Saturday, July 23, 2011

The Fiddler on the Pith: An Essay on Buskapades and Zen Compositions

Daussen Cassell is a fiddler phenom. He’s 13 years old and he’s hip and he’s smart and he’s a barrel of cachinnations (pun intended). Daussen and I were a busking duo at the last Farmers’ Market. It was windy, it was Wednesday, and the market was, I shall say, measured. We performed at our designated pitch for approximately ninety minutes, and abdicated in advance of the noontime pedestrian traffic. (It just so happened that Daussen was scheduled to be somewhere else, as was I.)

Daussen is a fiddler virtuoso; I am a banjitar and twelve-string thrummer. And the playlists that we brought to the market will attest to this.

Daussen’s playlist: Romeo’s 1st Change, St. Anne’s Reel, Tear Drop Waltz, Boil ‘Em Cabbage Down, Red Wing, Isbisters Jig, Road to Batoche, Whiskey Before Breakfast, Swallow Tail Jig, and Big John McNeil.

My playlist: a tabula rasa of riffs and frailings from the cache of melodies fixed in my cortex. (This list is not so lofty as I am presenting it to be.)

We started out exchanging solo performances. Daussen did his fiddle thing; I did my thrumming thing. This lasted but fifteen minutes. Then we decided to complement one another and the results were magical.

I managed to fit my guitar strumming, hear-matching some of my chords to Daussen’s Tear Drop Waltz, Road to Batoche, and Whiskey Before Breakfast. We jammed these songs over and over and over until they became improve instrumentals. Spring boarding from their original cadences and melodies, we dove into new beats of patterns and flow.

Daussen did the same to a couple of my suggested tunes; the first one being Dylan’s, You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere. (This is my favorite, favorite, favorite busking song. Google Glen Hansard and Mic Christopher singing it on Youtube and you’ll see why!) The second song of mine, an original, which Daussen enhanced was TV Cowboy.

Within a half hour we’d composed five new tunes with which to busk, more than an adequate supply for the tranquil crowd members wandering about the unusually mild market.

Now, fellow buskers, I am not really a Zen guy. I’d like to be, but I’m not. I cannot distinguish Zen from Phenomenology from Existentialism. But I do know this.

If the skinny of Zen is to live is to suffer, then the phat of Zen is definitely the bliss and hilarity that Daussen and I had orchestrated (for ourselves) on that windy pitch at the Farmers’ Market.

Here is my thinking.

We played five whole new songs, focusing only on those songs, one song at a time. Both of us employed our free improvisation techniques to support one another’s song. Daussen did his dipsy-do’s and I did my frailing. With a lot of joy and so little effort those five songs just magically arrived, from his heart and from mine. We were spontaneous; we were fearless. We were auditioning for no one, though many stopped and listened. Though we were getting paid (we had a buskpot), the coins tossed to us were really incidental. In a synchronistic sort of way, these coins originally represented our mercenary purpose for being there, then symbolically rose to symbolize our Zen-like buskapade together.

Is there a Zen lesson here?

If so, this would be it:

  • ·Find a pitch. It will be neither perfect nor imperfect, but it will be (your buskingdom).
  • · Relax. Breathe. Look around. Appreciate.
  • · Focus on one song from your imaginary playlist.
  • · Play the song.
  • · Smile at everyone coming your way.
  • · Thank everyone who tosses coin into your buskpot.
  • · Focus on another song.
  • · Play the song.
  • · And so on.

This is the way of Zen – This is coming from a self-proclaimed Zen wannabee Buskologist.

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