Hello Troubadourians! I have been missing from the pages of the Troubadour for three months now, due to demands from my day job and some health issues that have now been resolved. I want to thank everyone who supported me during my absence with their calls, emails, and the occasional hang when I was able. I truly appreciate all of you… It’s good to be back.
I’ve had a lot of time to consider what is important to me, what I want to spend time doing, and what I want to plan to do in my future. Sometimes those things changed from day to day. I found that to be very enlightening if not completely surprising. One constant was refocusing on my music. Specifically, what do I want to play?
In mid-October I had the pleasure of playing with my friend and co-conspirator, Sven-Erik Seaholm, at the release concert for his long-awaited new recording Oxford Comma. The band was excellent—Roger, Paul, Wolfgang, Ed—it is always a pleasure playing with all of you, and the show was well received. So many friends and notable musicians came to Humphreys on October 18th to support the music. Nearly seven years in the making, this recording documents the life events Sven experienced during that time, many of which I shared with him. To have it come to such vibrant fruition on the CD and to play those songs live with my friend after working on them in the studio for so long made me remember why I do this music thing. I get to play cool songs with cool people, and I get to play electric guitar, too! As I explained in my August column, I am of two minds as applied to my playing; one mind is acoustic, and the other is electric. My electric mind definitely gets to expand when I play with Sven, and I relish every opportunity to do so.
My acoustic mind is satisfied with my commitment to Outliers—my trio with Mark C. Jackson and Pamela Haan. The music we make is some of the most beautiful and soulful that I have ever played. With Mark and Pam, I can take my acoustic guitar playing further than I ever thought possible, and they have taught and encouraged me to be the singer I never thought I could be. It is such a joy to play with musicians that sound like themselves whether they are playing original music or a carefully curated cover. They have the depth of experience to know how to play just what a song needs, no more, no less. I am a more complete musician because of them.
I would ask then, what do you want to play? Have you thought about it? It’s tempting to just play whatever comes along, whatever you are familiar with, or whatever you’re getting paid for. These are all legitimate reasons to play music. I have done all of these in my “career” with varying levels of success and satisfaction. But to change the emphasis, what do you want to play? There’s no wrong answer. But you have to ask the question first…
It took me a long time to take this seriously. Insecurity in my abilities, unfamiliarity with new music, and the opportunity to get paid are all strong motivation to just do music with no thought of whether I wanted to do it. Or the belief that I should be doing something for any of the previous reasons. That should is strong motivation, especially in the form of peer pressure from musicians that we respect or admire. Whether it’s people we know or people we read about in magazines and aspire to be like, outside influences are powerful and conformance can push us in directions that may not serve our best interest. They can be instructive and part of “paying our dues,” but at some time it is important for every musician with even the slightest ambition to be an artist to ask themselves the question: “What do you want to play?”
Play what moves you. It doesn’t matter what it is. If a song, an artist, or an entire genre speaks to you, then that is something you need to explore. Dive in and see where it takes you. Be open and sincere and give it everything you have. The music will give you what it has to offer. That might be something special or it might not work out, but you will be better for having made the leap. Art is fearless so we must be fearless in our pursuit of it. That is the only way that we can ever hope to claim artistry for ourselves. It kind of sounds scary and a lot of work, doesn’t it? Well, it can be. Or it can just become business as usual…if we let it. Allowing yourself to choose what you want to play is both the easiest and hardest decision you will make for your music. But if you choose wisely, you will be drawn to other people who have made the same decision and in those kindred spirits you will find the camaraderie that playing music with others who have committed to play what they want to play can offer.
When you do find them, will it all be rainbows and roses? Hell, no! There will be differences of opinion that can sometimes be, shall we say heated (think CSNY at their best…) but remain open and civil, and things generally work out for the best. Remain in service to the music, not ego, and you have the best opportunity to make the best music for yourself, your band members, and the audience. Always respect the audience as they are the reason you play your music. Of course, respect the musicians you are playing with as well. They are your brothers and sisters in music and art. They deserve your support just as they support you.
Give this some thought if you haven’t already. Playing what you want to play is the best gift you can give to yourself. It will make you a better musician…and maybe even an artist. It’s worth making the effort. It certainly was for me.
So, what do I want to play? I want to play music that requires me to be at my very best to play it, which demands that I respect it for its content, that is accessible to an audience without being simplistic, and that rewards my effort of surrendering to the wisdom of the art.
Need to know? Just ask… Charlie (email@example.com)