I steal time from my family to play, compose, rehearse and perform. I put my best energy into the music by de-prioritising many of the things we're told to prioritise, like our 'proper' jobs, pursuing career achievements and material wealth. And I don't need a cost benefit analysis to tell me which side of the profit/loss ledger my musical finances sit upon.
So why do I do it?
Before I explain, let's check the dictionary definition: union - the action or an instance of joining or uniting one thing to another or two or more things together, to form a single complete body or unit; the state of being so united. (OED)
So I spent this weekend falling in love with my native american flute at flute camp.
All together now - "there was this one time, at flute camp" And relax . . .
What struck me was the similarity in people's stories about how they came to own a native american flute from master flute crafter and player, Todd from southerncrossflutes.com.
Drawn to an ethereal sound like moths to a light, they connected with a flute they simply had to own (as if it was made for them alone) and started a journey of self-discovery, soul expression and often healing.
Many spoke of being 'lost in the music' when they played their flutes. I think the reverse is closer to the truth. We become 'found in the music' as we connect to something deeper within ourselves. I loose my sense of 'Gareth-ness' when I play music and there is a fading of the illusion of my separation from the universe (or the source or god or spirit or whatever you prefer). In other words, I experience union.
What I am increasingly exploring is experiencing that union with others. Inspired by our camp leader (perhaps I should rephrase that?) Adam Paige (adampage.com.au) and his looping loveliness I spent a fruitful hour with my chum Chewy (rhythmforthesoul.co.nz) working on my latest song Right Here, Right Now.
I've avoided editing the clip because I'm as guilty as the next musician of feeling the pressure to present only polished versions of what I do. And yet we all know music is messy and that is part of it's magic. The un-polishing is also part of my secret mission to help people recognise and celebrate their inner musician. At some point many of us go from childhood singing, clapping and dancing to music at every opportunity to sitting down and politely applauding. And for me the saddest three words in the English language are 'I used to' when I ask people if they play music.
So my favourite songs are the ones where we can all join in together - head-nodding, foot-tapping, hand-clapping, sing-alonging songs where we blur the line between performer and audience. For a few moments we're all lost and found music together. In other words, we experience union.
Over recent years I've come to appreciate the finest experience of that collective union in kirtan - the Indian yogic music of devotion. I finished my weekend playing at the album launch of 'Awake' by my friend and musical ally Sarah Spence, a.k.a. Premratna (premratnamusic.net). The album is a sumptuous journey of soul-nourishing original songs, compositions infusing sacred Sufi poetry and kirtan. I stupidly had my first listen whilst driving and had to pull over to allow it to simply wash over me and clean my spirit.
The finale to the evening was a room-rocking song that untied us all. Only Premratna could lead us all in joyful kirtan in the mainstream entertainment heart of the city. At one point I half-opened my eyes and saw her as the peaceful, blissful eye of the stormy song and radiating beautifully in union. As the kirtan closed with three audacious aums, it was clear that we'd all been in that special place too. Union - with ourselves, with each other and with everything.
And that's why I play music.