Author: Sargent, Geoff

Strange Things

Strange thing this music. It can make us stand up and dance, it can make us cry, make us wistful, happy, joyous, angry, content. Music can calm our emotions, music accompanies us to war and is played to mourn our dead. It’s everywhere we go. It never stops amazing me, that I can put on some music and change my entire mood…..just like that. When I take a road trip it’s a mix of rock and bluegrass, when I write I put my iTunes player on shuffle, when I’ve had a bad day and want to zone out or get a little lift……often it’s classical, usually Appalachian Spring. I can sit down at 9 in the evening, dog tired and fighting sleep, still looking at a few more hours of writing, and if I sit and play for an hour I’m refreshed and good for another 3 hours. Never fails…..the problem though is having the discipline to put my dobro down and start wrestling again with whatever desk work I was avoiding.
So what is it about music that has such a powerful effect? I’m sure we could find all sorts of explanations from the neurobiologists…in fact they just love writing books about how music has changed the lives of people with brain damage from disease, stroke, and injury and allowed them to regain some function…..only in the presence of music. Powerful stuff.

If I had to choose between bourbon and music it’s easy…..I’d choose music, but miss the bourbon and write sad songs about my lost shot. Strangely enough I’m not all that interested in learning about the neurochemistry that music causes in our brains or what drugs might have a similar influence. I already know that music does and I use it to change my mood….similar to my beloved bourbon. This begs the question……musicians have the notorious reputation for over-indulging in all sorts of questionable things….are they (we) just trying to continuously stimulate that part of the brain used when playing music? There might just be something to that and it seems that certain types of music use an almost trance like repetitious rhythm that must also stimulate those parts of the brain…….hmmm doesn’t Old Time do that?

I did a strange musical experiment yesterday that involved playing a completely different instrument at a string-instrument jam. For those of you who know me you might guess where I’m going with this and you’d be right, I pulled out my horn. To make the experiment more challenging, I probably haven’t played my valve trombone in over a year so my ear is completely unaccustomed, my chops are nonexistent, I can barely remember the proper fingering for the notes…..oh and best of all……I’ve never played it by ear…..I always played my horn off sheet music. After the train wreck beginning I started to get the feel for the music and could almost work some reasonable horn parts in. The experience was encouraging enough that I think I can actually see, with some time and practice, improvising on my horn and maybe even in a string band context. But the really interesting thing to me was what was going through my mind trying to figure out how to find the key, find notes that fit in, and pull the best sound out of my horn. All of a sudden I had to ditch my dobro brain and create a new “horn brain” on the fly. But at the same time, my horn brain could also use some stuff in my dobro brain to help. This sounds a little mental, as in crazy mental, but it kind of worked…better than kind of actually. I’m going to keep working this experiment, it was just too much fun, and maybe this is the year to bring my horn up to Grass Valley. Now wouldn’t that be a strange thing!

Posted:  3/18/2012

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