Improvisation

Jumping into Free Play

Peter and I having fun during a photo shoot in 2017. Photo credit: Kelly Fitzsimmons

I am a musician and since the pandemic hit last winter, I have been unable to perform live. I play lead guitar and sing backup vocals in an acoustic trio called Wendy Darling and the Lost Boys and over the years we have built a following and secured gigs at a number of local restaurants and festivals. The live events are always a lot of fun as are the practices leading up to them, each giving birth to an abundance of laughter, cheerful conversation, delightful consumption, fluid movement to the music, and an overall relaxed and joyful experience. Working and playing with the band has added a great deal of happiness and play to my life.

Over the course of the quarantine, however, it has become increasingly difficult to maintain an energetic and creative musical practice. Where at first, we tried new approaches like putting out Youtube videos and sharing material through GarageBand, these methods eventually got old and punctuated the absence of the brilliance that can only be captured through live interaction, the interplay of sound, ideas, emotions, surprises, and improvised reactions. 

I have felt myself falling into a slump and have had trouble regaining momentum. 

A couple of weeks ago, I confessed my growing disinterest to my guitar teacher and he quickly offered me a book he said would help re-energize my approach. The book, called Free Play: Improvisation in Life and Art by Stephen Nachmanovitch, outlines the benefits of using play to ignite passion, creativity, and progress. He gives examples of renowned musicians, artists, writers and inventors such as Beethoven, Bach, Picasso, da Vinci, M.C. Escher, Van Gogh,  Einstein, William Butler Yeats, and William Blake, all who have created in this way.  He talks about opening ourselves to divine play (known as Lila or Leela in Hindu philosophy ) in which we surrender our consciousness and need to control the outcome and open ourselves to whatever inspiration may come through. This approach allows us to tap into the spiritual collective and ultimately, join it with our own individuality to bring forth new and unique ideas. 

As distribution of the Covid vaccine moves swiftly and the world begins to open up, I am beginning to see the point as it applies to my life. I am realizing how much play time I have been missing. I miss performing with my band in front of a smiling crowd. I miss travelling, get-togethers with family and friends, team sports, parties, farmer’s markets, festivals, walking downtown with a street full of people, eating out in a lively establishment, watching the latest movie in a sold out theatre, laughing my head off with a group of friends. When I think about my pre-Covid self, I realize when there is play in my life, I am extra productive, a better learner, and relaxed. I have deeper and more meaningful relationships and increased imagination and creativity.

I am only part way through the book, but I have already begun to approach my daily guitar practice differently. Instead of making a to do list and going through the scales and songs with mechanical effort, I have been allowing the process to come forth. Some days, I play whatever happens to be on the music stand. Other times, I take a band standard and try it with an entirely different guitar tuning. I experiment. I create. I dance. I play. 

I am finding that all I need to do is show up and allow myself this opportunity, to lose all inhibitions and bring forth that which makes me happiest.  I am beginning to regain my enthusiasm and new ideas and accomplishments are starting to surface, just as Nachmanovitch promised.

As the pandemic cloud lifts and we are able to get together in larger groups, there will be more opportunities for play, and I recommend taking them. There may still be a period of waiting before it is safe to rush out into the world, but even now, we can begin to approach all endeavors with the child-like perspective of fun, surrender, curiosity and joy. We will certainly be happier and we may even discover a hidden treasure or two.

Other Websites.   Body: https://www.inbalancetherapeutics.net/   Soul: https://www.mysoulpurposeproject.com/  Music: https://www.wendydarlingandthelostboy.org/