Thursday, August 13, 2009

Deep Listening

I began this tour with Dominic Miller not really knowing what to expect. Dominic arrived on Maui just 3 days before our first concert. After a short period of rest we dove right into rehearsing. We chose 4 songs from our album, IN A DREAM, and several of our individual songs that we could collaborate and improvise on. Neither one of us had played any of the material from our album since recording it almost a year ago. And as beautiful as the album is, I wasn't sure how it was going to hold up in a live concert situation. Neither one of us liked to "rehearse" but everyday we worked on the songs for a few rounds when not recording for our new album and while preparing for an almost a full day of video shooting for a docu/film that I feel compelled to make. Plus I was also trying to show Dominic some of the beauty and wonder of Maui. So, needless to say, we had a lot on our plates.

Initially I felt some pressure (self imposed) to try and play really "good" and be "creative". I mean, come on . . . the last gig Dominic did a few days before arriving on Maui was with Sting in Quebec in front of 120,000 people. And Dominic's recent album, yet to be released, is produced by one of my all time favorite producers, Hugh Padgham. So, if there was ever a situation where I'd feel some pressure to be creative, this would be it I've long given talks and workshops on "creativity" and how "listening" really needs to be at the core of any creative endeavor. This was good opportunity to practice my own teachings.

I've worked with many very talented musicians through the course of my career. And I've felt varying degrees of satisfaction from the interaction of performing live with them. In playing solo concerts, one focuses on connecting with one's inner or "essential" self and expressing what's there without agenda, judgement or expectation. However, In performing with another musician, one connects first to one's inner space and THEN communicates from that place with another musician and has a sort of musical conversation that is "real", honest and responsive. Dominic shares my "deep listening" philosophy about music and I was actually quite surprised at how similar our concepts and approaches to "creativity" are. In rehearsal there was a great deal of "getting to know you" and creating an intimate and trusting sanctuary. We felt we were just barely prepared enough for the first concert on Maui.

I've had a lot of experience improvising live with other musicians. But I had no idea just how intimate and present two musicians could be with each other on stage until our first concert together. From the very beginning of the evening it became clear to me that performing with Dominic was going to be different than anything I had yet experienced in my long musical history and a completely new beginning of my creative life. Nothing could have prepared me for what I was about to experience and no one could have explained to me what it would feel like. Just as you cannot know what it feels like to be a parent until you have a child I could not know, until experiencing it, what was possible between two musicians live onstage.

The degree of trust, listening and openness that Dominic (and I) were willing to "BE" with was something I had never felt with another musician before. It's not that we trusted each other's musical expertise, chops or talent. It's that we trusted that we would fully be ourselves and that we would be completely present with and listen deeply as we offered each other one melody, phrase, question and response, after another. We nurtured the awareness and trust that we could ONLY be ourselves, nothing less and nothing more. I'm not talking about our "ego" selves, but instead our deeper soul- connected essential selves. And within that connection, all was possible. And every night there were mistakes and every night there were moments of pure magic, but there were never any compromise as to who we are. It was intensely personal and intimate and at the same time it wasn't even about us. It was about the integrity and responsiveness to the music that was coming through us. I felt that I was performing and listening to a concert at the same time. I knew that whatever I said musically Dominic would embrace it and be fully himself in his response. There was never any right or wrong or power-play. Just varying degrees of connectedness, emotion, listening and letting go. And the reactions from people after our 8 concerts in 7 days confirmed that indeed we were participating in an intimacy that was very personal. It was thick in the room.

To be perfectly frank, in the beginning of my career in Boulder, Colorado in the mid 1980's I began playing with other musicians. With very few exceptions there was a great degree of competitiveness in the music scene in the Boulder/Denver area. A lot of ego flying around and a lot of musical "pissing" contests to see who had the best chops and could play the best solos, or had the most creative ideas and compositions. I was always very turned off by this and very disappointed that even people in my own bands (that I paid to rehearse and record with me) were competitive with me and let's say, less than supportive and straight forward at times. But I thought that was the way it was with "professional" musicians and I tolerated it for the pursuit of my creative vision. But as I began to play with more well-known and established musicians I noticed in most cases that the more secure an artist was in their own work and playing, the more supportive and open they were with other artists. There was more of the feeling of let's make this as great as possible because that's how it should be. Is it possible that the competitiveness and "pissing" contests were compensation for deeply insecure egos? Absolutely! And taking it even further when I moved to California I was again surprised that the majority of the musicians I came in contact with and worked with really didn't have ANY competitive attitude. I mean, everyone was trying to do their best work but it wasn't at the expense of some one else. The feeling was that we were all invested into helping each other fulfill our creative vision (and make a living). And even though our creative expressions were different, there wasn't that sense of comparing and judging. There was a deeper appreciation for the diversity and integrity of our art and quest for creative satisfaction while supporting our families.

Music and art in general is a very intimate and deeply personal expression of one's inner life and soul. I believe that music really originated and still primarily belongs in places of reflection and reverence. It was never meant to be weighed or judged or attributed a specific value or genre. Once again, Dominic and I shared this perspective of music and creative expression in general. In our times off stage, driving or flying to the next gig or having a meal after the concert we'd talk about whatever was on our minds. And even though we had our fair share of logistical conversing or discussing the meal, accommodations or weather, the majority of our time was consumed with exploring our common interests and questions about life, spirituality and music, which in most cases are one in the same. To play and listen to music is a gift and privledge that has great transformational potential. Art in it's purest form is a vehicle or tool for accessing the divine (within ourselves and within the Universe) and bringing us that much closer to our souls and the awareness and experience of the mystery and miracle of this life. It is a bridge between the mundane and the divine, from the severed ego to the "essential" whole self. Within "deep listening" we become more aware of ourselves, the mystery of this universe and the gift of this life. I'm grateful for the experience. A door has opened. And I love what I'm hearing.


  1. Peter
    This is an Extraordinary! gift of sharing your process-to prepare yourself to collaborate-with your heart and talent so wide open (free of judgment)- with another person.

    You both paused to create a space to let yourselves be listen first to your own needs and talents and then connect to one another. Your story of acknowledging the power of being able to create without needing to compete is powerful.

    What if each of us -- in our own way--regardless of what we do or what roles we play -- could begin our day with a powerful pause? What if we could take a few precious moments in our often rushed, time- pressed days, to to allow our best self to be available to meet another -- at the intersection of inspiration, improvisation and trust?

    Thank you for celebrating the power of deep listening to one's self and to open that space for another to join in creating music of the head and of the HEART.

    Nance Guilmartin,your long time fan...and
    author of Healing Conversations:
    What to Say When You Don't Know What to Say and The Power of Pause: How to be more effective in a 24/7 world. (Dec 2009)

  2. The more we are able to remove the ego from our lives and be fully present in the moment, as if it was the very first moment of our existence, the more we channel from eons of past lives and visiting masters. How rich that bright moment is! What endless diversity arises in being our true selves and 'listening deeply', creating in the flow. Thank you for this blog. I feel the same way about working in the general art world as you do about the general music scene, but once you experience a gifted creator at home in his or her authenticity, you never go back.

  3. Thank you, Peter. As always - I truly enjoy your sharing. Love your openness and your commitment to walk the journey with great authenticity. Keep shining and inspiring others to listen, my friend. Listening brings us to essence... taking us beyond ego... no measurement, no judgement... just LOVE : )