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Life-Long Learning In Music
By Mick Polich - 04/13/2011 - 03:08 PM EDT

You’re a student for life if you’re a teacher – at least in my opinion, you should be.

As in previous columns, I’ve stated that I’ve been teaching private music lessons since 1977 – in a way, time has flow by like a seagull soaring above the waves, and I can’t believe what I’ve experienced and learned.

Now, as before, it’s time to re-invent myself as a music instructor, and this is a good thing. Hey, you can do it, too!

Change is good, and good change is even better, but how do you know the results will benefit you if you do decide to take a different path in music education? You don’t, but I will trust a gut feeling, coupled with a calculated move on the new highway, more than not taking a chance at all. Learning new skills always involves a certain amount of risk, but why not take the shot? What’s to lose?

Nothing – and there’s everything to gain.

Consider this: again, I will say, in our Western music system that we so graciously swiped from the Europeans (and more so these days, coupled with generous snatches of world music culture involving microtones) – we have twelve notes on which we compose music. In between those twelve are the microtones that such cultures as Japan, India, and Middle Eastern countries have used for centuries. Bach, Van Halen, The Decemberists, and the rest of our musical brethren use(or have used) the same notes. That’s all we got, kids, so we process those notes thru various means – compression, echo, cut-and-paste sounds, amp noise, orchestra arrangements, choir harmonies – to get to the stuff we love, the music.

Even if you had a couple of lifetimes to work with, you still couldn’t get thru all the music theory, history, knowledge, and playing you would want to, or need to.

But, it SURE is fun trying.

I decided two years ago that I needed to keep on the path to music enlightenment and learning that I was engineering for myself when we lived back in Texas. Now then we live back in the Tall Corn State, I get quizzical looks and questions such as ,” What kind of musical diversity could there possibly be in Storm Lake, Iowa?”

Well, I say plenty – because I’ve been studying what music pops out of the crevaces here for many years.

 Consider the population mix: Hispanic, Micronesian, Sudanese, Southeast Asian, white, African American, and German immigrants have brought to the mix what ‘Americans’ have done for  many years – something from the motherland, a big ol’ stew of stuff to add to the cross-cultural gumbo that’s been brewing in the pot……

Very interesting – and I’ve got some plans cookin’ to get in there with my own music, and see what we can all cook up.

I’m starting small – I host a drum circle at our local health food store once a month on Thursday nights. All-inclusive, anyone can play – huge fun (especially for the kids). Soon, we’re going to have an acoustic – electric jam with percussion (very small, and very low-key). That’s just a start.

Ry Cooder, the brilliant slide guitarist/multicultural music mixer (see “Buena Vista Social Club”) has been my benchmark, my mentor thru his rich history of recordings, and my how-to guide.  In America, music that was once thought of as exotic and worldly is no longer the case – we just needed to catch up to the rest of the globe. Musical cross – pollination is rampant, due in part to our increasingly tech-savvy communications. So, in taking a cue from Ry, I have always forced myself to check out music from around the globe. In realization, I’ve come to find a certain familiarity with forms of Indian, Middle Eastern, Irish, and African music. It is what it is – we need to look at our own heritage here in the states to see who has contributed to what, musically speaking. And the cool thing is, our music, as well as other cultures, evolves, morphs, and hybrids daily. Never really thought of my phone as a recording studio, but that reality is here, kids.

Part of personal growth is getting out of your comfort zone – I’ve been forced out of it a few times myself, and will continue to do so, no doubt. I look back on my history - the 15 year - old kid from Des Moines, just picking up a guitar, and thinking every area is open for me, musically – like playing in a huge wheat field, just go for it, play, play, play, and see what happens.

You know what? It can happen when you’re older – trust me. Take that lifetime of experience, and keep moving forward into new musical areas. It doesn’t have to be a big move – just challenge yourself in small steps. The Kaizen way, as the Japanese say……..

I’ll leave you with this: yesterday, I picked up the new disc from Paul Simon, “So Beautiful Or So What?” I’ve been hearing about this album since late last year – possibly one of the best from ol’ Paul. At 69 years old, you wonder what a guy has left to say – the man is one of our greatest songwriters, a master poet who has explored many different areas of musical styles, and who can tell a story in one verse like no other. Well, sitting waiting in the school parking lot for son to come out from tutoring, two songs in, and I’m hooked. Pretty brilliant stuff, and I can’t wait to put it back on after I get done with this blog. 69 years old – Paul has gas left in the tank, and something to say.

With that, I’m gonna go slap that puppy into my CD player, and get inspired!

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