That Voice

The woman at the grocery checkout
is the superstar of the place
running on charm

from Spanish to English inflected
—How are you my dear?—
moving accents offbeat,
making thyme a sensible purchase

that voice shape shifts and calibrates
a thousand sensations,

that voice bears gifts
of depth and presence,

that voice was randomly assigned
but its goodwill exceeds anything I can buy.

The Improviser

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Improvising is a litmus
of the thinking under the notes
the knowledge behind the gestures
the taste over the technique:

hands on strings
the musician tunes into concord
then embarks slow and spare
bird flight from a distance

sounding the scale notes
one after another, climbing
tracking free meter beats, counting
slow phrases, color the mood

circle a theme to explore
spontaneity, change of direction,
reiteration and insistence,
swoop onto anything
to make a yes of a maybe
extend the tradition
of instrumental relating
under the fingers, in the muscles

flying without alighting,
mapping without compass,
reconfiguring the already heard
into new intensities of time.

Counterpoint

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Lessons on how to live
are everywhere sounding
in the relationships
among human part-writing

watch how people move
their melodies along
with and against
the tunes of others
to create reluctant harmony
or passing polyrhythm

notes interdependent
yet disguised
as offset, mirror, retrograde, inversion
following rules
to avoid parallel thoughts
and move in contrary motion
building from the bass
to keep experience florid

listen how we move
our thoughts along
contrapuntal lines and passing notes
reaching towards consonance
forever delaying that final cadence.

The Composer

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The process sometimes begins
by imagining an impossible place
remote overlooking the ocean
in Malibu or Majorca or Milos.

The house is white concrete,
all square corners and panorama glass.

The sunlight falls into empty interiors
leaving rectangular shadows that lengthen
as the afternoon ticks by.

The wind sings through open windows,
the ocean below churns itself
into deepest blues
over and over,
a surfscape rumbling.

The lengthening light,
the zephyr melodies and water rhythms
slow your thoughts
into forgetting they had goals.

There is no need for music here,
but your game is making some
on a piano in the empty room,
turning reveries into something else.

No one will hear it anyway
so you sit down and begin to play.

Interesting Musicians

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Have you noticed that the interesting musicians make sounds unlike everyone else?

Have you noticed that the interesting musicians move you in ways not measurable?

Have you noticed that the interesting musicians devise one-off musical systems?

Have you noticed that the interesting musicians use old instruments in novel ways?

Have you noticed that the interesting musicians create more affect with fewer sounds?

Have you noticed that the interesting musicians work in the spaces among genres?

Have you noticed that the interesting musicians don’t mind repeating themselves?

Have you noticed that the interesting musicians keep quality ahead of notoriety?

Have you noticed that the interesting musicians side step the easy-listening trap?

Have you noticed that the interesting musicians aren’t virtuosos?

Have you noticed that the interesting musicians resist pleasing you?

Have you noticed that the interesting musicians trust you to follow them?

Have you noticed that the interesting musicians teach you how to care about listening?

Talking About Musical Time

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J. and I were talking
about musical technique of a sort,
maybe something more.

We were talking
about the feel of another drummer’s time,
about how in tiny ways
it sounded wonky.

He plays louder instead of stronger I say
making gestures like clouds.

J. reaches for a conclusion already formed.
His playing doesn’t have soul he says
waiting for my response.

(Where does one get soul?)

(You just have it.)

It doesn’t drag or rush though
I split the difference.

But the feel isn’t there, J. rebounds.

It never settles.
Right, it never settles.

The Percussionist

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The next time you’re at a concert
notice the melodists up front
–those singing, strumming,
bowing or blowing through pipes–
and watch them sway with the tune
as if they invented its themes
as if they’re unlocking its emotions

then notice the rhythmicists at the back
–those drumming hammer blows
or mallet strikes–
and feel how they subdivide music’s time,
decorating it through accents
counting custodians of synchrony
who guide the melodists
on their flights of fancy.