Is playing simply getting too personal?

I have a theory I’d like to share with you – a theory I suspect that many of you will disagree with – but one that a select few may consider helpful in their artistic pursuit.

In the Pakistani style of music called Qawwali, there was an artist called Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan – an amazing singer I very much admire, and in the liner notes of one of his CDs, there was this description of the music style: “… In this style, the singers chant and repeat the word ‘Allah’ over and over until all possible interpretations have been exhausted.”

My goodness, I thought – what a wonderful explanation of the art of repetition. What many may superficially hear as boring and monotonous – these superb artists use chanting as a means to dig in deep and explore their most personal connection with God.

And that got me thinking. We often use busy-ness to mask and conceal our emotions. When a conversation gets too serious, don’t we sometimes laugh, or change the subject to avoid facing our true feelings?

Well, I think that sometimes musicians do the same when it comes to dealing with simple songs. Many players get bored easily and want to add more chords, move quickly to another section, or play faster.

But I have found that a simple chord played slowly and repeatedly offers me the opportunity to explore a deeper meaning – a chance to let go of ego and instead, get in touch with my emotions.

And I understand that this, for some people, may put them in a position of having to get personal and even risk sharing too much of themselves.

But isn’t this what singing and playing is all about? To express ourselves and emote?

Sure, that’s scary sometimes. We may share too much about ourselves. We may cry. We may laugh.

We may truly experience life in its deepest form.

7 Responses to “Is playing simply getting too personal?”

  1. Harriet Hilker Says:

    Beautiful depth of insight. Probably why chanting from ancient indigenous cultures, all religious cultures and “those who knew” other “frequencies” pervade history. It is really remarkable to hear you speak of this in regard to the mind that gets bored and needs a new focus. I think your (and other people’s) creativity springs from the Source (like chanting quiets the mind) and something new springs forth. I think your life expresses that creativity in the way you teach and are with people. (an old older student heh heh) Harriet. >

  2. Sue Becker Says:

    I think you are right on, Rhan. Simpler and even repetitive (mindfully) is moving and effective in conveying heartfelt messages. I am thinking of Pete Seeger at the moment, and who wrote We shall Overcome? I also have had experience with Hindu chanting and it took me into a no-mind space of joy and stillness at the same time. Hard to describe , but it took me to new depths.

  3. Clyde J.Ortego Says:

    I agree with you Rhan that music is for us to express ourselves and our feelings to others from as far as the beginning of time through the Glenn miller and the Elvis era’s.

    When I play my baritone I try to place as much feeling into what I am playing at the time and my wife say’s she can hear my pain or my joy in my playing

    Thanks
    Clyde Ortego

  4. Eileen Says:

    I loved his ecstatic music and was sorry to hear he died. He really did get ‘high’ on his music, and I found it contagious. Funny how some repetitive music is wonderful and other times I can’t get away from it quick enough.
    Its when I get ‘taken away’ by a musical passage and find myself later ‘returning’ to the here and now that I know something magical has happened…. I stopped thinking for that duration and just became one with the music. Always transitory but so wonderful while its happening.

    • Rhan Wilson Says:

      Eileen – so true. And amusing (regarding the ‘can’t get away quick enough’ part).
      But that’s the difference between repeating over and over mindlessly, and mindfully. I am glad you appreciate the difference.

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