Category Archives: Ideas


Music has taught me so many things that I transfer to other parts of my life. Dr. Angela Hawaleshka has been my master voice teacher and mentor, for 24 years. In our first couple of years working together, I would find myself challenging her and butting heads with her, to prove what I thought I knew. This would mean I would leave my singing lessons depressed, frustrated and stuck. This was not a good feeling. Angela had so much to teach me and I had so much work to do to evolve as a singer and artist. If I were going to advance, I realized, I would have to truly commit to the process, put my trust in my teacher and hang my ego up with my coat when I came into her studio. Hungry to grow and improve, I decided to open my own mind and put judgements and the need to be right on hold for the valuable hours I continue to spend with her. There is still scrutinizing, critique and analysis happening, but we’re not wasting time battling my “if onlys” and “shoulds” and “buts” and false pride. Instead, the explorations are coming through the compassionately disinterested lens of a loving guide. I began cultivating an inner teacher, a detective, ferreting out my own enlightening. From that moment on, our sessions have been transformative. To this day, I still leave her studio more whole, more capable and more inspired, every single time. Unless we lead a cloistered … Continue reading

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Someone’s smile left a beautiful, shimmering residue Forming a rescue party of Joplin (Scott), Bach, Jarrett, Schroer, Sokol and The Listener Arriving here in a time when our ole whorl needs it the most So much at stake Sonic Healing Balms Make my eyes heat up Make them well up Which happens rarely and un-bidden So it’s precious So pay attention It’s like suddenly donning special spectacles for Perceiving Sheer Energy of The Invisible Spiraling through Time, Space and that sweet apotheosis, Music Opes the Heart ~Ali Garrison, November 26th, 2016, Toronto (Thoughts during “Covering Oli” Casey Sokol’s concert/book launch of duets for solo piano using melodies by Oliver Schroer at Edward Epstein’s Gallery 345) Photo: For Love by Ben Brown. Cymatic photo of sound vibrating on the surface of water

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In August 2014 when I was again staying with dear friend and fellow improviser, eighty year-old pianist Nancy Bennet. We decided to do another free improv session in her wharf studio in Cutler, Maine. We used this poem to improvise on. I was encouraging her to continue to play even as she has been dealing with a debilitating and tragic genetic condition that is affecting her fingers. This is the beauty of free improvisation, you come to it as you are. This poem is by an anonymous Chinese poet from the 1st century B.C. We loved it so much we did three free improvisations on it. The last recording was the best. Were able to finally capture its beautiful and sad poignancy. It comes from a small book that I picked off Nancy’s bookshelf randomly, called The Moment of Wonder: A Collection of Chinese and Japanese Poetry – edited by Richard Lewis (The Dial Press) The Eastern Gate: I went out at the Eastern Gate: I never thought to return. But I came back to the gate with my heart full of sorrow. There was not a peck of rice in the bin: There was not a coat hanging on the pegs. So I took my sword and went towards the gate. My wife and child clutched at my coat and wept: “Some people want to be rich and grand: I only want to share my porridge with you. Above, we have the blue waves of the sky: Below, the … Continue reading

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Human beings need to express themselves daily in a way that invites physical and emotional release. Musical self-expression is a joyful and healthy means of communication available to absolutely everyone. There are as many different ways to make music as there are people. The human voice is the most natural and powerful vehicle for musical self-expression. The differences in our voices add richness and depth to music. Sincerely expressed emotion is at the root of meaningful musical expression. Your music is more authentically expressed when your body is involved in your musical expression. The European tradition of music is only one sound. All other cultures and traditions deserve equal attention. Any combination of people and instruments can make music together. There are no “unmusical” people, only those with no musical experience. Music improvisation is a unique and positive way to build skills for life-expression. In improvisation as in life, we must be responsible for the vibrations we send one another. Developed by David Darling/Music for People

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Silence leaves space for reflection and deepening awareness. Getting comfortable with silence is part of our learning as musicians, as human beans. Many creative people experience silence as the backdrop, the background, the “negative space”, the canvas, on which they set their ideas. I grew up in a family that practiced a gentle and liberal Quaker philosophy. In that tradition people work on developing spiritual discernment and practice “holding” silence so that we can be more open to hearing/knowing the voice of Spirit when it comes and then we are moved in the moment to say/do/channel the right thing from a clearer mind/heart. Cultivating this “skill” gets us away from dogma, doctrine and formulaic thinking, instead, feeding the cosmic dance, constantly refreshing, being spontaneous and organically evolving. We can apply this idea to creative inspiration, composition and improvising very easily. I did a beautiful improvisation with some students in a clinic I was giving on “Our Voices and Our Well Being”, at a local arts high school yesterday. It is a structured improvisation composed by Pauline Oliveros, the American composer, who has focused much of her musical explorations on deep listening and sonic awareness. It’s called, Tuning Meditation: The musicians/singers/improvisers sit in silence, listening and focusing on taking deep breaths. Then randomly, each one begins with one long tone that comes from deep within themselves. Then they sit in silence, listening again, breathing. Their second tone is an imitating tone, so they hear something from someone else in the group and try to copy it as best they can. Again, when they finish the tone, they sit and listen … Continue reading

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“You know how it is. Sometimes we plan a trip to one place, but something takes us to another.”                         ~ from the Master, Rumi I had one particular 48 hours in my last week Downeast when I finally understood why that mysterious voice called me to jump through hoops of fire to make this rather long, arduous trip. For the life of me, I couldn’t quite figure out where such a overpoweringly strong compulsion to go to Maine this year came from. It seemed so much more urgent than my usual desire to go commune with Mama Nature and my dear friends in that area. But being a musician, teacher AND an improviser, I’ve grown accustomed to obeying and submitting to intuition and the nudges of the muse. After a while, we learn not to waste time questioning those indicators, methinks. Just follow it and see what strange events unfold…and hope to hell that we have enough accumulated acumen to deal with the ensuing experiences. Nancy Bennett, an extraordinary improvising pianist in her late 70s (think an intuitive, feminine version of Keith Jarrett and Bill Evans), who I’ve known for many years musically and otherwise, and I, had an exquisite duet improv session (caught on a Zoom recorder for posterity) on the Steinway at her wharf in Cutler. It was really more like a series of musical intuitions/conversations. Nancy’s musings are always harmonious and completely approachable, while containing enough … Continue reading

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The problem with using autotune to correct pitch, is that it is inherently unethical. There are myriad sonically cool and creative uses for this tool, I’m certain. But in terms of altering (“improving”) a singer’s performance, it then becomes like using performance enhancers in the olympics or airbrushing human models in advertising images. It has grave, and insidious socio-political implications. A performer is presenting something that is fraudulent and gives the false perception that they are “perfect”, when they are indeed human and fallible like everyone else. The singers stop learning proper technique because they begin to rely on the technology to “take care of it”. They get lazy, instead of figuring out why their pitch might be suffering, and working it out technically. Or it ceases to allow the subtle gradations of pitch to be governed and artistically chosen by the singer, who needs to be carefully considering the style, genre and character of the music, the time and the place. So then the next generation of singers is falsely influenced and believes that they must shoot for a standard of performance that is actually an illusion and impossible to achieve without conforming to the same crutches as those who came before. Then we also get the problem that is rampant in today’s music culture, which is that many people in the industry don’t respect what it takes to sing well, and many young singers don’t thoroughly train or commit to the long process required to truly KNOW this art form. … Continue reading

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