Timothy's Blog

Timothy's blog on dulcimers, music, nature and life!

Playing without a plan can be great

Playing without a plan can be great

Are you a musician who is tied to the page?  Do you need to have notes printed in front of you in order to play?  Or do you have to depend on a carefully rehearsed repertoire?  Do you require a chord chart so you know the right harmonic structure?  Or are distinct melodies your only option when you play?

Here's an example of how totally 'out of the blue' playing can be beneficial:

Some years ago at our conservative Presbyterian church I had my hammered dulcimer at the front during one Sunday service because I’d played it as part of the music team for congregational singing early in the meeting and then had played a solo during the offering.  Presbyterians tend to operate with a plan, as you perhaps know, so I didn’t expect to be at the dulcimer again till time to pack it up at the end.

But Pastor Tom did the totally unexpected!  At the end of the sermon he said he thought it would be good for us to have an impromptu time of personal prayers in response to the message --- “while Tim plays on the dulcimer!”  Yow!  No warning!

So I stepped up to the dulcimer and… and I had a thoroughgoing mental block --- simply no ideas at all appeared in my mind.  I needed to be playing, so… I let a hammer fall onto a string, then another on a different string, then added a couple of harmony notes and could then tell what key I was appearing to be playing in, and I repeated a few of the notes and harmonies, and started gently wandering into new patterns that seemed similar to those first few notes, and the structure of the music was generally set.  I continued this somewhat loosely organized wandering for a few more minutes till Tom moved on to the next planned phase of the worship service, and I then brought the explorations to a close.

Mission accomplished!  Although it was slightly unnerving (and I hold nothing against Tom --- I think he knows I like spontaneity and adventure), I kind of enjoyed the new experience.

But an interesting thing happened after the meeting:  More than any other time people came up to me and asked such things as, “What was that wonderful piece you played during the special prayer time?”

Don’t be afraid to try spontaneous music that you may not even be thinking about as you happen to play it!  Don’t cop out and tell your own “Tom” you just can’t fulfill his request!  Break free at times and have an adventure!  Really!

Crossing thresholds
The hammered dulcimer is the ancestor of the piano

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Timothy Seaman on Saturday, 10 August 2013 22:04

(Photo courtesy Dr. Ellen Rudolph.)

(Photo courtesy Dr. Ellen Rudolph.)

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