The Music Lesson

In books, creativity, culture, music industry, technique by Michael Tiemann

The Music Lesson (2006 Cover)

Last week Lyle Estill was scheduled to give a reading at Quail Ridge Books and I was asked to introduce him.  After his reading, which was excellent, and the questions, which were semi-interesting, he set himself to signing books for the 30+ people who came to hear him that evening.  And, being in one of the best real, local bookstores, I set myself to browsing.  I wandered over to the Music section, and was stunned to see that one of my favorite bass players, Victor Wooten, had written a book called The Music Lesson.  I cracked it to a random page, read the passage that said

“Sharing is on e of the most important tools needed for personal growth,” he once told me, also stating that many people never come to understand that point.  He said that many of us try to hoard our knowledge in order to stay ahead of everyone else.  I understood that completely because I used to use the same method.


I had a trip to Oregon coming up, and I realized that with this book, I could be spending time with my man Victor.  Do you want to know what it was like?

First, it felt familiar.  When I was a living in Palo Alto, I got great seats to hear Béla Fleck and the Flecktones at Stanford University.  There, I had a chance to marvel at the easy virtuosity and joy that Victor (and the other musicians) poured out to all.

Second, it felt right.  For a brief period I was lucky enough to have received some music lessons from another bass guitar virtuoso and luminous being, Kai Eckhardt.  Kai unlocked the music within me, and to this day I thank him whenever I hear it, which is frequently.  As I read Victor’s descriptions of musical elements, his relationship with practice, and the layers of understanding that one develops as one reaches out to Music, I can imagine Kai sitting back a bit, smiling shyly and knowingly.  And radiantly—he really did light up the room.

It also felt intimate.  It reminded me of another intimate journey, Richard Bach’s Illusions, which was very influential to my early willingness to create the reality that I wanted to experience, rather than let my experiences be limited to the reality I perceived. It was, in part, what gave me the courage to create the first software company based on sharing knowledge rather than hoarding it.

And friendly.  I’ve been to Nashville many times on business, but I’ve only once had the pleasure of really touring it with somebody who lives there.  With my limited sense of place, I could follow along as the book gave its own account of the names and natures of that magical environment.  (I think it is so cool that Victor has opened a Bass/Nature camp—so cool that I’m going to act on his appeal and donate $100 to his cause while figuring out how to attend it myself!)

And it was a little bit urgent.  The character Uncle Clyde teaches that if we make it to seventy years old, we’ll only have been alive for 25,500 days, and it’s up to us to choose how we spend those days.  When you subtract out the time you’ve already used up (I’ve already lived 16,117 of those days), it makes you think more carefully about how you use the days you have left.  That, and some of the other teachings reminded me of another book, Ishmael, by Daniel Quinn. Namely, there are the stories we have been taught by Mother Culture that are so embedded in our brains that we simply cannot imagine, let alone accept, that other realities are not only possible, but are also more practical.  The Music Lesson makes a passionate plea for all of us to live abundantly and Pay It Forward, lest Music herself die from neglect and abuse.

And it was ultimately sensible.  As I have blogged before, it is not merely the chains of inappropriate legal doctrines that will kill music, but also the constant bludgeoning of overdriven volume levels (both in live venues and mastered products).  Speaking throught the character Michael, The Music Lesson teaches that if you want to get somebody’s attention, turning up the volume is the wrong way to go, especially at the emotional level:

“That is why I like using Curtis Mayfield for this exercise,” Michael remarked, turning up the stereo volume again.  “If you notice, he plays quietly, but with a lot of intensity.  There aren’t many artists who can do that.  Most artists think the louder they play, the more emotion there is.  Actually, it is the other way around.  The emotion has to be real when you are not hiding behind loud volume.  And even at this quiet level,” he whispered, “it would be hard for anyone not to feel the emotion coming from Curtis.”

So I’d like to follow another one of Michael’s teachings and say “Thank You!”.  To Victor.  To his bass guitar.  To all my teachers and fellow travelers.  And to Music, who guides us all in her wonderful dance.