Music Inspiration Journal: #9 Juggling and Music

Photo Credit – Aleah Fitzwater

9/30/20

Please use a discerning gaze when reading these claims, which deserve critical examination. This documentation represents a snapshot of my internal landscape at a certain point in time in my life during my collegiate career.

Jamming some Shinoda Today

Original Entry:

Juggling and Music:

As when I first began juggling, music too is an exploration, a play, a spin of patterns.

All of juggling is juggling; in fact, no part of reality is outside of juggling from the juggler’s mind. It took time to unearth this perspective, yet now it’s active and alive.

So too, all of music is music. Music delves beyond any of it’s component parts; all of unified reality is music.

Patterns, scales, arpeggios, rhythms – all music. I play with patterns to familiarize, then I apply them to perceived stimulus in reality: songs I hear, natural rhythms, other musicians, what I hear in my mind…

If I ever become stuck, recall that the material that “binds” is simply a singular expression of music and remember change is my friend.

Current Reflections:

This entry is refreshing. Juggling has continued to inform my music making process over the years. Some of my Papadosio friends may remember a time before I learned to juggle, many more of them might have connected with me because I was standing in a little patch of grass, myself with LED juggling balls through sweeping sets of music at a time during some of the early Rootwire Music and Arts Festivals. Oh, I have so many stories about juggling at festivals. I remember one night after Govinda slayed a set and ended around 2 or 3 AM, I kept walking around the grounds and juggling until the sun rose. When I finally sat down, I remember nestling into the dirt outside of our tent on a little incline, classical guitar in hand, slowly picking “Norwegian Wood” by The Beatles out of my memory. For the rest of the day, no matter what I was doing, I could still feel my hands juggling in some liminal space in front of my body where they had been dancing all night long.

Leaving my library of bizarre states of consciousness related to juggling aside, the process of juggling and the process of music making have always been closely related for me. I started to learn how to juggle during college in 2011, using 3 oddly shaped bouncy balls in the living room at my parents house at midnight. I continually tried to wrap my head around the process of juggling during breaks from writing papers for my comp class and banging my head against my chemistry homework, at the time on a pre-medical undergraduate track. I was going to be a doctor. Juggling and music were my solace from the overwhelming weight of school, and I spent as much free time as I could trying to deeply understand both.

After my first semester at college, I officially ditched the idea of becoming a doctor, had a brief fling with becoming a jazz saxophonist for a semester, then took a wild and fun gap year. It was nothing short of a miracle that I decided to go back to school – it would have been easy to keep on having fun, chilling, dancing, and working at a pizza place. Thankfully my friend Ryan Murray and I talked ourselves into going back to school to study music.

But that gap year was important for me. It gave me the opportunity to really dig into my understanding of music. That’s when I learned all of my major scales in all keys, figured out what arpeggios were, and began to unlock the fretboard. And I never stopped juggling; in fact, I juggled more, and more, and more, until I was dancing around local and distant concerts, running around the neighborhood, and studying new patterns arduously in my room, juggling like a madman.

For me, juggling and music evolved along two separate paths at that point: Music became rigid and regulated. I suddenly realized how much I didn’t know and was surrounded by a lotta cats who knew a whole HELL of a lot more than me. I was swimming for dear life in an ocean of unknowable depth. It felt like I had to work 10 times harder at my actual instrument to make anything remotely musical happen, while some of my peers seemed to shit beautiful sounds from their fingertips with their eyes closed. The environment was a pressure cooker. Sophomore year was one of the worst of my life, and my upperclassman years were slowly tinged with a hue of depression. All I could see was the benchmark I was missing, the next mark I would have to meet, and all of my shortcomings.

Don’t get me wrong,I learned so much more than I could have ever mustered on my own in my bedroom, regardless of how hard I was working before I decided to go back to school; but it was tough. Really tough. I almost quit my Junior year, but thankfully my teadher Jay Rinsen Weik talked me down and met me with some much needed compassion as I sat across from him on the brink of tears during one of our lesson hours that day.

I’m grateful for the hardship and the intense, diamond-forging heat that helped me arrive at this point. From here, I hope to keep growing with that same intensity. But I’m also recognizing that it might be more fun and sustainable to marry this academic intensity and drive with some of the free flowing, genuine curiosity that is my juggling process.

Early on I realized how unhelpful my anger and self-deprecation was for my process of juggling. I would drop the ball, look at it, and just seethe with hate. Stupid ball. I can’t do anything. Damn gravity.

Then one day, I dropped it, (HA) and realized how thankful I was that the ball didn’t disappear forever. All I had to do was bend down. I started picking up the ball faster and faster each time, making a game out of it, enjoying the opportunity to make a big scene of throwing all the balls up in the air. The pattern interrupt became a springboard to launch from during performance and a practice of patience in my study. I kept learning new ways to weave the pattern, locking one down into a stable state, then trying to imagine how I could build a layer on top of this sturdy pattern. I discovered I could walk, run, dance, and subdivide my catches to a beat. I found some ways to isolate balls, to hold them steady, to carry them, to swirl and spin them. And, by George, it was fun.

Juggling was a new skill, something I utterly COULD NOT do, that after some concentrated effort, became something I could do, arguably very well, compared to my profound inability at the beginning. I’ve actually made some money from juggling. Not a ton, but hey!

I learned a new skill, from nothing, just because I wanted to flow. And in learning a new skill, I got to peek under the hood of how I actually learned, what the process actually looked like. Let me tell you, it wasn’t how I thought I learned based on my early education and high school. It was hands on, sweat on the back, anger in the barrel, “fuck you I’m going to do this” gumption paired with breakthrough’s that were naturally rewarding. Strange states of consciousness emerged. Patterns clicked into place in an almost mechanical way. Progress was tangible, demonstrable, and could be carried anywhere. And by golly, it was still fun.

I’m still trying to push the edges of my ability, both as a musician and a juggler, and recently, I’ve been thinking of how I can bring the sweet flowing love of my juggling process into my learned and rigid tendency towards strict discipline on the guitar.

This is the evolution of this original entry. Everything that rises on the guitar, from your voice, or from your instrument of choice is music, if you choose to unconditionally love and see it as such. Multi-instrumentalist Art Lande told me once at a masterclass on Cal Arts’ Campus that it’s important to practice to let myself babble like a baby on my instrument, not to judge it. And pianist Kenny Werner talks about loving every sound that rises from your instrument unconditionally (Here).

In the same way, everything is juggling to the juggler’s mind, drops, throws, catches, stops, starts, conversations…

The question for me is still: how can I bring my practice of juggling through guitar; how can I bring my practice of guitar through juggling. How can I continue to understand and learn how to learn?

Bows

_/\_

Sam

Kogen

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