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Patrick Frank : Personal and Creative Growth Working Together

Personal and Creative Growth Working Together

By Patrick Frank

I have made a discovery about performing music (I play a classical guitar while singing country-folk-blues music). When I focus on communicating with the listener, my voice and guitar playing smooth out, and I am able to convey deep feeling. When I focus on myself, on how I look or sound, or my role as a performer, my playing and singing break down; I stumble along in a disjointed way, with a lack of emotional expression.

I have also learned, over time, to not overwhelm with volume, to not impose the meaning of lyrics through the manner of my vocal delivery, to leave creative space for the listener to respond — in a unique way — to the feel of the song, and the lyrics.

In other words, I have learned something about the value of subtlety — in making music — and that focus on ego gets in the way of in-depth communication with the audience.

Recently, I have picked up my guitar again, after a long hiatus. It has taken quite a while — four or five days — to get back in the groove, to even tune the guitar in a way that is pleasing and conforming with my vocal pitch. Now I am exploring some new chord sequences, and tinkering with the lyrics of some of my songs. Creativity is flowing again.

As I prepare for a workshop, in which I will be performing, I visualize individuals who will be in attendance, and strive for communication with them, in my mind. This exercise of the imagination helps me to relearn effective singing and playing.

It is a wonderful feeling to make the guitar and my voice sound good, and to flow together. I am gaining more confidence as the date of the workshop looms on the horizon.

Many of these lessons I have learned through concrete experience are also reflective of the teachings of the late Phillip Sudo, author of Zen Guitar, Zen Computer, and Zen Sex.

In Zen guitar, Sudo states that "the expression is the thing, whatever the means…The aim here is to play without having to think about technique. One's main focus should be on playing with the proper spirit." He goes on to note that "many mistakes arise from self-consciousness…When the mind becomes preoccupied with what the hands are doing, it shuts out the music inside." As I am learning, Sudo notes that "too much ego can lead you off the path." Sudo also states the following:

"Some guitarists are simply too eager to please. Like people who overpursue a romantic relationship, they push themselves on an audience without allowing the listener any space to come to them." And "many players mistakenly equate volume with passion and intensity."

Yesterday, for example, I happened on a new chord sequence as I was strumming softly and moving gradually from chord to chord — this all occurred, more or less, simultaneously. I would not have discovered this sequence if I had been banging away at the guitar or playing at a frenetic pace. Quieting the sound and slowing down permitted me to hear something unique — unique for me, that is. Of course, the chord sequence I happened on is probably utilized by thousands of other songwriters. But now it is mine, in the sense that I will utilize it in a way that is consonant with my own vision.

Let me hasten to say, at this point, that I am not a great guitar player. I am more of a poet, or lyricist. Yet, somehow, during my grad school years, I taught myself to play, and gradually integrated my poetry with songwriting. I am thankful for this, because through songwriting and performance I am able to reach out and touch others in a way that I could not do with just poetry.

I am also thankful for Phillip Sudo's teachings, and the example he provided in the way he responded creativity to terminal cancer. But that is another story… •

© 2009 Patrick Frank

Patrick Frank is a poet-essayist-songwriter from Kingstree, South Carolina. More »