The Music Lesson

The Music Lesson

If you come to this section seeking music instruction I would love to chat with you. I offer private lessons on guitar, bass guitar, and ukulele, and also work in classroom settings facilitating music intensives, songwriting & theory workshops, and mixed-instrument ensembles for groups of all ages. Please contact me directly to discuss your needs, to see how I may help, and/or to schedule some lessons. If my specialization and approach do not fit your musical calling, I’m happy to help you find an appropriate mentor. I work with several teaching-artists whose emphases include guitar, voice, strings, piano, bass, percussion, woodwinds and brass.

Questing for wisdom on a musical path, I’ve worked with many mentors, and have compiled a number of texts which I now consider foundational for a heart-centered approach to music education. In the “resources” section of this site, I offer information about each book, their authors, and how each work has supported my depth psychological research. When Music first led me to the guitar, it was like a light-saber sticking out of the sand. I would spend the rest of my life learning how to use it.

For a long time, it was about speaking the language as best I could, and then discovering that there were some techniques I could practice to improve my articulation. Like many before me, I became a guitar-geek.  Somewhere along the way, before the internet, and before I started writing songs, a bassist-friend gave me this cryptic, un-authored tablet of scales and modes. Discovering this booklet, beginning to deciphering it, was like uncovering a Gnostic scroll in the desert of the holy-land.

Venturing into the world, I found I was not alone in my religious attitude toward Music. Working with a vocal coach (Kimberly King), who developed a qi gong practice designed to support healthy singing, I came across The Tao of Voice, by Stephen Chun-Tao Cheng. Cheng shows how getting “out of the way of ourselves,” so melodies can move through, is connected to specific practices of breath, body-movement and imagination. He demonstrates how Music has its own way (Tao), and how our job is to get in its flow—in our own, individual way.

As I dug deeper, reading the work of master musicians who took time to reflect on their process, I found there was indeed a mystic aspect to my quest for musical mastery—one which is unique and personal, and at the same time, shared by the collective.

Several summers in a row, I played the brunch-set at the Hotel Telluride, during the Telluride Bluegrass Festival. After my set each day, I’d walk down Colorado Avenue, toward the festival main stage and, on three different occasions, stumbled upon workshops in Elks Park which featured master bassist, Victor Wooten. Like my discoveries of the guitar and the sacred tablet of modes, I met Victor as though he carried divine transmissions.

In my first encounter, it was just Victor, his bass, and a looper-pedal. He layered symphonic arrangements atop one another using different voicings to create what sounded like sections of an orchestra. Between demonstrations, he waxed philosophical about whatever the group wanted to ponder—whether it was musical or not. He laughed, and didn’t rush anyone or try to direct the conversation—all of it was important: family life, personal struggles, rites of passage. Letting it flow, he was the master of the moment: relaxed, grounded, and attentive to his audience.

The Music Lesson

The second time I found Victor in workshop-mode he was performing with Bela Fleck to an intimate crowd. On their breaks, these two master-players discussed the importance of musical conversation in education and for the goals of the performing musician. Though counter-rational, what they said is that to learn the language, we must first speak the language. It is through our efforts in-dialogue that we learn how to dialogue. Victor offered the example of how we learn to talk. “No one really ‘teaches’ us anything,” he said. We learn to be expert talkers by being around expert talkers—through immersion in the culture of the language.

This idea is one which Wooten builds upon extensively in his book, The Music Lesson: A Spiritual Search for Growth Through Music. His subtitle shifts our attention from musical mastery to a “search for growth,” bringing into focus the intersection of music and psychology. Far from a technical encyclopedia of scales, The Music Lesson centers on Victor’s dialogue with five different personalities—who appear, rather magically, at different points in the story: Music herself, Michael, Sam, Uncle Clyde, and Isis.

Though he alludes to his experiences’ dream-like qualities, Wooten neither confirms nor denies the imaginal nature of these figures. From a psychological point of view, each character presents Victor with a challenge to his conscious position, which he first resists, eventually softens to, and then integrates into his own perspective. In a nutshell, this is the goal of depth psychology: that in-dialogue with them, our uninvited guests may bring blessings—opportunities for transformation.

When we look closely at the personalities Wooten encounters, we find an image of Jungian psychology. Jung posited a collective aspect of psyche which is home to a number of archetypal figures—styles of consciousness marked by certain feeling-tones, mythic themes, and patterns. We are most familiar with ego-consciousness, our rational self, the “hero”—the one who quests. In The Music Lesson, this personality is played by the protagonist himself, Victor.

Jung suggests that as the hero faces his shadow, and begins to notice darker aspects of his personality (marked by compulsive behaviors, outbursts, anxieties, and depression), he will often encounter an “anima” figure—a representation (or projection) of the feminine, related aspects of his psyche. Though Victor had quested for mastery of music since he was a child, he was living alone, not in a band, barely paying the rent.

Until this point, he had not recognized Music for who she really was—a powerful personality not to be mastered, but to be honored, as the goddess of musical wisdom herself! This shift in Wooten’s consciousness opens him to a spectrum of viewpoints. Jung’s research showed that the anima in a man (“animus” in a woman) acts as gatekeeper to other styles of consciousness living in psyche; and that when these figures appear, they never travel alone.

Considering this, it is no wonder our protagonist interacts mostly with a character named Michael. In Jungian terms, Michael is a manifestation of the trickster archetype, Coyote in native American traditions. He is the one who brings us face to face with the irrational—and whatever blocks transformation of our conscious position. To the ancient Greeks, this figure was known as “Hermes,” who is said to be, “messenger of the gods,” and also the god who gave Apollo the gift of music.

It is through this messenger (Michael) and Music herself that Victor comes to know other aspects of his personality: in relationship with Sam, who embodies the archetypal “Child” (youthful, attentive, non-judgmental playfulness); Uncle Clyde, a representation of Jung’s “Wise Old Man;” and the character, Isis—an allusion to the “Great Mother.”

Old Uncle Clyde speaks to Victor about “destiny” and soul’s path, because, like the child, Clyde is not far from heaven’s gate, but unlike the child he has the experience of a life fully-lived. Conjoined, the Child and The Wise Old Man form what James Hillman called the “Senex-Puer” archetype, which ties youth and old-age together in a continuum.

With this image, death and rebirth are contained in close connection to the ancestral realm—part of what Jung described as the “collective unconscious.” Imagining our personality as multiple, dynamically in-dialogue, and part of something before and after this lifetime is a stretch for some, but let us remember, it was not long ago we knew for certain the earth was flat.

Most interesting to me as a student of music and depth psychology is what the character Isis (whose name invokes a great creator-destroyer goddess) attempts to show Victor—some mysterious, coded information about numbers. What is important here, to Isis, Jung and the musician, seems to be the fact that numbers are both quantitative (scientific, measurable) and qualitative—of or relating to feeling, emotion, aesthetics and beauty. In this way, numbers may help bridge the gap between what is felt (our heart consciousness) and what is known (our intellect).

In The Music Lesson, Victor Wooten undergoes a feeling-function education. His attitude softens enough to enter dialogue with five different personalities—all of whom challenge and ultimately augment Wooten’s musical world-view. In conversation with these figures, Victor’s psychological development unfolds alongside his masterful musicianship. His wisdom deepens, and his technical abilities increase, as focus moves from mastery to “growth.”

In this way, The Music Lesson is an entertaining introduction to depth-psychology. The whole work contains our hero’s adventures, and may be viewed as a Jungian model of psyche. This moving image of interconnected action and dialogue between personalities reflects what Jung saw as the “archetype of the Self.”

If we view The Music Lesson from the author’s perspective—the one who writes the book, while questing for musical wisdom—we see how Victor practices a form of depth psychology, and may be one of the first depth musicologists. Many consider this Grammy-winner to be the baddest bass-man in the land, so if this is his idea of a “music lesson,” we are wise to read his story, and attempt to engage the muse the way Victor does. Last time I encountered him in Elks Park he just played his bass—he wasn’t talking, and I didn’t even see him on stage. Backing a talented singer-songwriter, his lovable personality simply disappeared into the music.