practice

Rose: (referring to some crazy effect John wrote) I actually learned how to do something new.

Andie: How did you do that?

Rose: (beat) I practiced it.

One of my favorite aspects of last week was being able to spend so much time in the company of practicing musicians. By practicing musicians, I don’t just mean musicians in rehearsal. (I still play piano a little bit — in fact I’m rehearsing for a Christmas concert right now — but that doesn’t make me a practicing musician anymore than occasionally choosing “Rock Your Asana” class over an hour on the elliptical machine makes someone a practicing yogi.) The kick-ass musicians of Team REDSHIFT not only dedicate countless hours to developing and maintaining incredible technical chops, they also cultivate a special quality of attentiveness to their own sounds and each other’s. It was fascinating to observe this tight-knit group working together to solve problems and make magical sounds. Here are the voices of REDSHIFT in rehearsal, with a few interjections from other members of Team Monkey:

“So we should kind of do what happened, except on purpose.”

“I didn’t write it in. (beat) I guess that’s why it’s not marked.”

“Don’t follow me.”

“I don’t know if you made a point to not listen to each other, or if you did listen to each other, but whatever you did, it was exactly right.”

“Never follow me.”

“I think you can love it a little bit more.”

“My part would be … pretty tough at that speed … but we could try.”

“Don’t ever follow me.”

“It’s like, every time Jocelyn plays a pretty chord, everyone has to reset.”

“You can run and tell that, Andie Springer!”

 “I’m actually not even counting at all.”

There were also many periods of sustained laughter. Anyone eavesdropping might wonder at the waste of rehearsal time, but a balance of rigor and flexibility — along with a healthy dose of humor — is an important part of Team REDSHIFT’s practice, especially when it comes to a piece like this. As John has said, his music isn’t necessarily hard to play, but it’s very hard to put together. It requires intense focus, but without the occasional softening effect of laughter, the atmosphere could easily become unproductively brittle.

The more I read about the cross-fostering experiments of the 60s and 70s, the more I see a story of conflicting practices. In order for the chimps’ language use to be judged “human,” the signs needed to be used spontaneously, within relationships. However, from the standpoint of scientific practice, such relationships junk the data. In an effort to get around this, some of the people involved made a clear choice to act as practicing scientists, while others practiced a version of parenthood, responding more flexibly and spontaneously to their chimp children in an attempt to inspire “human” behavior from them. This is not to say that the two practices are diametrically opposed — certainly science requires creativity, just as parenting requires discipline — but they’re different enough that you can’t really do both. Skillful practice demands you choose a path and stick to it. Maurice Temerlin attempts to be both scientist and father in his relationship with Lucy, and when those paths diverge, the conflict is (one) part of what makes his story so fascinating.

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