Saturday, August 8, 2015

Juggling and Piping

This year at the 2015 e.g. conference in Monterey, CA Adam Savage gave a short talk about learning how to juggle. You may ask how does learning how to juggle relate to learning how to play the Great Highland Bagpipe? Both are skills, performed sometimes by amateurs and sometimes by master artists. They require time, patience, and a attention to technique which makes both more of a craft then a science. What is most important to take away from Adam’s video, (link posted below), is his philosophy about learning a new skill. 

At the most fundamental level learning how to juggle or play the GHB comes down to learning a sub set of skills. Holding a juggling ball or how to place your hands on the chanter. How to toss a ball from below the elbow or how to move a single finger to move from one note to the next. Each small skill builds on the last allowing the individual to perform new tasks with increasing difficulty. But these skills are not mastered in a single session or even over the course of a afternoon. 

Individual skills are masted only with the addition of time. Toss the ball back and forth a hundred times, move between two notes over and over. Practice a complex series of cascading passes or play through the first line of a tune several times. When you are finished you will have gained perhaps very little. Pick up the juggling balls or the practice chanter the next day and often times, not always, you will find that the skill has matured. The work is done today, the reward often comes tomorrow or in the weeks and months to come.

Along the way we must inadvertently learn to love the sound of failure. The thud of a juggling ball hitting the floor or the cutting sound of a crossing noise. These sounds are not to be despised but embraced. Each is a opportunity to improve. The sort that will become more and more infrequent as we progress in skill. As such, improving a new skill becomes more and more difficult over time. We hit the metaphorical wall of sorts when we run out of novel mistakes to make. So we must find a way to level up. 

We find a new trick to perform or a new movement to focus on. Perhaps a new object to juggle or a new tune to add to our repertoire. We must seek new ways to improve in our individual art. In the beginning guided imitation of others was enough to become a journeymen of sorts. It takes not only fluency from memory to gain mastery but the ability to create completely new skills on our own. The inflection point comes when we put a way the guide books and the sheet music and create our own unique form of the art. 

After years of piping I am not so sure I believe there is a true dividing line between the amateur and the master. I have found only the daily grind of the journeymen pursuing a art form perhaps not so much in search of perfection but of meditative escape. I can’t be sure though, so I think I’ll go buy some juggling balls. Check out Adam’s talk below,

Green Jelly Show, Sept. 6th, 2014

Saturday afternoon I'm at my desk drinking coffee and the phone rings. It's Tommy Rocker drummer and producer and long time member of the ADPB. The night before escorting the infamous Bill Manspeaker to his hotel room Bill turns to Tommy and inquires about the ADPB. He's decided he wants a piper.

You may not know who Bill is, you may never have seen the spectacle that is his punk rock band Green Jelly, which is unfortunate because it stands beyond description. Part comedy act, part alternative adult puppet show, part rock spectacle. It was started by Bill in 1981 with the idea of naming a punk group after the most hated school lunch room desert imaginable. When it became clear that Bills motley crew of friends where sub par musicians it become the perfect name for the self proclaimed worst damn band in the land.

But jokes aside it grew to become a force in punk rock. Releasing albums and singles that hit the charts and where featured in movies like Dumb and Dumber. They made the music they wanted to make and they made it the way they wanted to make it. Failure was not a problem, it was the only way forward. Marcus Aurelius would be proud.

I came out Saturday night and I played Green Jelly on stage with the accompaniment of Tommy Rocker on Drums. I became for a moment a very small element in the constantly growing madness that is the Green Jelly stage show. A lot of pipers would never have shown up in the first place and when Bill's only guidance was to just play along with the band, whatever you want, the rest would have turned tail. But I didn't. I guess I joined the madness along time ago.