Improvising Life

On the plane from San Francisco to Toronto last Friday, I thought about folk music. I thought about Acoustic Spotlight concerts at the home of Christine and John in London. Last night I showed up.

It’s cozy in the living room – long and narrow, full of couches and chairs. I was back home again.

A gentleman came to the front with his fiddle, ready to play a mini-set with Jake Levesque on the keyboard. Martin Horak is a jolly soul with a bend to the unrehearsed. He wanted to see what two musicians could do within the mystery of improvisation. No borders here. No set schedules. Instead a whole bunch of flow, weaving together a tapestry of notes.

Martin suggested that Jake play eight chords and that the violin would meander through the sequence with a mind of its own. I marvelled at the unknown tune which emerged … a fairyland of leaning into the next moment, again and again.

Next, Martin wanted Jake to create a melody from the wisdom of his fingers, and the fiddle would respond into the spaces with harmonies and counterpoint. As they put fingers to key and string, I didn’t know what was happening in the blending: “Who is leading and who is following?” It didn’t matter. The swaying of two human beings into the composition being composed was all right by me. Clouds parted and the shining illuminated us all.

One more time, with Jake playing increasingly minor and weird chords and Martin leaning into the disharmony with tender bowstrokes. What was going on in his mind as he was taken to fields afar? I’ll never know. What was clear was the union of the two players as they ventured forth into the land of audience cringing, and then took us out the other side.

Should a musical piece resolve at the end with a major chord?
Should poetry rhyme the second and fourth lines?
Should I contain myself within convention?

Or … not?

Ramping Down

I think driving is such a metaphor for life, and what someone does on the road is a fair indicator of how they treat their family and friends.

I often take Highway 401 from Belmont into London, Ontario.  It’s a freeway, and I usually go about 110 kilometres per hour (65 miles per hour).  The Wellington Road exit ramp is a long one, maybe half a kilometre.  It blends into a city street, where the maximum speed is 50 kph (30 mph).

When I move onto the ramp, I take my foot off the gas and coast towards the 50 kph sign.  Invariably I’m tailgated and at busy times there are four or five cars bumper to bumper behind me.  I’m curious about this but not really surprised.

Life is full of transitions from one condition to another.  I enjoy blending from the first to the second, instead of jolting.  On the 401, it’s the coasting rather than the slamming of brakes.  At the dinner table, it’s a pause between the main course and dessert, rather than launching into pie as soon as the dinner plate is empty.

Life for sure has its twists and turns but I’ve never been keen on the hairpins.  It seems that my spirit is happiest when I embrace the changes and let myself flow through them.  Abruptness will come my way, such as the morning I woke up with a blood clot in my leg, but overall the transitions feel smooth.  It’s like a dance – and a waltz instead of a frantic disco tune.  A soaring symphony rather than the smashing of a drum.  A film full of love rather than the latest shoot-’em-up thriller.

Am I “right” about this?  Not at all.  It just feels good.