Autobiography

I could die tomorrow, lots of people will die tomorrow. I could be one of them. So that which I have discovered in which I see value, I will write.
I intend to become musically fluent
if I am fluent, people will listen to me, because the proof of the pudding is there
if I am not fluent, I am some random mad person on the Internet, nobody is going to pay attention

if I manage this, I will not try to fool people into believing that I am ' special ' or ' gifted '
it is life that is the gift
look at the root of the word genius. ' the guiding spirit of a person '. anyone who is in touch with their guiding spirit, has attained to genius.
now I have stumbled and fallen at every possible point, and I happy to share all of my mistakes, that is the way to learn!


age 3 ?

My parents bought a cassette machine together with a cassette with some musical songs; ' Right said Fred -- a couple of guys trying to move the piano ', the hippopotamus song, I used to listen to it back-to-back.

age 3 - 5 kindergarten

I remember hating recorder lessons at kindergarten, but I loved singing eg all things bright and beautiful. I never sang at home. there was a stigma against it.

my father stated that he himself could sing like a frog. and my mother liked to sing, but it was out of tune and my father would make note of it. I remember my father scoffing to me ' you cannot sing, you are like me, we sing like frogs '... but this was later, I must have bene at least eight years old.

age 7-12 Christchurch Cathedral School, a special musical school for choristers

the most unmusical child in a musical school.
private piano lessons -- my piano teacher was old, dull and smelled. he didn't have a clue. I didn't learn anything musical. I just learned to put notes from the paper onto the keyboard like a monkey.
music classes -- I was so scared of these classes. I remember the feeling of dread, looking at the box marked ' music ' on the timetable. I never understood a single word, as the teacher drilled ' every good boy deserves food '
I remember one assembly - it must have been soon after I arrived at the school. each day we would sing a hymn, and today's hymn was ' all things bright and beautiful '. and my chest swelled with oxygen intake, ready to give it some gusto. and they were playing to a different melody ( much inferior to the original I had learned my previous school ). I was going in a completely different direction from the rest of the school. And everyone was packed into the same room. that was the end of singing for me. the embarrassment! the last drop of musical confidence was drained.

at the same time I started to listen to my father's classical music collection -- he recorded Chopin, Beethoven, Schubert etc from his LPs onto cassette, and would play them in the car as he drove us into school. so I started to develop a longing to play this music.

age 13-18 secondary school

as an act of teenage rebellion, I decided to stop the piano.
but then gradually I started again. this time without a teacher. like a stupid monkey, reading the notes of the page onto the keyboard. I desperately wanted to fly as Chopin flew, and I couldn't figure out the secret. somewhere deep down I knew that this wasn't the way, no amount of struggling in this direction was going to lead to fluency.
but at a more superficial level I was trying to fool myself -- by playing beautiful preludes, nocturnes, I could give the idea that I was Chopin. I could fool myself. maybe even fool a few people around me, which would help me reassure myself.

you can notice this about people who are trying to fool themselves. they must fool everyone around them, and then if everyone believes it, they can also believe it.

so I developed some degree of dexterity, I even played a shambolic and cringeworthy rendition of Chopin's revolutionary study and fantasie impromptu in front of the whole school. the hours I wasted at the piano keyboard!

but I was a charlatan and I knew it. without the music in front of me, without remembering these set sequences, I was nothing. I could detect the subtle difference between Fou Tsong and Artur Rubinstein playing Chopin's Berceuse, and I could play at myself. but musically I could not express even the simplest idea. I could hardly play happy birthday with a single finger, let alone harmonise it.

I started to go to a music teacher in the village. again, this man was a useless teacher. he may have possessed some insight, but even if this were the case he didn't have the strength of spirit to stop me in my tracks. what he should have done was to take me right away from the piano and start to train my voice, to teach me to learn the notes. what was the point of teaching the nuances of phrasing, advanced techniques of flutter-pedalling, all of this nonsense, when the core is rotten.

of my school friends was going out with a girl who was a very accomplished harpist. I remember saying to her that my brain had long ago made the decision to reject musical theory, as I considered it revoltingly ugly. so maybe I was at some level awake, I was keeping the slate blank so that I could later draw something on it myself.

19-22 University

at University I met Mike -- a boy with an incredible talent for sight reading. He had only been playing for four or five years, but he could take a book of Rachmaninov, open it at a page and get a decent sound with only a few passes. I could hardly believe it. but looking back, he was still playing the same game I was. he was just insanely good at it. still without his music he could do nothing. same problem!

then I met someone who was musically fluent -- Lambros. I can't remember who knocked on whose door in the piano practice rooms, but I was drawn to his music like a magnet. in the beginning all I was aware of was that everything came out so beautifully, even on an old broken piano he would make such beautiful sounds. then I started to notice that he practically never made a mistake, he was aware of all of the notes he was playing. slowly I started to realise that whatever process was occurring for him was of a completely different nature to my own endeavours. he was functioning in a completely different dimension. a few key incidents.
  • one time I was page turning for him -- he was accompanying the Gilbert and Sullivan Society and I fancied one of the girls, so I had snuck in as a page turner. which is a great job, you don't even have to read the music, you just wait for the nod. somehow I managed to fuck even this basic task up and the whole book fell to the ground ( she was really hot by the way ), and incredibly he kept playing! even though he was sight reading, he could see the musical idea that Sullivan was expressing -- he kept going, even looking over his shoulder to help me find the right page again. and nobody noticed.
  • another time we would play a game where I would pick a melody and a composer, and he would play this melody in the style of that composer. he would just guffaw. to me it was a miracle.
  • I discovered that he had perfect pitch. I tested -- I would play some hideous 8 or 9 note chord, just a random bunch of keys. and he would, from the other side of the piano, reel them off.

Lambros had gone to a special musical school -- he had acquired perfect pitch roundabout the age of 10. he said there were at least a couple of other children in his class who could do the same. the teacher played a game of ' spot the mistake in the melody ', and even after the first note 2 children put their hand up, because he was playing it in the wrong key.

he remembered a game where the teacher plays a C chord, and you have to sing a simple melody in that key, sing three verses. and then the teacher plays they C chord again, and you can see how far you have drifted. He said that in the beginning he would drift several semitones, but gradually learned to hold pitch.

he said that he doesn't remember exactly when he acquired perfect pitch, he just remembered ' at this time I didn't know what the notes were, and at this time I did '.

another very useful thing he said is that learning musical theory ' doesn't help '. this guy was an insanely bright Ph.D. mathematics student, and musically fluent. and had been to a special musical school. obviously he had learned musical theory inside out. but he says it does not help. this makes sense, we can speak fluently without understanding grammar.

this experience at least stopped me from floundering on the piano. I simply stopped in my tracks and played no more. while I couldn't comprehend how he did what he did, I could see as clear as day my approach was leading nowhere. finally, some intelligence started to kick in.

age 23-26 drumming and dance

squat parties, LSD, enlightenment, I discovered dance. The art of completely letting go, letting the energy of the whole dance through the body. this is a movement most people will never encounter. you will not find it on MTV, possibly you will find something on youtube. I found someone (Adam) who had also uncovered this, and was able to bring this state of let-go from the dancefloor wherever he went.

Adam could play Djembe like nobody else I have heard. he gave me one of his drums, and I picked it up. the same principle as in dance -- to let go, witness as the energy expresses through you, a journey unfolds. I would play with my eyes closed, and infinite emptiness of awareness with a point of energy dancing, and this dance was the dance of life, leaping flipping falling over, miraculously recovering, trying something new, turning through itself, inside out, ever-changing. it was nothing to do with me. I was simply the witness, as the rhythm danced.

I had one experience with a group of Bahai musicians -- within moments of entering the house, they were making such beautiful music, I joined in, singing spontaneously.

singing in tongues

I met a woman (Molly) who is able to spontaneously sing in tongues. it is this same freedom that I experienced in dance, coming through the voice. I travelled with her to Morocco; she had a magical ability to mesmerise any group of people by either singing or playing on a wooden flute. The fullness of expression that she could transmit through this flute, every nuance of breath, the beauty, playfulness, humour, it was something divine, it catapulted the listener into a state of the beyond.

age 27 - 30 guitar and voice

So now I had experienced fluency in movement, rhythm, and song.
but one thing is still out of range -- harmony. to be able to improvise a melody and harmonise it.

while in India training Kalari, one of the other students (Caoru) bought an extremely cheap guitar, and we motivated each other to learn some basic songs. this was of great insight -- through all my days of playing piano, it had never occurred to me this idea of strumming a chord and singing over the top, and then changing the chord.

everyone who wishes to learn piano should spend at least three months on the guitar to realise this; even with only 2 chords you can sing a lot of Bob Marley songs. with 3 you can sing whole lot more (eg Julie by the levellers -- beautiful song, only three chords). with 4 you can sing almost everything you hear on the radio.

but how do you make the music? It is all very easy to go on ultimateguitar.com and get the chords of your favourite song, and learn it. but how did Sting or Freddie Mercury come up with these chords in the first place? when you ask a musician ' how do you make a song ' he may say ' it just comes, like the breeze '.

bass
I started to play bass guitar. this should be an essential component for anyone who wishes to understand music. if you can find the baseline, that gives you the chord. And you find it through intuition, your brain get some inkling of what bass note would sound good at this particular moment, and you learn to find it.

I then took this skill back onto my six string guitar, and gradually became able to chord-out songs from my music collection. I would start by just getting the bass note, probably using lowest 2 strings. and once I had that down for the whole song, I would fiddle around building each chord up from the bottom.

so, another useful skill. but it is still short of fluency. if I could simultaneously sing a melody and harmonise it with bass guitar, then I would be on path to fluency. but this requires knowing the notes.

31 - present-day
I came to realise that the problem is that I don't have solid connection between the notes in my head and the notes on piano, or on a guitar. A melody may play through my head, but I don't have the machinery to tell what notes on the piano represent this melody. it was only after watching this little blind Korean girl playing the piano that I realised the essential nature of this skill. musically I was behind her, and still am. I must go all the way back to the beginning, and unlearn everything, and start off again on a solid footing.