Bump Trump to the Dump

Bump Trump to the Dump

Bump Trump to the dump

Trump won Indiana tonight, and it seems he has a clear path to the Republican Nomination. In honor of that, we created Bump Trump to the Dump. It’s a sort of bluesy piece. It reflects my fear that if Trump gets elected President, the economy will go to hell and a lot of people will get hurt. The rich, including Trump, will only get even richer, and the disparity between the rich and the poor will ascend to even higher levels. That’s destabilizing to the nation. Depressing. But the music is a lot more fun than that!

This piece is a good example of our process. You can hear how it developed out of a simple little conversation that sprang up after we heard the news about Indiana.

Last Act for Poetry Night at W/nw/n

We were the final act at the W/nw/n coffee bar tonight. This is the second month in a row. The people there are really nice (Hail Miguel, Tony, Rosie and Unity)! They’ve been really supportive of us.

Normally, we meet on Tuesday night to play together, but this week, it got moved to Wednesday. Then we realized it was the last Wednesday of the month, and wondered if we should try to play at W/nw/n again. I texted Miguel and we kinda sorta made an arrangement, in an improvisational way. Making it up as we go along. Not that it’s always so easy for me to sit back and enjoy the ride without being certain where we’ll end up. But I’m learning.

I picked up Bob and Kurt, and then it occurred to me that we might be spending a lot of time listening to poetry when we could be playing together, so we decided to go over and check out the scene and if we had to wait until the end of the evening, we might just bag it and go back to Bob’s to play.

There were three stools at the end of the bar closest to the place where the poets stand. So we sat there, to see what was happening. Miguel was just announcing the first poet.

At first I was feeling annoyed about listening to the poetry, but as the poets started doing their thing, I got drawn in, and after a while, I was happy to listen, although I was still itching to play. At the break, we went to get our instruments. Kurt must have spoken to Miguel, because when I came back in, he told me we would be doing the same thing as we did last month.

I sat down and did a bit of drumming with Unity. They have a lot of percussion instruments to play — djembes, congas, some really neat vibraphony sounding things. Those vibraphones created some really nice spaces for the poetry. Not all the poets wanted musical accompaniment. But it was a nice vibe when they did. I found myself keeping beat very quietly on my Djembe. It was really interested how all the poets read with a very regular rhythm, no matter how many syllables they had to speak. Sometimes, I felt like I knew their rhythm even before they started. I’d love to play with poets more, and get into the musical aspect of poetry.

There were traditional poetry styles as well as more energetic hiphop and poetry slam styles. Some of the poets just made it up on the spot, and that went pretty well. Impressive. Some of them had poetry handles, like Number X, who I believe was the one who claimed to be bipolar. Hail fellow bippie!

I started thinking about how it would go. Last time we had to fiddle around setting up after the last poet, and the audience started talking, and we didn’t really interact with us the way I had imagined. I felt like we were background music and I had been hoping we could get a closer listen.

I decided I would use the Kalimba and sing about us while Bob and Kurt were getting set up. I tried not to think too much about what I would say. I just reminded myself that I’ve been writing a lot about us for this website, so I could use some of those ideas. Maybe tell a bit of our story. Maybe sing about how to listen.

So I started singing in my own way. Telling our story, using the kalimba. I started right after Miguel introduced us instead of waiting. I was almost weird how comfortable I felt. Last month, I felt so hot and I sweated an awful lot. This time, I was much more relaxed. No sweat. Literally.

I got a few laughs, but most importantly, I kept their attention. They weren’t drifting off to their own conversations. There were even some guys who were nodding their heads and making eye contact with me and smiling, which really helped. At one point, I looked back to see if Kurt and Bob were ready, but they were still setting up, so I said something about that, which got another laugh.

Then I got the idea of doing a music game with them. I decided to do toning, so I explained what toning is in my song, and got them all to do it. Twice. The second time, Kurt joined in on the guitar, and it turned into our jam. Perfect! I love how ideas can come to you in the moment, and you don’t even have to think twice. You just implement them, and it works.

I stopped singing, and picked up my horn, and came in as if there was a head to the song, and we were off. It was a lot of fun, and I can’t believe how comfortable I felt. I was dancing and playing. I invited people to move, but either they didn’t hear me, or they didn’t really want to. I didn’t push it. Maybe next time.

It’s all about acceptance. Me accepting myself. We all practice accepting ourselves in the Sonic Sandbox and then we practice accepting others. I was teaching the crowd our ethos. How to love the one true sound they make, and people got it, and we were all together for a few moments.

We asked Tony about having a night of our own, and he seems into it, now. So we got to figure that out, and then get our people to come. I’ve got the website now. And a template for flyers. Just gotta print them up and maybe make up some cards. Maybe print out a few CDs and try to sell them, although I really want to do it online. Just get a paypal payment and give them the link.

It’s been really healing. Kurt and Bob are really enjoying it. I am, too. It’s all about practicing acceptance and stopping all that second guessing and worrying about how I come across. It’s great to play for others. It’s one of those off-road trips you might have on vacation when you turn off the highway and stop driving with the GPS. Who knows where you’ll end up, but you see a lot of stuff you’d never see otherwise. That’s what happens in the Sonic Sandbox. I just gotta let myself play and I’ll have fun. It’s a choice I can make. Just keep myself from thinking all those obsessive, ruminative thoughts, and focusing on the play.

….note to self: take pictures next time. They might help give more flavor to this blog! Yeah. Just a note. Don’t beat yourself up for not thinking about it before. Just do it next time. Remember, we’re just playing. As long as we’re playing, it won’t become a job. And there won’t be any judgment.

How I will use this Blog

From time to time, I will post my thoughts about playing in the Sonic Sandbox. The charter membership is made up of three or four of us. We all met in the “recovery rooms,” which is jargon for the rooms where people meet at twelve step meetings. Because we met that way, we may or may not actually know each other’s names. The key to twelve step recovery is anonymity. Most of us only feel safe enough to talk about what is really going on inside when we have some measure of protection about our deepest shames becoming public knowledge.

For that reason, I only know the first names of the people I play with in the Sonic Sandbox. I will also not be able to provide any more details about what kind of twelve step group it is, nor what troubles we are dealing with that brought us together. I hope that won’t matter. What is important is that playing in the Sonic Sandbox has become a part of our recoveries. It is a coping technique that helps us learn to change our habits from ones that are destructive to both us and the people we love to ones that, we hope, will be a lot healthier.

The idea of making music together, I believe, was first discussed by Bob and Kurt. Bob plays electric violin and Kurt plays electric guitar. Bob also told me that Kurt was a singer. When I heard they were going to do some music together, I decided that I wanted to crash that party. I wanted to play with other people, because I had stopped playing for over a year, as a punishment to myself for harming people I loved. This was an opportunity to get together in a way that wouldn’t contribute to my problems. In the past, music had opened the door for me to get into trouble.

I knew I needed music because of what it does to my brain. I helps me access my sense of connection to others. As such, it directly counteracts the feeling of loneliness and isolation I was living in. It gave me respite from despair and hopelessness. It provided a few moments of relief from what felt like a black hole in the pit of my stomach, that was slowing down light as well as weighing me down. My life, for a time, felt slow and miserable and impossible — except for those moments when I was connected to others, primarily through music.

Then, I decided I was such a bad person, that I didn’t even deserve any relief at all. I stopped playing music. I stopped dancing. I stopped socializing. I stopped talking to friends and family members. I stopped working. I stopped using the phone. I simply couldn’t.

Finding people I felt safe to be with and to make music with was a miracle for me. It started at my house. Kurt and Bob and Ralph started coming over on Tuesday evenings to play together. Not all of them every single time. Sometimes it was only two of us.

I used my background in improvisational music to come up with games that would help us develop a practice. At first, we didn’t know what we wanted to do. We thought about writing music or songs. We thought about being a rock band. We’re still open to any ideas that anyone wants to bring to our practice, but mostly we started playing together using these improvisational games I either borrowed from others I have learned from, or that I made up myself.

I started recording our sessions, and then listening to the recordings, and after a while, I started thinking that maybe we had something that other people would enjoy. Maybe we were developing a process that could help others gain the benefits we were gaining. Maybe we could play for others and with others in more public situations.

To date, we’ve played for others in a formal way three times. We’ve given the workshop once in a formal setting (a twelve step group retreat). We enjoyed ourselves on each occasion, and we also got some positive feedback, which felt good. The workshop went over very well, and our last performance generated an amazing amount of energy. It got a group to get up out of their audience roles, and some played music with us, while others danced. It was a regular party!

I am beginning to see a future for this play for us. We can do the workshop at parties, or for people interested in learning how to make music together (no experience required). The workshop is also good for people in recovery, both from addictions and from mental illnesses. It provides a coping technique that gives people relief from the pain these things can bring.

Performing also brings people together, both as audience members and participants. It provides another way to connect with others, and, I hope, it helps to break down judgmental barriers that often come between us. It is great fun for us to be the spark plugs that generate the energy of connection within groups of people we do not yet know.

So, from time to time, I will post my descriptions and reactions to these events — our practices and our outreach to others. This may primarily be my thoughts, but I hope that other members of Sonic Sandbox will also want to post their thoughts, too. Until next time… I hope we can play in the sonic sandbox together one day soon.

Roots of the Sonic Sandbox

The Sonic Sandbox has roots extending to many sources of inspiration. Some roots grow out of the improvisational music and dance community. Other roots reach into spiritual traditions meditation, yoga, and mindfulness, as well as into the support group and recovery movement.

Dance Improvisation

In 1986, I moved to an apartment in West Philadelphia with my then girlfriend. We were invited to a party by our upstairs neighbors — mostly, I think, out of self defense. They wanted to avoid us complaining about the loud music. It worked.

I liked the party, although my girlfriend didn’t seem to enjoy them so much. I think she made an appearance and then went back downstairs to study. I stayed, up in the attic where the party was being held, to witness a form of dance that was both new to me, but it felt like I’d known it for a long time. I asked the party-goers where they learned to dance like that.

The Friday Night Workshop at Group Motion,” I was told.

friday  night workshopI started going to the workshop, almost religiously. I met my wife there. I took the workshop facilitator training in Bermuda. I danced. I played music. I learned about rituals, tribes, and getting out of your head and into your body. Eventually, I figured out that this was my form of meditation, and later on, when I got sick, dancing at Group Motion was the only relief I got from my despair and hopelessness.

Music Improvisation

One of the dancers at Group Motion introduced me to his passions: drumming and a special form of music improvisation that he learned from the cell

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David Darling and Chungliang Al Huang

o player, David Darling at Music for People workshops. Ron Kravitz, creator of Music in the Moment, introduced me to Baba
tunde Olatungi’s
drumming style as well as Music for People. I had the privilege of studying with Olatunji himself, at a weekend workshop in Philadelphia. I also worked with David Darling together with Taiji master improviser, Chungliang Al Huang at a workshop at Esalen Institute.
I played music. I improvised. I danced Taiji to the shapes of the giant pines and played my recorder to the sounds of the birds and the ocean at Big Sur.

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I learned about the hero’s journey and story telling and five minutes before the group performance on the last night, David Darling told me he wanted me to do a solo.

Support Groups

In 2008, I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and I started attending both a bipolar support group to learn how to manage depression and a twelve step group to learn how to cope with compulsive behavior. I learned about the power of listening to other people’s stories. I learned how rules can create a safe environment for people to tell their deepest shames openly in an effort to learn how to stop punishing themselves for the imagined and real hurts they have inflicted on others and themselves. I learned that giving back is a very good way to help heal myself.

The Warp and Weft of Root Weaving

Many roots. Many influences. Coming together to inform my life and my true work. It’s all a mass of knotted roots, now. I doubt if I could ever unentangle it, even if I wanted to. There’s much more, of course. Stuff from my family and my childhood. My struggle to feel lovable and loved. My efforts to punish myself for all the hurts I caused others.

These are also my spiritual roots. For me, spirituality is about feeling connections between me and others and our environment in a way that feels as if there is no separation. The magical paradox of being a separate being while being a part of everything. I am weaving all these things together; mostly making it up as I go along; and trying to pass on the things I have learned so they can help themselves recover from whatever it is that haunts them, and to find more joy and fun and love in their lives.

The Rules of Play in the Sonic Sandbox

Making our Sandbox Safe

Sonic Sandbox re-imagines the playgrounds of our childhood. For many, these playgrounds were places where we played without thought, just for fun. For some, they were places where they could be ostracized or bullied. The Sonic Sandbox is dedicated to creating a safe place for playing together without feeling judged or made wrong. The rules are simple:
  1. Listen. Find something interesting in every sound.
  2. Support others by copying them.
  3. Take turns riffing off what others are doing
  4. Make sure everyone gets a chance to develop their solo voice.
  5. Guard everyone else in the group.

The Sonic Sandbox is a place to practice acceptance. There are plenty of opportunities to beat ourselves up in the rest of the world. It is easy to feel criticized and then take that further: to join in and criticize yourself. This is what stops people from playing.

When I was in third grade, someone from the instrument rental store came in to demonstrate all the instruments. When he played the trumpet, I knew instantly that that was my instrument. My parents rented a cornet for me (because it was easier for a kid to hold) and I started taking lessons with a high school student.

Later on, I took lessons from adults, eventually studying with Walter Chestnut, the trumpet professor at the University of Massachusetts. I loved the trumpet, and Mr. Chestnut was a very jovial teacher, who rarely made me feel that bad when I hadn’t practiced.

I was studying classical music, which was the only thing I really knew about in those days. My parents listened to classical music at home. I knew little about jazz or even popular music, except that when I heard “Never on Sunday,” Herb Albert became one of my favorite trumpet players. I still own several of his albums — on vinyl.

I loved playing my horn, and I joined the junior high and high school bands, and was in the local youth symphony. It was great, except for two things: soloing and competition. It was (and still is) the practice for most students of classical music to have to perform in recitals as a part of our training. Another problematic custom for me was having to challenge others in the band for the first chair — the one who always played the melody line and who, on occasion, also took the solos.

I think that all my life I have had a love-hate relationship with wanting to be a star and hating the pressure of trying to be a star. I wanted to take the solos and be first chair because it carried some prestige and because we got to play the most interesting parts. I hated playing in recitals or taking solos in band concerts because if I screwed up, everyone would hear it and know who had made the mistake.

In classical music, most listeners are pretty familiar with the music, and so they know when performers make mistakes. When I was growing up, it became a kind of game to catch people out — especially the more famous people. I guess it might have made them seem more human and approachable. Unfortunately, when it was time to play the solos or the recitals, I imagined the audience and my fellow musicians (especially my teacher) were only listening for my mistakes.

There is a long, complicated, and amazingly common psychology behind this. I’ll simply say that in my family, making mistakes was a really bad thing that would get you a lot of scorn. Classical music just built on the neuroses I learned in my family. The culture of star worship in the United States also reinforced this message, and thus, every solo, for me, became a period of terror, as I knew I would have ample opportunity to make a glaring mistake (or more than one) that everyone would know about.

As a result, I couldn’t really enjoy the music. I was too concerned with not screwing up to enjoy myself.

I’ll tell the story of how I learned to get over this fear another time, but the main thing I learned that has lead me to try to create the Sonic Sandbox is that I need a place where there are no mistakes. A place where people will not be looking for mistakes. That means, I learned in David Darling’s Music for People workshops, that I need to learn a different way of listening.

If we listen for what there is to enjoy in music instead of listening for mistakes, both musicians and listeners will get a lot more enjoyment from it.