room where there is no judgment. No auditions. Everyone is welcome. We want all cultures, including all musical cultures. We want classical music lovers playing with beatboxers. And we will collaborate using techniques in singing, songwriting, improvisation, and everything musical. We will then break into smaller groups to workshop these techniques over an 8 week period culminating in a performance to the general public. We will videotape select pieces of the workshop and make a video to promote comMUSIKey, gain funding for future projects, but most of all, inspire the entire world to make all inclusive music.

On my first trip to Maasailand, I was greeted by an entire village in what may be the most memorable performance of my life. They paraded around us with dance and song until we were completely enveloped in polyrhythmic harmonies coming from every angle. And not a single one of them was a professional musician. They were just singing their lives. And then they invited us to join in. And we sang into the night. That’s what I want to do in this country.

On my return from that trip I went straight into a four year program called Music for People where I learned how to facilitate music with diverse groups of people. What I discovered is that we in the US have just as much music inside us as the Maasai. It just needs to be encouraged. And this is what our project is all about.

I want to thank the Arizona Commission on the Arts for planting the seed of thinking outrageously. It enabled us to think beyond our normal boundaries to what we really believe in. This is what art is all about. It creates quantum leaps to places we’ve never been before.

We will do this project no matter what funding we get. And then we will broadcast it to the world. And we will keep broadcasting until everybody is making music at every gathering, whether it be in the kitchen or at a barn raising.

So I invite you in creating a 79 note chord in celebration of inclusive art in all its forms. Open your mouth and let the air fill your body, and on my cue let out whatever ooh sound your body wants to make. Take a breath whenever you want and let your sound evolve as you look around and listen. Every one of your voices is creating community. Now let that sound be outrageous, move your body and now we have to STOP(cue). Thank you for that little taste of community music and for listening.

Music to Change To

I’ve been noticing lately how connected our lives are to our music. Well, if we ARE music then that might imply that our lives and our music are the same thing.  Or we can think of them as aliases of each other. On my Mac I can select an object and make an alias from it. Now anything I do to the object is reflected in the alias and vice versa. Maybe it’s the same with Music and Life. We just don’t always know which is the original.

I notice this relationship more in my students than in myself. So having written that, it might be fun to jump in to my own psyche as an example. One of my biggest blocks is reading music. When I think that reading music is mostly about following directions it makes me ponder a truth that I really don’t like following directions. I like to do things my way. So maybe I could work on being a good follower which would in turn help my reading skills. And maybe if I develop my reading skills it will teach me to be a better follower. And if reading becomes really fun (which it tends to be) I will start to enjoy following more.

I have students who are changing  many aspects of their lives through music and vice versa. Some are becoming less tentative in life and music. Some are more able to flow around life’s bumps as they develop music improvisation skills. Some, like me, are learning to focus more as they learn to read music.

I’m wondering if we can achieve all of our desires through music. Want to be more powerful?  Work on your fortissimo playing. (That means playing very loud) Want new love in your life? Put some attention on your sensitivity, your passion, and your sensualness in your music. Want to be rich? Play like there are no limits to your creativity.

In other words, play more music and live more life.