Friday, October 21, 2011

Reflections on a Year

Well, it's been a full year since I started A Bird a Day, and eleven months since my initial one-month idea got extended into a yearlong endeavor.

While the project is not finished per-se - I am still developing material and compositions, and plan to record a CD this winter - I am no longer trying to get out every single day and make recordings.

Completing a year feels like a significant step, and I have been reflecting on the things I learned - they are many!

For one, it is hard to do something every day, even something you absolutely love. While I was thrilled each day of my first month, the subsequent eleven got harder and hard to keep up. I had no sense of pacing going into it. By the time the long-awaited, true birdsong season of Spring hit, I was exhausted and could not keep up my sunrise routine. So silly - I used up my sunrise energy on Fall and Winter, and their relatively few, non-singing birds!

Moreover, at a practical level it's just hard to do something every single day, unless you are in a totally contained and small community / environment that specifically nurtures that thing, like a monastery or artist's retreat. When other work and projects were knocking, it was hard to keep carving out time every day to be meditative and connected to nature, not to speak of the time it takes to compose, blog, and sound-edit.

When you add a sense of obligation to something you love, it can make even your favorite activities dreary. I was constantly fighting machismo and practicality. I would want to be hard-core and do the daily sunrise thing, especially as my daily posts racked up and looked ever-more "impressive" to me. Meanwhile, my practical side suspected that with a few days off, I'd be re-energized and more present in my nature meditations.

Machismo almost always won out, as my allegiance to the task overwhelmed the point of the task, and I sometimes lost my point. My conclusion: obligatory and/or ego-driven meditation is a bad idea!

I experienced relative social hermitude for a year. An early-morning routine is tough to keep up as a professional musician - rehearsals, concerts, and all the socializing in my field happens at night. For a year, I barely did any night-time activities that weren't gigs - I barely saw any live shows, passed up parties, left events early, and generally had a minimal social life as I was always trying to be in bed by 10pm!

On the positive side, I am pleased to say that my initial hypothesis, "A bird a day keeps the doctor away" proved to be true, at least for this small yearlong sample. I can prove it - the only time all year that I got a bit of a cold, in mid-September, was after a couple weeks of very sporadic (not daily) bird walks. Otherwise, I made it through the winter and rainy spring without ever succumbing to a cold or flu, though people around me were falling over left and right. Aha! Let the National Audubon Society buy this motto from me =).

Other things learned:
--I now know the Arboretum and Franklin Park very intimately, nooks and crannies, and am familiar with several parks that I didn't know of before the project.

--I know winter better, I've seen more of her many faces and the details of her daily changes after meeting her every morning for several months. I have new appreciation for her beauty.

--I've trained my ability to listen deeply, and to slow down. The daily practice seems to have honed some listening, meditative, and observational muscles, which I'm excited about!

--I've also discovered that I love to walk, and that a morning walk is the best way to start my day. Whodda thunk? I was always a runner before this project. It has helped me actually slow down, instead of just talking about slowing down.

--One of the most thrilling developments is that this project has fostered a link back to my classical music roots. In September, I played Gustav Mahler's Symphony No. 1 with the Rhode Island Philharmonic, and the experience was nothing short of revelatory.

It felt like I was hearing and experiencing the piece for the first time, though I had studied it many years ago in school. Check out the opening and its remarkable evocation of nature, stillness, birds:
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I felt a great sense of wonder, and connection - I've been exploring and struggling with ways to use music evoke the sonic and emotional experience of the natural world, and here had Mahler done it, some one hundred years ago.

Sometimes I fester about my frustrations with classical music culture - its elitism, its rigidity, the narrow degree of creativity that is expected of players; but my week playing Mahler 1, I was all about love - love for this amazing music, the incredible composer. I was overwhelmed with appreciation for classical music's unique capability to create music of these dimensions, colors, formal cohesion, precision, and musical depths with some 100 musicians. I mean, no other genre of music can do this, especially with so many performers. It's really amazing!

It's lovely to come full circle on so many things. I'm sure it's not the first time I will move towards one thing and away from another, but this particular circle is quite significant, as I had grown estranged from the most beautiful and precious elements of classical music - the very things that first inspired my love and desire to be a musician! So it's a happy homecoming, indeed.

Now I will start taking orchestral auditions and give up all my crazy projects.

Just kidding!
However, I am pumped about planning a violin recital this winter and focussing on some standard repertoire, and not worrying too much about being experimental or cross-disciplinary. For once.

More updates to come on A Bird a Day CD recording, concerts, and other performances. I hope to make up for this year's tired spring by re-engaging with my daily expeditions next Spring 2012.
Stay tuned!

Month 12: September 2011

Here is a long overdue synopsis of the final month of my year of observations for A Bird a Day.

It was a full-circle kind of feeling as summer grudgingly gave way to autumn, the season during which I started this project a year ago.

Did I say grudgingly? I should say, unwillingly! The cicadas were my favorite constant throughout the month (and they were still at it in early October, on the occasional warm morning).

Here are some audio snapshots of the last month:

September 30, 2011
 6:50am, Franklin Park, Jamaica Plain, MA
Let it be noted, the cicadas still sing on the last day of September! Crickets and an annoyed robin as well.

September 26, 2011
 8:40am, Franklin Park, Jamaica Plain, MA
Um, here come the nuthatches. They are so funny, I don't mind, especially since the cicadas still sing. Yes I am a summer-addict...

September 23, 2011
7:50am, my house, Jamaica Plain, MA
My old friend, showing off two of his calls

September 22, 2011
8am, Franklin Park, Jamaica Plain, MA
Still the cicadas persist, to my delight! I say it's still summer as long as they're singing (we'll just ignore that chickadee..)..

September 20, 2011
1pm, London Heathrow Airport
I got a kick out of this singing flying thing as it was landing. I fumbled for my recorder and got this snippet, though I missed a really great (almost vocal) gliss:

Seems fair to give the man-made bird one nod in the whole year, no?

September 19, 2011
9:50am, Parc de l'11 de Setembre, Vilafranca del Penedes, Catalunya, Spain
I love the Catalan version of mourning doves: listen to the overlapping birds. A gentle but steady undercurrent to the blustery traffic of the adjacent road.

Also this great avian groove:

September 18, 2011
8:30am, vineyards by Vilafranca del Penedes, Catalunya, Spain
This bird stopped me in my tracks, though he was too well-concealed in a hedge for me to glimpse:

I also loved this quiet chorus of birds clustered in a tree:

September 17, 2011
9am, vineyards by Vilafranca del Penedes, Spain
I love this gurgling squeaking bird!

And this wild whistler:

Some more wacky and wonderful bird sounds (plus mosquito - no sign of fall here!!):

September 10, 2011
8am, my backyard, Jamaica Plain, MA
A fun duet between my neighbors: chickadee and Carolina Wren.

September 9, 2011
10am, my backyard, Jamaica Plain, MA
My daily alarm clock. I mostly love this guy (Carolina Wren), though sometimes he's up before I'm ready to be (though not today!)

September 8, 2011
5:45pm, Franklin Park, Jamaica Plain, MA
Harbinger of fall! Squeaky chickadee.

September 5, 2011
9:15pm, Franklin Park, Jamaica Plain, MA
The cicadas still sing