Thoughts on Finding Your Voice on Your Instrument


The other day I was watching a fellow guitarist at Harmony Church (yes Issa you). It was great! I thought to myself: even if every note would have been the wrong one I would still have enjoyed his playing. It is the conviction with which he plays every single note that makes it beautiful.

Two thoughts came up:

  • What is so great about playing Christian music is that it implies as per definition the most amazing audience you can ever have, your own creator and loving Father, who is dying to hear what you have to say, how you love Him with all your heart, spirit and mind, what you are asking of Him;
  • Therefore we should focus more on MEANING every note you play. You don’t need the ‘wow, you are so technical’ compliments, in the end a monkey can do that, I know I was one of them. You want your message to come across, to tell a story, to share.

Every now then I go out and see some music or I end up watching videos on Youtube or listen to music on soundclick. With jazz still an important preference I enjoy the discovering of new unknown players. Without a doubt on many occasions I have heard  players that play all the right notes, they display an in depth knowledge of harmony and technique yet something seems to be missing. How can it be: the play all the right notes but I am disappointed? I think I know know why.

From what I am hearing these people must have spent countless hours in their studios, their rooms or wherever, practicing, exercising, working on stuff, perfecting their skills, analyzing chord changes, work on harmonic and melodic ideas and everything else that comes with being a jazz guitarist. They seem to be having a good time with the band and by themselves but nothing seems too be coming across: they speak the musical language but not to anyone in particular it seems. It comes across as thinking out loud not directed at anyone but themselves.

They do not seem to be communicating. What they say musically may well be very clever, perhaps impressive even, but whatever it was, it never reached the audience. In fact, the audience seemed to be the last thing on their mind.

It may be me but is playing an instrument not the same as sharing stories, emotions or a particular point, perspective or message with others? Your instrument merely replaces your voice. Just as a writer has his pen and a painter his brush as part of their toolkit they use to share their sentiments and insights with us, so it is with the guitarist and other instrumentalists. And admittedly as instrumentalists we have to try much harder as we do not have words to use. At the same time we have an opportunity to express things in a way that goes beyond words.

Play with Conviction

While I do not suggest that we skip technique and theory, I do believe that we also need to work on developing our own instrumental voice, that we learn how to communicate with our audience, we need to work hard on having our instrumental voice carry further in order for our music not to become one big display of what you now or can do, of vanity. What I mean here is playing with conviction, instead of quietly and timidly looking for the right notes, meandering away almost as if sorry you are making a sound or doing it  out (very) loud but for the wrong reason: not to communicate but to showcase.
This does not translate to an audience or at least not to me.

As a musician it is very easy to fall for the trap of making things a public display of your capabilities, hey you put the time in for sure and you still are. Just imagine this: if you had to choose between a novel or autobiography or an encyclopedia so as to be touched by it, which one do you think will have the greatest potential?

So it is with our music, and that is what religious music teaches you. You want to be the best you can be on your instrument, because of the love you want to convey for your Father, and for the love of your fellows and neighbors who hopefully may share in your emotions and even better, it may serve in opening the lines of communication with heaven for yourself and the audience. And if you are ‘praying by playing’, you’d want God to understand what you are trying to tell or ask Him.

So, what I am really talking about here is playing every note with total conviction, truly meaning every note you play. Make it goal to have the person in the audience who knows nothing about music, feel you, understand you.

It Is Not About Me

So, it is no longer about you, but all about the other.

Whatever the style of music, I believe the difference is all about musicians that play for themselves and musicians that try to get a point or a message across or that are opening up their hearts minds and spirits to share their lives with you.

That is what I feel when  you see a giant like Joe Pass

This is what I feel when I hear Santana

And it is not any different to hearing the singers in the next video rip away on ‘Great is your Mercy’

Be in the Moment

So now I made communication and meaning, making my guitar actually speak part of the ongoing efforts I put into improving as a musician. It is all about finding ways to let my guitar really speak. It is an ongoing effort and on many an occasion I disappoint myself, but I guess that comes with development and growth.

Most of all such an approach requires you to be in the moment completely, and when I fail myself it usually is because my heart, spirit and mind are not there in the moment, that is when the fingers do the work but I am no longer communicating the way I want it to be.

What they said musically might have been very clever, even impressive, but whatever it was remained on the stage. No one in the audience was invited to experience that musical conversation. The audience was the last thing that mattered it seemed.

Further Talk on the Cross, Gifts an Calling: Mike and John Exchange Thoughts


Yesterday I posted Thought on the Cross, Gifts and Calling: the Journey Continues. In response thereof I received very kind responses, amongst others from Michael Pokocky, my good friend, writer, diarist, philosopher and retired business man. His blog can be found at the Red Room (http://www.redroom.com/member/michaelwpokocky) and is listed here as it is one of my favorites. Here you will also find links to some of his beautiful writings. Anyway, Michael and I have been friends for a very long time and ever since our first conversation we committed ourselves to being completely frank and open with our thoughts, which has over the years lead to thousands of pages of very interesting communications (email and skype) on virtually any subject and which I from time to time still draw upon. With his permission I was allowed to give the readers here a peak into some further thoughts after the post referred to at the start. I hope you will enjoy it as much as we did.

Initial post Thought on the Cross, Gifts and Calling: the Journey Continues.

Michael Pokocky’s Reply

I read [it] with great enthusiasm.
I found your writing clear and your proposition inspired.
Thus having been inspired through you sharing with me, I will share what I know in this moment.
It changes all the time as is the nature that the only real definition of a moment to me is the NOW.
When you read this it will be a new moment and I will be in another.
Here is my moment:

There is a saying I use to explain how one knows certain things: When you know you know then you know. And therefore no further thought needs to be put into anything.  If no further thought then what?  Action is the anti-dote to thinking.  If for example one is to give to give then the action of giving requires energy.  Thinking about acting requires energy too, but in my view it does not produce any tangible results.  The action of giving does however.

How we arrive at what we know before action is unique for all of us.  Cultural diversity is religious diversity or spiritual diversity.  Buddha, The Dali Llama, God, Christianity, Protestant, and perhaps hundreds more.  In my view all of these are in fact pointers to that place where one feels bliss.
So what is purpose?  It is what each of us feels at the core we must do.  How do we know our purpose?  We don’t as you say, but in my view if we align ourselves with that which we perceive as a deeper or higher self where we sense a knowing we will see our purpose is to evolve.  The cosmos is order and man seeks to find order out of chaos and suffering in life.  But the cosmos is infinite is it not?
Infinite order out of chaos.  This is a choice for the individual.  But what kind of choice?  Alignment of the self with the undercurrent of the vastness of the cosmos opens up the vastness of the self inside.  When this is realized then knowing who you are is not what one originally perceived oneself to be.  We will never know who we are nor will we ever be able to fully explain it without relationship to form and content by which we now use to think about who we are.  It is freedom of the thought forms and freedom from the material associations and freedom from all associations man made that allows us to experience the inner bliss.  That is our purpose and from that very bliss which I arrive at from detachment from form and content where I become conscious of an infinite vastness of order which has already been in place but not seen in full by anyone.  It has been glimpsed.  And people like Jesus, Buddha etc. were real men who lived and found this vastness and said,”Look over there and see it.  Is it not beautiful?”

John responds

This is really beautiful and I am amazed again and again how much similarities I see here.

When you refer to the journey to get to the point of bliss and how that is something that is there in all religious an spiritual diversities you are right. As far as I understand it that is because all those different religions, belief systems and philosophies have one very important thing in common, that is straightening out man’s inclination towards self-centered thinking and actions  and from that selfishness.

I can’t help but seeing that in all of them the ‘point of bliss’ and the journey thereto is one in which you stop putting yourself at the center of the universe, on the throne of your life. Where Christianity is different is in that it seems that it is the only only that requires the lead guy Jesus Christ, without him nothing is left. You can take Buddha out and you are still left with a beautiful philosophy, you can take Mohamed out and there is still a way to Allah, but once you take out Jesus, the way to Go is closed off. That is the the essence of Christianity, no one comes to the father but THROUGH Jesus.

My point was that as self-centered people we often times THINK we know yet at the same time we end up in situations or places and actions that are a source of continuous unhappiness. That place of bliss is where you end up using your talents or gifts and are doing things at near perfection, but what causes the ultimate bliss is not the fact that you are acting like that and using your gifts like that, you do that for a purpose with a purpose. And this means in my view that anything like that is NO LONGER ABOUT YOU.

Evolving as humans is in my view not a purpose but a means towards a purpose.

The cosmos is order and man seeks to find order out of chaos and suffering in life.  But the cosmos is infinite is it not?

Yes I agree that man seeks to find order and I would even go as far as saying that we are getting further and further in that. At the same time many of these advancements do not brings us relief in our suffering, in fact many of these advancements, as you pointed out yourself on so many occasions have only made the suffering worse. Where the quest is fantastic on many occasions we could ask ourselves for whom actually. “Connecting with the vastness of the cosmos etc” as you called it is somewhat of the Einsteinesque approach and in the end lead to magic moments and not necessarily to a life of bliss. That is what I now see.

“It is freedom of the thought forms and freedom from the material associations and freedom from all associations man made that allows us to experience the inner bliss.”

I have to fully agree with that but what I found is that man is too imperfect or in Christian terms “fallen” to ever realize this without the help of what you would call the ‘cosmos’ and I would call God, a God that wants to be known and moreover wants to have the relationship with you. In my case this means going through Jesus Christ and with the help of the Holy Spirit. However beautiful terms we come up with, in the end it all boils down to who are you going to have in the center and who is supposed to be in control. So, we THINK that we may be able to connect with that “vastness of the cosmos etc…” but that is not how things work in my view. That vastness that Einstein refused to label is what I would call God and it is the other way around, we don’t connect to this vastness, that vastness is looking to connect to us and we can if we let it. This is the whole shift in paradigm that comes, with the New Testament, with Jesus.

I did not want to create an impression that we do not know our purpose. God’s provision of the Holy Spirit comes in here as the vehicle of inspiration or communication. Aligning ourselves with that whatever you call it is still departing from a human perspective with ourselves in the center. That is what I found in the last years, is simply not going to work, or better yet, not for me.

I wanted to convey that out purpose is pretty clear, be a child of God, be what He wants you to be, be in a relationship with him through Christ: a relationship with a God who wants to be known, personally. A year ago I would have said that this is a load of crap, I now KNOW and have EXPERIENCED the reality of having a relationship with a living God, and I have come to the conclusion that this is the God of the Bible, speaking to me and guiding me through the Holy Spirit.

That is our purpose and from that very bliss which I arrive at from detachment from form and content where I become conscious of an infinite vastness of order which has already been in place but not seen in full by anyone.  It has been glimpsed.

You are right, it has been “glimpsed” (that is what Einstein is referring to),

And people like Jesus, Buddha etc. were real men who lived and found this vastness and said,”Look over there and see it. Is it not beautiful?

I think indeed that Buddha could have said that that and yes Jesus said that for sure in words of similar meaning. Once, having been asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied:

“The kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation, nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is within you.” (Luke 17: 20, 21).

I loved your reply and I love this exchange, as it forces me to have my thoughts clear. Thanks again for getting the better out of me. I love you for it.

With your permission I would like to get our exchange out on the blog (with all full credit and links to wherever you might like them). This was great stuff Mike you served up for me and I think it makes such a worthwhile read and forced me to go back in again myself.

Michael Replies

Yes your idea to post these conversations on your blog is fine by me.

Name: Michael Pokocky
…  Right now when I said in my comments I am actually aligning myself with the spirit and this allows me to connect deeply inside with my true essence which is slowly being revealed to me little by little the deeper I go through being consciously aware of it at all times.
In reading recently A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle — who is just an enlightened man like Deepak Chopra and other quality individuals like them and whom all convey through their writings the telling of their own personal journeys towards awareness or consciousness of God as I would call it while others call it the higher self or the inner self — I found three things that I practice from Eckhart’s journey and explanation of it to help me effect a deeper connection with myself and thus with God:
  • nonresistance — Is that so?
  • nonjudgmental — Maybe
  • nonattachment — This to will pass
The whole idea which I thought would be useful to me is that rather than use pills to numb me and prevent me from suffering I use this as a tool in living moment to moment to handle just about anything that comes at me from outside during the days.
In fact I think this is kind of a mental detox from my bipolar because there is less suffering all round and am able to keep at 5 pills from 16-18 a day quite easily.
Am I seeing results?  Yes and I can measure them by the way people — my family — are around me now.  PEACEFUL Laughter smiles connection and at moments the experience inside of total bliss or the totality of Gods love passing or living within me.
I don’t think ,”Oh what to do now?” anymore.  I just here my deepest voice speaking to me and follow that.  Action on what I hear.  I know this deeper voice is the re-conncetion I had to the Blessed Virgin Mary which I seemed to have lost for awhile.  Now I have re-connected once again.
I know that what I am suppose to be doing will be revealed after some time in this peaceful existence where the only thing I want to do was conveyed by that photo I sent to flickr or FB you commented on–the one writing at the ski resort while my kids ski.
As a matter of fact Nathalie just drove them and I am leaving soon to grab a coffee and bring my journal and books and will be sitting there again tonight.
I have been in the house since Sunday and only go out at night when after a day of rest from the cold I got I venture out into the vastness of the night stars and feel blissful knowing I will be near my kids in a short while.
Three people have given me idea without me asking of what I should be doing.  I liked that.
  • One__interviewer
  • Two__social worker with delinquent kids for rehabilitation
  • Three__a poet
I have felt the desire to live a intelligent life of sort of all three combined. We shall see and when I know I know you will know I know.

Final Comment

Whilst this exchange could go on for much longer I just want to highlight that where there is love, rules of engagement can go overboard and things are taken without any egotistic issues cropping up. This is an example of a very friendly and open one, there are others that are less friendly and way more blunt. But as always, what is being said is said on the basis of friendship, love, compassion and a deep mutual respect.

In more biblical terms: if you love your neighbor in the way it is meant to be, we can throw overboard all the rules of engagement as it is in the love that room for open honest communication is created.

I suggest finally that we all go and have a good look at the fantastic posts of Michael Pokocky:

http://www.redroom.com/member/michaelwpokocky

and check out the beautiful Sainte-Adele, Canada here >>>

And if you are in the neighborhood, take him out for a coffee and enjoy the company of a profound but very down to earth intellectual and loving human.

Thanks Michael Pokocky for being such an incredible friend.

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