Maria Skinner

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Archive for January, 2010

Dream Teacher – Guitar Part 3

Last night, I dreamt a guitar lesson.  I had a generous hand show me how to move my hand  from A ma 7 to D ma 7/F# in a song that my real guitar teacher, Chris McDermott put together for me. That pinky is still not strong enough to really hold down the 4th sting in that fourth fret all the way down there.  In my dream, I was being shown how to land all three fingers in the right place by lengthening from the inside out. There is little grace yet there, but I love the sounds I am making and I could pluck those strings all day long.  And now, it seems like I will also be playing in my sleep.

My first guitar teacher, who I will call Seth,  is in jail.  Seth set me up with a blues scale and chords to finger pick. But what he explained about chord progressions was way too complicated for me. I know I’ll get it one day, but whoa! Seth  has been playing guitar all his life but really mastered his technique in his last stint in prison. He taught many fellow inmates to play guitar, which seems like a good thing to do if you have a lot of time on your hands. Seth also taught his fellow inmates yoga and tells the guys when they get out they should find a yoga class since that is where all the sober, together women are. This scares me a little bit. He is a paradox. He strikes people as hardcore at first but is one of the most caring people and most talented musicians I know.

For about a month, Seth was meeting with me once a week and giving me new chords to pluck away at. And then one day he was just gone. You see, he has been living in a tent for the past few years in the middle of conservation land. It’s not legal, but after spending so much time locked up, he finds the outdoors much more appealing than a house.  We are not sure how it all came down, but apparently, his latest girlfriend went to his tent in the middle of the night and freaked him out and something happened that landed him in jail.  The thought of  him being locked up again and without his guitar breaks my heart. He always had it with him. And I am sure his fingers are aching for it.

Before losing Seth to the authorities, I had decided to get some “real” lessons and called Chris McDermott, local celeb living right here in Pepperell, just 10 minutes away. I have heard his name for years and was surprised to see him offering music lessons. It came, not as a something thought out, but as a physical impulse.  I saw his flyer and took it with me. Call him, my inner voice said.

Here’s what I did not expect: Chris is a brother of Siere Munro, a Nia teacher I have known and admired before I even met her. The second routine I learned, Agolo, has her right there in the front row, “Hi Siere!” This was in the days when Debbie and Carlos shot their own routines standing on a step ladder in the back of the class with a video camera.  I met Siere years later during the first Nia FAB in Portland, OR. I found out Chris and Siere are siblings during my first lesson when I told Chris I taught Nia and he knew all about it.

The other thing I did not expect is to hear Chris’ music and be so moved by it. Radio Ghosts…get it.

As a teacher, Chris knows how to start from scratch and also how to give me something to work towards based on what I want to play. This is exactly what I need right now. I find from doing Nia for so long, I learn by watching and repeating and then spending a lot of time on my own. I am learning a new dance for my fingers and hands.  There are so many things to put together right now and I feel like I did when I first began teaching Nia. Tracking the music and the moves and the cueing and the pearls and the students and the focus… Last week, Chris got me working with a metronome to get used to being on time. I had a moment for feeling like it was going to cramp my style but then keeping time and awareness of space is what I do every time I teach a class! As Carlos Aya Rosas says, we get paid to find the ONE.  I am determined so I have been working with that metronome for a week. I love it. It is definitely the structure underneath it all.

The metaphor of building a foundation for playing music is not lost on me. I have always loved the details of that and even now, my foci in class keep coming back to the base. One of the things I love about Nia is how I can take one thing and explore it so deeply. Here are some of the things I explored with my classes this week: mobility in the hip joints by playing with foot directions, beginning all movement from the base (from that push into the earth), using the ankles to create spine mobility. We explore all this with a beat behind it. I have to show up in time, it’s what keeps the people happy.  Chris said something about what makes a great musician who can play with others is being able to keep time. And I suspect this is one of the keys to being a great Nia teacher too.

It all seems so simple, but in reality it requires attention and deep listening and no tripping out. I think I romanticize what music can do for us. I imagine that if I can be attuned to the rhythms within me and around me  then nothing can go wrong. But then that may not be the point at all.  Nia teaches me awareness and raises my sensory IQ, but the reason I do it is because I love to feel myself move in space. I love to become one with the music. Nia helps me take other people there too.  Playing the guitar is teaching me many things too, but I love it because I love the sounds the strings make and that my fingers are making them. And I feel so full when I am playing. Maybe I am not overestimating the power of music at all.

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