Who would have thought that our village “Tesco Express” would be the local hub of connectivity and culture? It was whilst waiting patiently in the queue that I had the good fortune to bump into a vastly knowledgeable and insightful artist friend and villager. As we gradually shuffled towards the till we passed comment on the mundanities of life, and then got stuck into a lively conversation about the language of Icon Painting (as you do!), where she suggested that “every brushstroke is a prayer”. I had previously believed that iconography is a style of religious art, but as she spoke I began to understand that there is a far wider resonance. Wow – enlightenment is not something I usually equate with my trips to the supermarket!!
As I wandered deep in thought along the High Street, my “bag for life” stuffed to the point of splitting, I mused on the icon aisle conversation. I began to translate its relevance to me as a musician, and it struck me that I approach each note I play in very much the same way…..where “every note is a prayer”. Let me explain this leap of understanding: in other words, each note is special and played with exactly the same amount of beautifully prepared air, whether I’m demonstrating to a student or performing at a major venue. For sure, our breath is the most precious thing in our lives and we mostly take it for granted, relying on our brain stem to do the hard work of remembering! …..for a saxophonist to be reminded of its value in this way is wonderful. The intention and integrity with which you play each note totally changes the experience for both the player and the listener – at whatever stage you’re at….(take note dear students!). Perhaps this goes some way to explain why the feel-good factor of playing a wind instrument is so immediate – the instrument is an extension of your breath and of how you breathe through your life. Every note’s resonance is felt deep within your whole body, and as a musician you learn to trust in it.
As well as being a necessity for life itself, the role of breathing in human expression is enormous….for instance, just take a second to ponder on the various types of sighing we all express. For me, it connects the music inside to the physical expression outside of me….it delivers my opinions, hopes and dreams. My breath is expelled and the power of my musical ideas are transported into reality…. it is a complete miracle which I submit myself to!!
And so, as I arrived home I tossed my bulging bag on the table for unpacking later, and opened the door to my music studio ready for more immediate tasks at hand. I had a new tune resounding in my head and I needed to pen it down before it floated off into the ether. I took inspiration from the Icon Artists….first of all my musical theme played out as a sort of prayer or “mission statement” in my head, giving breath of life to the composition that would unfold. It was a simple rhythmical phrase that I repeated over and over again – meditatively focusing and connecting me with the act of creating…..an inner beating metronome setting the tempo. Gradually I started to play with the idea on a saxophone. I felt each note appear like a brushstroke…..my new melody was unfolding as a rainbow palette of colours.
As I drifted down the stairs from the impromptu afternoon of music making and iconography I suddenly remembered my bag of frozen goods slowly defrosting on the kitchen table….still celebrating the gift of breath and the artistic expression it affords me, I returned to the kitchen to the more mundane task of grocery distribution. I dropped a pot of yogurt, which exploded magnificently, splurging everywhere as I approached the fridge. Hmm – there are always challenges lurking aren’t there?! And yet even in chaos there is beauty….inhale, exhale and breathe!!!