One of the side effects of releasing an album a couple of weeks ago from our 2002 Live At Annabel Taylor Chapel concert, is the resurgence of my memories of the early Water Bear experience — both in how we recorded in the studio, what our rehearsals were like, our gigs, and the magical things that happened.
Even though the early Name Music pieces I wrote were in fiddle tune form — AABB, and most often in 6/8 or 3/4 time, I wanted the pieces to be like jazz also, and like the Mahavishnu Orchestra as well, if possible! So I liked the idea of trying to create the conditions for all possible magic to occur, without specifying exactly WHAT magic, WHEN. How about if we were to improvise the arrangement, and have the “rule” that for any of the sections each of us to could choose whether to play or not, and if playing, whether we played the chords, the melody, the harmony, or improvised over the chords? And what if we agreed that we would stay with our choice through that section, and could only change it up when the next section started? Even if 3 of us ended up all playing the melody in unison? Or any other combination? And what if the ending was also improvised, meaning we would need to listen well to each other to create a satisfying ending to the piece, when it felt like it was complete?
Well this indeed is the “structure” we followed for our performances and recording sessions for the early Name Music pieces — perhaps at least the first 20-30 of them. Certainly for Ann, Barbara, Bill, Bob, Carla, David, Peter, and John.
And it is about performing John at the Fall Creek Elementary schoolyard that I’ve recently remembered. It was the full quartet: me & Ruth Roland on violins, Hank Roberts on cello, and Tim Reppert on bass, and we set up in front of the brick wall of the school, so that we would be able to hear each other with our sound bouncing off the wall behind us. We had played many pieces, were perhaps close to the end of the gig. It was a benefit, people were milling around, children playing on the playground equipment.
I started the piece off, playing the melody. I may have said “I’ll bow the melody” in an aside to Ruth before I started playing. And it had a lovely sound, solo violin, I was playing with as much feeling as that piece always evokes in me. But in any case, what happened next was … nothing! No one else came in, no one else played anything — I was playing solo, for what seemed like forever, in fact was for the whole of the piece. Nobody ever DID come in. I tried giving them each the hairy eyeball, they just eyeballed back at me. As I remember, when it seemed to me that it was time to wrap the piece up, they all entered on the last chord, as my bow drew out the long last high note. And That Was It. That was the “improvised” arrangement of John at that gig.
Well it was sorta lovely, and it made me laugh partly from the joy of it, and also from a sort of embarrassment that it ended up being me playing solo (and hoping I had done the piece justice!), and then I asked why they didn’t join me. Ruth said it was beautiful just the way it was, a nice contrast to so many other pieces with all of us playing all the time, together. A restful break to just hear solo violin. And Hank and Tim agreed, thought it sounded so lovely just the way it was, they didn’t want to ruin it! They could hear the magic was present, so why mess with it?
Isn’t that a lovely memory to have?