Playing Together

Playing Together November 20, 2013

I went to a great concert last night, and it’s made me think about why it is that I like hanging out with musicians. Now, I don’t know any rock stars, but because I’m an avid contra dancer, I get the opportunity to spend time around people who are the rock stars of our little, folkie dance world. And nothing could be more fun, because these people are da bomb. They are who I want to be when I grow up. But I’m wondering if those of us who aren’t massively talented and committed musicians could learn a thing or two about how to practice life from these people. Here’s what I’ve seen:

1)      They don’t call it “playing” music for nothing. Every musician I know, while taking their craft extremely seriously, comes at the making of music with the spirit of play and experimentation. They like to try stuff and see what happens. And they don’t worry about it when something sounds terrible, they just try something else. They know that there is no right or wrong way to play a tune, and they take great joy in messing around with things to see what happens. And in the process, they laugh. A lot.

2)      They listen. You can’t play in a band, or at least not any kind of a decent band, without putting as much effort into how your sound blends with everyone else as into personally getting the sound you want. Musicians understand that there are times to step forward and solo, times to let someone else take the lead, and times to create such a seamless whole that no one person stands out, only the overall synthesis of the group.

3)      They know that energy rebounds. Which is to say that dance musicians get a charge from creating a platform for the dancing out of their energy and skill, which is fed by the energy and skill of the dancers. What you give comes back to you, enhanced by the receiver. Joy bounces.

4)      They like to learn stuff. Give Irish fiddlers a chance to take a class with someone who plays Zydeco and they come flocking. Not because they’re planning on becoming professional Zydeco fiddlers, but because Hey, that’s so cool! Percussionists pick up the ukulele and guitarists try the marimba, just because it’s there.

5)      It’s all about the love. If you give a group of musicians a chance to sit down and jam together, not only do they take that chance, but they don’t stop. Really. They don’t stop. Whenever I’ve sat down to listen to these jam sessions I’ve had to drag myself off at one or two in the morning with no sign that the players were slowing down in any way (although they may have shifted genres). They are not paid for these sessions. Hardly anyone listens who isn’t playing, and no one applauds. They play, and keep playing, because they are desperately in love with their instruments; with the sound; with the people they are playing with, whether they are strangers or people they’ve been performing with for years; with the fact that they are on this planet and able to create.


That’s what musicians know: Play. Listen. Share. Learn. Love. No wonder my musician friends are so massively cool.

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