July 30, 2012

Repetitive Use Injuries

This topic has come up several times among my friends lately so here is what I have to say about tendonitis and other injuries that come from doing the same thing over and over.
The most important thing is to Stretch! Take short breaks while practicing to walk around, swing your arms in full circles, do your favorite stretches or just move around and put yourself in a different position for a little while. It doesn’t seem like a big deal but it's one of the best things you can do for yourself, really! If you feel uncomfortable, are in pain or have numbness, get help for whatever hurts and advice on changing how you stand, sit or hold your instrument and make sure you do it right away. NEVER ignore pain or numbness--that’s what leads to permanent injuries. It may take several tries to find the position that lets you play properly without discomfort but don’t give up. Ask for help from others if the first person you speak to can’t help you. The most common time to develop repetitive use injuries is when you are abruptly increasing the amount of time you play such as dress rehearsals for a show or the first year or two of college or graduate school. This is also the time musicians are least willing to cut back on playing just because we have a twinge somewhere. We tend to make things worse by ignoring whatever the issue is "just until this next show is done”. Don’t! Get help right away.
My personal story--In Grad school, I developed some mild discomfort in my shoulder that came and went but never completely stopped nagging me. Even at its worst, it wasn’t that bad but it was fairly constant. It bothered me while doing things other than playing (like driving) and often bothered me while I was trying to go to sleep. I tried stretching for a week or two which helped short term but the discomfort always came back just as bad as before. Sometimes it seemed tender or sore, but mostly it just felt odd. Tingly but not really numb. These are several BIG warning signs that I recognized from other musicians’ stories. They are also EARLY warning signs that are easy to ignore but I knew that would be a big mistake. I immediately tracked down a chiropractor who specializes in repetitive use injuries that people such as sports players, musicians and artists often experience. A sculptor who spends hours pounding chisels and hammers into rock sent me to him. If he can help a sculptor, he knows what he's doing! He uses a technique called active release which is basically a  localized intensive massage combined with manipulating the joint meant to put everything back in working order and reduce inflammation and pain as quickly as possible. He also gives his patients exercises to do at home so that they will eventually NOT need to see him at all and can take care of things on their own (the sign of a good chiropractor). After a few visits, I felt wonderful, that is, normal. Once or twice over the next few months, the issue flared up a little but not as bad as before and I went in for a “quick fix”. As time went on (and I got better at remembering to do the exercises) the exercises made more and more of a difference and made my shoulder feel better faster and faster. Now, if I forget to do the exercises for long enough (more than a month or two), my shoulder may start to bother me again but as soon as I do the exercises, I’m fine. And it takes longer and longer for the issue to return the more I do the exercises.
The moral is, don’t pretend things will get better on their own. The sooner these types of issues are dealt with, the easier they are to get under control. It may not be that bad to start with but waiting will make it worse. Don’t accept “you’ll have to live with it” for an answer!

July 21, 2012

The Muses Return - Reweaving Tangled Myths

I have been working on a more poetic retelling of the fragments on the over 30 Muses we can name. This is a selection from that work in progress.

Lotus Water Garden
Inspiring Water Nymphs

The Earth and the Sky had many children who each brought a new level, a new consciousness to the world. Blurring one into the other: Time and Direction, Cycles and Constellations, Oceans and Light. A rainbow of concepts and abstractions that shimmer and shift with each new idea, a constant blossoming of revelations laid out plain to see in the spiraling fabric of the universe. Piling up over the millennia to create the bedrock of a new mythology.
The first thing Mnemosyne the Titan did after being born was to name everything in creation, past, present and future, so they could be remembered. She brought language into the world by giving us the memory for words, sentences, ideas, melodies, pictures and stories. She knows everything that has ever happened and because of this, she can predict what will happen in the future.
Mnemosyne is the first Muse, the first source of inspiration, the first to create for beauty’s sake. She teaches the secrets of music, poetry and art to anyone willing to learn how to remember, to practice and to create. She knows that there must be a start, a beginning, for anything to be created. She is that beginning but she is also what allows the beginning to be. She is the blank page, the sounding board, the hollow silence of a dreamless sleep. That is why there are two springs in the underworld, one named Mnemosyne or Memory and the other named Lethe or Forgetfulness. And both are hers.

Gaia the wide earth and Ouranos the boundless sky had three daughters who inspired poets and musicians and danced in a ring round their joined horizon. Mneme is named for the memory of all the songs and stories entertainers must know. Melete is practice, meditation, reflection and all the solitary activities needed to learn and remember. Aoede is the song and the performance itself. They leap and play in the waters of fountains and springs that are said to wake the creative impulses of those who will chance wading in. They only whisper indistinct murmurs by day but by night, their voices ring and echo through mist and starlight. They live with Desire, Eros’s mirror, and the Graces and together they chase away cares and sorrows with dance and song. And one, Mneme, looks so much like Mnemosyne that even they no longer know if they are mother and daughter, sisters or reflections on the surface of still water. These three, or was that four?, are the first Gods to be thanked by any singer of any song.

Plusia keeps to herself. There are no tales, no listings for her name. The only clue to be found is in the name of a moth, Plusia, named for the rich gold markings of its wings. Four Muses name her as their mother, though they giggle and change their story about their father. Perhaps he was Ouranus of the primeval sky, like the others, or perhaps he was Zeus wandering down in the dark wealthy worlds of Pluto, looking for something he had lost. These four singers won’t say. Melete sits nearby meditating on all the harmonies and rhythms she will inspire while Aoede’s songs weave about in complex nets of motives and counter-melodies. Thelxinoe brings so much joy, bliss and delight to the hearts of those who encounter her, they forget that she is also a siren of Persephone’s court. And Arche, the beginning, has always been here since before the Chaos that began the universe, the source that causes all things to exist. They alone can safely wake Hypnos from his unending sleep. They know how to lie and how to tell the truth and how to be believed either way.

Now ever since he was a little child, Apollo would watch his big sister lead the Muses in song. He found any excuse he could to follow them to their dancing rings and soaked the music in. They even let him play the reed-pipes, a gift of Athena’s, to their singing if he was lucky. Three Muses soon formed a group round him and taught him to play a new instrument, a lyre with strings that sounded sweet from high to low. Their rhymes and meters seemed to rise up out of the earth itself, whispering hints of what was to come, that Apollo the lucky sun child collected and spread to the world. Kephiso took her name from a river full of springs and little dreams. Borysthenis means strength like other old, old names used by Hecate, Aphrodite, Demeter and the Furies. And Apollonis shone like the sun and moon in the sky.

And then there is Polymatheia, the orphan, and her ghosts. Three Muses from Sicyon once, now only Polymatheia remembers her name. She loves “much learning” of all kinds; knowledge for its own sake makes her sing and dance. She haunts theaters and universities with their comedies and tragedies and laughingly calls Dionysus’s wine “light” compared to the intoxication of study and art. Though she would never miss a show of his and thrills in mixing words and notes, like water and honey, till they have become something other, something more, than they once were. And perhaps she is the Muse who kept the mighty flying Pegasus following tamely at her heels. Though that must have been after its hooves had created the four springs of the fountain where, some say, all the Muses were born.

One day Mnemosyne was out singing and naming things she found under the sky. Zeus of the wide stretching sky saw her, and saw her name him. And down to the earth he fell. What exactly they did neither ever would say but for nine days and nights they wandered the hills and pastures, and everyone living heard music coming from the leaves in all the trees.
Then a year or so later Mnemosyne gave birth to her nine daughters. Drunk from birth on song, they emerged into the world free of worries or cares. They were so alike that they had to be named and given symbols to tell one from the other. Though of course they promptly traded their baubles back and forth as if it was all the same to them. All learning was creation to them, all words became poetry in their minds. To walk was to dance and to speak was to sing. At celebrations, no one was more welcome, but between times, Artemis was the only God as mad for music as they. Linking arms, these ten danced all night under the stars, singing like a pack of wolves to the moon.

Antiope the nymph known as “the good mare” and Pierus the king of a spring on a mountain once had seven daughters, lovely as sirens, who sang for their supper. They leapt out into the world and let their voices fly through the sky, singing of rivers and seas, flowers and the moon. Inevitably, they met the nine daughters of Mnemosyne one day and the whole noisy bunch of them had to sing together. Soon the world was brought to a standstill by this full chorus and even the newly born wild Pegasus was caught by the layered sounds. The sky itself went dark with distraction and the springs all held their breath, in wonder. And then, in that silent moment at the end of all music and songs, half of these Muses bowed, sprouted feathers and took wing, traveling out into the myths as seven magpies, or perhaps it was nine different birds, that the Muses love to this day.
Bleu Mantle Rose
Roses and Birds are Linked to the Muses
Red Robin

My later post, The Muse Contest, has more detailed information on the traditional 9 Muses and the 7 Muses of Pieria.

July 5, 2012

Lemon Balm and Whiskey

Different music comes about in different ways, often in ways I don’t entirely understand. This is the story of how two of my tunes were created.
composing music
My Dad died about three years ago. He was a musician, guitar mainly, and the person who first showed me how to get sound out of the flute (although he didn’t really play flute, just knew the basics). After he died, I went outside and played. The tunes were fairly short, slow and moody, not too surprisingly, and so was most of the music I played for a bit after that. A few months later, I took my Dad’s car (which I inherited) to get an oil change. One of the mechanics at the garage is also a musician and was asking me about some of my flutes. Since I was going to play a show later, I had the glass piccolo with me so I pulled it out and played a little for the guys in the garage. For the first time in several months I felt like playing something at least a little less sad. What came out of the picc as a result was the first couple of phrases of “Lament’s Balm.” It took forever for me to figure out this was the piece’s name, and I called it that-garage-tune to myself for more than a year. I liked the tune right off and worked with it right away. Within a week it developed a companion tune that was fairly bouncy, energetic and builds to end on the second highest note the glass picc can play. I quickly named the second tune “I’m Not Dead Yet, Pass the Whiskey Please” which was directly inspired from one of the last poems in my Dad’s journal. The two tunes traveled together for about half a year so very firmly I thought I might not need to name the first tune at all. Then they abruptly split into two independent pieces. I sometimes still play them together but they are no longer permanently joined.
lemon balm blossoms, Melissa
Lemon Balm Blossoms-Lament's Balm

lemon balm flower, Melissa
Lemon Balm is supposed to make people feel happy or at least calm. It is certainly delicious enough.

Both of these tunes are fairly typical for me in that they jump around and rearrange themselves a great deal. However, “Lament’s Balm” has a bit more of a solid outline to its melody line even though it shifts wildly within that basic shape. “Pass the Whiskey” has several defined phrases that hold it together and a basic rhythm and build, but resisted being more defined for quite some time. The result is that “Lament’s Balm” was ready to record fairly quickly and “Pass the Whiskey” is only now reaching the stage when I feel ready to record it.
Most of my composing is based on improvisation, not formal composition training. I studied a great deal of music theory but not with the intent of developing composition skills. The theory training seems to have functioned more as a net for when the improvisation loses its grip during its trapeze act (all right so my metaphor needs a little work but you get the idea).
lemon balm sun tea
Lemon Balm Sun Tea-Good for a hot day