BY SIRI BARDARSON
October 14, 2015
Did you get caught in that weird weather the other day? I did.
It was a classic fall day in the Pacific Northwest—too warm to wear a sweater but a storm raged outside, a true Pineapple Express stuffed full of warm, wet air that spun huge confections of steel gray clouds. The wind was crazy, coming from every direction and buffeting the falling rain as it blew holes in the heavy cloud cover to let the sun shine in.
I was about to step into my car when I saw the large raindrops that looked like escaped balls of mercury pushed by the wind and scattered every which way like a big break on Mother Nature’s pool table. All bets were off, mass, gravity temporarily out of play while the big fat raindrops fell up. They glinted and sparked with sun. It was amazing.
This describes a recent experience, a big shift where so many things seem possible, like rain and sun at the same time. This phenomenon I experienced happened because I had the amazing good fortune to solo on my cello during Djangofest.
You need to understand that playing a solo, (let me define a solo as a big romp in your musical heart, brain and physical self that takes a brilliant idea and messes with it), is not a part of a classical upbringing, nor is it really the bailiwick of women in popular music. Of course there are terrific exceptions anymore—Esperanza Spaulding, Regina Carter, Orianthi, who plays guitar and blows them away every year at Crossroads. But classical training is incredibly compartmentalized.
As many times as I have played a scale or a more involved cello piece or orchestra music and moved up or down the neck of my cello, I have never felt the relationship to other notes in the environment. It is a kind of playing that is maddeningly myopic, like being a ballerina when you really want to improvise tap dance on a street corner.
I was offered a chance to play during DjangoFest at a side event (I hope you enjoyed this year’s many concerts and workshops) with a group of women organized by Kristi O’Donnell. At first, I thought it was going to be a jam (djam), just a bunch of us getting together but it ended up being a trio with Kristi on bass, Irene Ypenburg from the Netherlands on guitar and me on cello. This put me in the crazy role of doing the solos.
The amazing part was not the quality of my solos; they weren’t virtuoso in any way, but it was what I “saw,” for lack of a better word. It was a synthesis of all the years of cello lessons, orchestra music, guitar playing, my recent duo time with an outstanding guitarist, plus incredible amounts of quality listening. In this cathartic moment, I saw that playing the solos meshes with the way my brain works.
Who knew? I have only experienced this once before when I was seven and I discovered how good I was at swimming underwater. I felt like a fish. I really felt like a fish, I could hold my breath forever, I didn’t mind the cold, the shadowy deep or saltwater in my eyes.
It was a thrill, something that matched my abilities and my insides, my process and my longing.
I had a boyfriend once who used to remind me that we don’t know what we don’t know. I’ll say. Maybe it was the mix up of events, big background but lousy confidence, some kind of understanding without an environment in which to understand plus some serious letting go, less control and caring but not caring.
I encourage everyone to press on; I intend to. On to that place that we don’t even know exists or where it might be if we suspected we knew. The place where there are big fat raindrops that fall up.
A Northwest native, Siri Bardarson is a writer with an emotional hotline to the vibrant natural beauty of Puget Sound. When not writing about the importance of the wild blackberry, daisies and natural time, she practices her cello a lot and sings at the same time. She loves her Whidbey Island home. You can visit Siri at www.siribardarson.com.
Sketches are by Siri.
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Well hey, you can sit in and jam out some solos with me and Sarah anytime. Why, even ol’ Rusty Fender and his Melody Wranglers could use a country cello in the mix sometime. Take that, Hank. I’m glad I was there at OM that day and was able to witness this moment you are writing about here. First, because it was such a fine musical collaboration. And now, because of what it meant to you in discovering yourself.
…I meant what it meant to you in your ongoing self-discovery of yourself as a musician. For what it’s worth.