Paul sent this memo to his fellow soundplay adventurers after their workshop at the Rowe Center in the summer of 2010:

Subject:  Some Post-Adventure Reflections, to Fellow SoundPlay Rowers, from Paul Winter

Dear Fellow Rowers,

I had a raft of reflections after our shared experience last month, particularly catalyzed by our final session Sunday morning, and I wrote them down over the next several days, but only now have found time to pull them together and send to you. These are intended as the musings of a fellow student.  I am, once again, grateful to this fertile garden of sound-play, our shared playground, for the on-going life-lessons that keep coming forth. And I am grateful to all of you, for collectively creating this garden; and to Rowe, for hosting it.


Lost Grace or the Opportunities that Challenges Present

The first time I had stepped into the towering space of Rowe’s new dinging hall, I thought: “This could be a beautiful temple for music-making.” Halfway through this weekend, when I asked the staff if we might convene our group there for the Saturday evening and Sunday morning sessions, they very kindly agreed. After Saturday supper, the dining tables were cleared away and a well-meaning staff member arranged a circle of 30 chairs for us (having no idea, of course, of my issue, or “phobia” about chairs creating the inhibiting pressure of audience.)

The chairs didn’t seem to be an impediment that night, as we had darkness available for our “adventures,” and then when our guests from the film workshop came in later the chairs accommodated some of them.

However, Sunday morning was to be another story. There was some shock amongst us, as people came in after breakfast and saw name-cards on various chairs, as part of Eve’s new composition which I (unbeknownst to the group) had suggested we begin the morning with. Something about this new set-up, with chairs around the room, and these instructions, seemed to feel alien to this “liberated” field of play we had created since Friday evening; and at the same time perhaps felt all too familiar to our many years in classrooms, the collective effect of which we had all come to Rowe to overcome.  The combination of the circle of chairs, and full daylight, plus with instructions on chairs, was just too much. So all of a sudden, there were reactions and questionings, and it almost began to feel like we were starting a big committee meeting, and that there was going to be some debate, and perhaps dissension. After all the good spirit of our previous four sessions, it seemed like we had lost our grace. We had suddenly been put back in school. (I half-expected an announcement over the PA: “Paul Winter…report to the principal’s office immediately!”)

I knew instantly it was my fault: I had forgotten to enable us to reclaim our freedom with an opening foursome. (We may, each of us, always need to do this, morningly, in our own way – recover, reclaim, our grace.)

Jane’s Rescue and the Recovery of Grace

As we were heading onto this down-ward spiral path of discussing what we should do, re. Eve’s composition and all this structure, Jane saved the day by suggesting we do a four-some, first. That seemed like a way to get back on track. So four people came to sit in the center chairs, but there was a big gap around them, since folks were still on the outer ring of chairs, so we filled in that pregnant (I think also ominous) space by sitting on the floor around the foursome. And you know what I think? We regained our grace immediately, even before their sounds began. We overcame…disappeared…that old life-long awkwardness associated with all the rows of chairs in all the schoolrooms and churches and concert halls we’ve sat in for tens of thousands of hours in our lives. The foursome went beautifully. And Eve’s piece went swimmingly, with everyone participating, and many then congratulated and thanked her. We were back on track, seemingly happy “rowers,” Rowe-ing our boat together gently down the stream again.

It was a revelation to see/hear how quickly we can “lose it” – how fragile this community spirit can seem – but then also how quickly we can regain it. The initial pessimism gives way to a strengthened optimism…that this “grace,” of communing, must be in our nature, our instincts, genes, faculties…as it is (in my observances) when we are together in nature. A meta-lesson could be that these instincts for expression and spontaneous communing are deep and strong in us, in our nature, and simply need to have a context that awakens and gives license to them.

And also, the fact that we can “lose” it, and get it back countless times, means we can begin to let go of our fear of losing whatever it is. This is what I call the “Lost and Found Principle.” It applies also within the free-playing.  You may get lost often in the process of collective sound-play, and not know what to do next. And maybe you sit quietly awhile, till something pulls you back in; and then you’re “found” again…you’ve found your way once again. Once you’ve been lost and then found yourself multiple times, then the fear of being lost can fade away, since you’ve become an expert in finding yourself.

A Garden of Yes

Eve’s “composition” was simply another adventure, a little more structured than others we’d done, but right up the alley of a weekend of “Adventures in Sound Play.” We need to be able to imagine and invent all kinds of adventures for our expression, spontaneous or planned, with all sorts of combinations of the two. And all adventures have risk; risk is inherent in the nature of adventure. Any expression can be a risk, but we can learn to live with that. Expression is our birthright, our nature; and humans are the only species who censor their expression.

There needs to be a place, a space (even for a weekend, or a minute) where each person is totally all right, just as they are, right then and there…where whatever they do, play, or say, is all right…is totally fine. For maybe this can enable/evoke a break-through, an experience of freedom…or self-acceptance…or connectedness…a place of grace, we might say…that can stay in the body-memory. Even when you return to the old familiar contexts you might remember this experience: “I soared,” or “I felt at home,” or “I felt good about me.” To have an epiphany like this, even for a moment, is a triumph.

My sense is that many of us say “No” to our expression. Maybe somebody said “No” to us, back in the 4th grade, or said we didn’t have “talent”; and we bought it, and shut down; and ever after have always said “No” to ourselves.

So my resolve, from when David Darling and I began doing these “adventure playgrounds” back in the ‘70s, was that if it’s going to be effective for the shyest one among us, or for the shyest side of any one of us, then it must be a Garden of Yes, for any expression within civility. So – you want to try something? “Yes.”; You want to say that you don’t like something? “Yes.”; You want to sit this one out? “Yes.” Etc.

Four Heads Together

My last epiphany that morning was after everyone had sat knee-to-knee in groups of 4, with hands piled atop hands in the middle, and then fore-heads resting on the hands, with tops of heads touching. The idea in this is to hum, and listen to each other through the tops of our heads. The six little groups went happily humming for a long time, sounding like beehives around the room.

Eventually, as expected, one by one, the groups stopped humming, and the members sat up straight, usually laughing, and began talking with each other. I fully expected that there’d be a little talking, till all the groups were sitting up, and then they’d look to me for whatever was to happen next. But what was amazing was the talking didn’t stop. It went on and on, as if what the members of each group had to say to each other was the most important thing in the world at that moment. I was waiting for someone to break ranks and maybe raise a complaint: ‘Hey, what’s going on? I thought we were here to make music. What’s all this talking?’ But no one did. And these animated group conversations went on for 20 minutes. I sat there amazed. It was wonderful. And you know what it was, to me? It was life…life as a kind of music. And then I realized, wasn’t that the title of the weekend? “Music as life.” (“Life as music.”)

My Lone Ranger Moment

I’ve often said my goal in these events is to have everyone’s experiences grow to the place where they no longer need me or any other facilitator, and I could slip out unnoticed. (If any of you are old enough to remember the Lone Ranger radio series, in which at the end of each episode, after the Lone Ranger has done a good deed, he and Tonto gallop out of town while the townspeople stand watching, scratching their heads, and a gravelly-voiced “Gabby Hayes” says: “You know who that masked man was?…That was….the Lone….Ranger.”)

Well, who was that bald-headed sax player?

If you find out, let me know.

Love to all,