Guitar and Meditation

I've been seriously dedicated to meditation for three years now. (I've given up keeping track now, it is so ingrained in my life.) And I've been playing my guitar since I was 11 and seriously practicing it since I was 18. 

Here's what I notice about the practices of meditation and guitar playing:

The enormous life-changing skills of presence, awareness, focus, concentration, letting go ... these are what I work on in tiny increments everyday in my meditation practice (10 to 20 mins in the morning and, when I am at my best, at least 10 minutes in the afternoon).

When I bring these skills to the woodshed (a jazzers term for "practice room") and to the time I spend with my guitar on my lap, I notice that I learn better, I am more calm and less overwhelmed by all the I still want to be able to do on my instrument. My guitar practice sessions are more focused, less scattered. There is a glow and restorative aspect to this time. My mind is refreshed and still. This is new for me. Before, my practice session were always, basically, demoralizing -- showing me only how far I had to go and how painstakingly, achingly, terribly slow my progress was, if I wasn't backsliding, which I often felt like I was.

Learning to see that meditation is a way of practicing my guitar and that practicing guitar is a kind of meditation has made both activities exponentially more gratifying and deep.

There is a rich and satisfying inner life to my guitar work now that I am sure was always there somewhere, but I could never see it. I was moving too fast, trying too hard, too attached to what I couldn't do, hadn't done. 

My friend the great saxophonist and human John Ellis once mentioned to me that he felt he needed his time in the practice room with his saxophone everyday as a way to stay grounded and sane. At the time, I caught his drift -- that he meant that his practice was, spiritually, more than just practice. 

I -- finally -- get it.

BAMA Kids 2018 - A Bigger Dream

The lights went out at the play’s conclusion, and the packed auditorium was for the first time–silent ... for about 0.8 seconds.

Last year, with your help, I raised just over $10,000 to send the New York City actors from ZARA AINA down to Wilcox County, Alabama to create two pieces of original musical theater with the BAMA Kids.

As those of you who've been along for the ride know, this wasn't my first time making a workshop like this happen. My original trip to Alabama with the ZARA AINA crew was in 2013.

Here's the video of our very first show with the BAMA Kids.

The actors and I went down to Alabama twice in 2017: once in May and once in November.

During our May trip, we led about 30 BAMA Kids (of all ages) in a theater and storytelling workshop. In only one week's time, we helped the children write, rehearse and perform a show filled with characters, music and dance. The week ended with a public performance for the entire town on the middle school stage. A crowd of supporters -- old and new -- showed up to cheer us all on! 

It was a watershed moment for the community. But more about that in the quotation block down below. 

 

A SMALL, SECRET DREAM SEES THE LIGHT OF DAY
It's always been a secret dream of mine to create a bench of BAMA Kids student leaders, to build the momentum for our artistic work from within the ranks of the kids themselves

Finally, in 2017, I spoke that dream aloud and was able to make a start.

In November, three ZARA AINA actors and I traveled back to BAMA Kids to teach a small group of student leaders -- hand-selected by BAMA Kids founders and directors, the amazing and heroic Ms. Sheryl Threadgill-Matthews and Ms. Jacqueline Hives -- how to create their own piece of theater from scratch.

We taught these new leaders concepts of storytelling and stagecraft. They learned how to advance a creative idea on their own and how to lead rehearsals. Over the course of the weekend with them, we gave them all the insights, coaching and knowledge they could handle. 

The biggest thing we gave them was responsibility.

We tasked them to create the next original BAMA Kids show. We promised to come back down in March 2018 and help them refine and rehearse their show, incorporating the rest of the BAMA Kids into their vision. They rose to our challenge and said they would do it. 

That was 2017.

This is 2018. New year. New inspirations. Time to make good on our promise. 

A BIGGER DREAM
The BAMA kids want more.

Again and again, they ask for more instruction, more time with the actors, more ways to express themselves. They've specifically asked for more actors to coach them, for a choreographer to help them structure their dances, for a costume designer to help them realize the look of their characters and, more broadly, their show. 

They've also asked if we can take the show on the road. They dream of performing in other towns in the Black Belt of Alabama -- Monroeville and Selma. They have their eyes on the big cities of Montgomery and Birmingham. They even dream of performing their show in that other big city, the one we come from, New York City. 

"Inspiration," said the painter Agnes Martin, "is the beginning, the middle and the end."

Here's what the beginning, middle and end look like for 2018 and the BAMA Kids / ZARA AINA partnership:

  1. Two fully funded trips to Alabama in 2018 (one in March and one in November) for the actors of ZARA AINA to continue working with BAMA Kids and our corp of student leaders.
  2. At least two public performances in Wilcox County for the kids to strut their stuff and for us to continue building community engagement and support.
  3. At least one other performance in another community -- in Alabama? in New York City? We are dreaming big!

To do this, I will need to raise $15,000 by March 1, 2018. 

Will you help?

Please donate on the web here.

Our work is all about the kids. It's true. But it's also all about their town, their parents, their teachers, their neighbors.

What we've seen every time the children stage a public performance of their show is that the broader community wakes up, shows up, and reaches out to help us. 

Here is what the local paper, The Progressive Era, said about the effect the BAMA Kids performance in May 2017 had on the community: 

In that closing moment [of the BAMA Kids’ performance] ... we were suddenly able to ... rise to our feet, and wipe away tears.

They were tears of joy, proud admiration, and, most importantly, hope, only this time, that hope would last.

The evidence to back it up was right in front of us.

Evidence of an infinite potential in the hearts, minds, and voices of Wilcox County’s future was at last undeniable, and shining much brighter than just a few stage lights.

It’s in the eyes of our children. Seems almost criminal to think that potential hadn’t been there all along.
— Progressive Era, Wilcox County, Alabama 5/30/2017

With the BAMA Kids directors Ms. Threadgill and Ms. Hives, we are changing kids lives in Wilcox County, Alabama through art and song, imagination and play, responsibility and teamwork.

The infinite potential of these children is there. The inspiration is there. 

Donate now

If you'd rather write a check -- you can do so by making it out to “Zara Aina, Inc” (Please put “BAMA Kids” in the memo line).  Mail your check to:
Zara Aina, Inc.
P.O. Box 1199
New York, NY 10009

All donations are tax deductible. You will receive a receipt from Zara Aina acknowledging your donation. 

Thank you for your love and your support.

The BAMA Kids student leaders & ZARA AINA at the Community Jam

The Short The Sweet FAQ

The Short The Sweet aka TSTS

What is it?
The Short The Sweet is bi-monthly email I send to folks like you.

What's the point?
The point is to create / assemble / curate a short email that sparks a conversation or a moment of reflection or a smile.

TSTS is meant to be fluid, sometimes longer in length, sometimes shorter. It will include, say, a beautiful sentence or three from a great book, a song to dance to, or a link to an inspiring piece of art. Or it may include none of these things. We'll see ...

It is envisioned as a mini commonplace book.

(If you've been around here for a minute, you know that I liked to write a monthly email called My 3 Things. I retired it in August 2017. It was time for a change. Since then, I've been daydreaming about what comes next. TSTS is what I came up with.)

Now! Go sign up for The Short The Sweet.

What A Song Is and What A Song Does: Intro to the Death Album

On December 9, 2017, I went into the studio to begin recording my next album — affectionately nicknamed (for now) “The Death Album.” The songs chronicle my time accompanying my mom from diagnosis of ovarian cancer to death. At this point, in the midst of this multi-year project, I feel compelled to corral some of the thoughts I had and notes I made along the way.

BAMA Kids 2017

Here's what we -- you, me, Zara Aina, and the BAMA Kids created -- in May of 2017.

You made all of this happen. Every single smile, dance, hug, and cheer you see in this video is because of you. You generously gave $4750 to get the Zara Aina crew of actors down there to create a totally original, mini-musical in less than one week with these adorable, fierce, fiery, and talented kids!. 

Thank you. I am so grateful for your support of this little homegrown, I'm-gonna-do-this-no-matter-what idea of mine. 

And, yes, I am doing it again in March of 2018! The folks at Zara Aina and I are already planning. 

Please make a donation here: http://zaraaina.org/donate/bama/

"Working with the kids at BAMA Kids was a reminder that everyone needs a chance to shine and be seen. These kids are flooded with ideas and creative talent. While watching one of the kids work I literary caught myself thinking “I’ve never seen that kind of talent before.” - Todd Estrin, Zara Aina actor