Musical journeys: Reflections on a gathering
Last weekend I attended a gathering of musicians from an online discussion list. Those of us in the Pacific NW have been getting together a couple times a year for the past couple years; a larger gathering in the late summer, and a smaller gathering in the spring. We bring our musical gear - mostly guitars and amps - and hang out for a day or two. These events always provide plenty of food for thought; this article explores a very personal perspective, inspired by the diversity of musicianship we see at these gatherings.
More than anything, I think, the experience of the recent gathering reminded me that making music is a lifetime journey. Every now and then I need to be reminded that every musician's journey is characterized by a unique chain of circumstances, influences and decisions. This isn't always easy to see: As a consumer of music we see only the end result and (sometimes) a carefully-crafted public image from which we can attempt to infer the performer's journey. As a member of a working band we tend to focus on the narrow common ground in order to give the band a chance to survive. As a teacher or student we focus on the lesson at hand.
To my way of seeing things, one of the cool things about these gatherings is that we get to interact with a diverse group of musicians in an atmosphere of sharing, exploration and mutual respect. We share instruments, gear tips and techniques, explore new combinations of everyone's gear, learn what other players can do with our favorite rigs, and perhaps teach a favorite riff or technique. In short, we get to find out what other musicians are up to without the pretensions of performance.
The gear may garner of a lot of the attention at a gathering like this, but it's just hardware. And frankly, gear is easier to discuss. I really appreciate the opportunity to check out gear that I'd probably never get to play if it wasn't for these semi-annual events. But if everybody brought common production amps, the event would still be a success. It's the people that make these events really worthwhile.
One of the most interesting things about events like this is seeing and hearing different musicians play music from different eras in different styles using different gear. When we make music, we're bringing together a lifetime of experience, training, emotion and vision to perform our music. (Yes, this is true even if we're "only" playing covers. Otherwise, "Little Wing" - to cite one example - would have begun and ended with Hendrix.) Everything matters: the music we listened to before we started to learn an instrument, our teachers and mentors, our gear choices, technique, choice of material, audience expectations, etc.