2017- The Year of Listening / Gentle on My Mind

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I have a hard time listening.  Surely, this addmission will come of no great surprise to my girl.   Oh, I know what you’re going to say (insert many funny responses, I’ve heard most all).   But, that’s not all of what I mean.  What I mean is ‘I have a hard time listening to music’.     So, since we are at the dawn of 2017, and just barely headed downhill from my birthday (Dec. 30th), let’s chat about that.   

“It’s knowing that your door is always open
And your path is free to walk
That makes me tend leave my sleeping bag rolled up
And stashed behind your couch
And it’s knowing I’m not shackled by forgotten words and bonds
Or the ink stains that have dried upon some line
That keeps you in back roads by the rivers of my memory
And keeps you ever gentle on my mind”

Before my commitment to musicianship, I mostly listened to music as ‘background’ to whatever I was doing at the time.   Doing this, I have developed a fairly short musical attention span.   I chose my favorite songs because I was responding to the song as a whole, with no care or understanding of the structure.  Not good or bad, just how I heard music.   Now, after decades of listening to music in this ‘regular’ fashion, I find that I simply cannot hear music the same way and advance as a musician.   

Now, as I struggle to find the key of a song, the core melody, the bass line and the chord progressions (etc. eventually), I am realizing that there is more going on even in most simple of songs than my attention span can handle.   Lo, another thing to work on!   I find I must elongate my attention span as I learn to listen this way.

I am an early musician… with under 4 years studying this thing called Music.  I have stayed committed to regular lessons from my teacher, and strive to follow his lead.  I work hard to improve the “facilities” of playing my instrument.  I subscribe to the philosophy of “the journey”, and find that there is great enjoyment in that belief.

Proficient and experienced musicians have been on the journey a long time.   Somehow, they have learned to increase their attention span, find all that “stuff’ inside the piece, and instantly transfer it to their fingers or voice.  Clearly, there is no substitute  
For time and practice, and listening.

“It’s not clinging to the rocks and ivy planted on their columns
Now that binds me
Or something that somebody said
Because they thought we fit together walking
It’s just knowing that the world will not be cursing or forgiving
When I walk along this railroad track and find
That you’re moving on the back roads by the rivers of my memory
Ever smiling, ever gentle on my mind”

In 2017, the “musical wall” I must pass through appears to be surrounded by Listening.   I’m sure that my teacher will gladly help with this, as he has been nudging me on this very thing for some time now.  Fortunately, he has a long “patience span” with me.

I will listen to the songs over and over… until I hear the chords and changes, and can identify the patterns and progression.  I will elongate my attention span.  I will learn to identify the key quickly, find the melody, and hear it in my head… then through my fingers.  There is a very real chance this part of the journey will take a great many miles, several pairs of shoes and may never fully end.   

“Though the wheat fields, the clotheslines, the junkyards and the highways
 come between us
And some other woman crying to her mother
‘Cause she turned and I was gone
I still might run in silence
Tears of joy might stain my face
And the summer sun might burn me till I’m blind
But not to where I cannot see you walking on the back roads
By the rivers flowing gentle on my mind”

You’re probably wondering why I have included these wonderful song lyrics in this article.  Well… It just so happens that on my birthday past, I was listening to these famous words from John Hartford, and goofing around the internet…when much to my pleasant surprise I found that we share the same birthday!   Like many before me, I have been fascinated with his words and music since I had begun this journey just a short time ago.
Even these long years after his death, and though many decades of my life have passed since I was 14 and his song was new, it inspires me to strive, to learn and to listen to this thing called Music.  So today, I share some of my musical journey with you, and also thank him for that inspiration.  Maybe when we meet up, he will play me a break on his banjo, and I’ll really listen to the words as he sings them.

“I dip my cup of soup back from a gurgling crackling cauldron in some train yard
My beard a roughening coal pile
And a dirty hat pulled low across my face
Through cupped hands, ’round a tin can
I pretend to hold you to my breast and find
That you’re moving on the back roads by the rivers of my memory
and forever your just gentle on my mind”

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