I have professed on many occasions to have leapt and landed when it comes to my travels and a fair few risks I've taken both creatively and financially in regard to my creative practice. Not surprisingly 'letting go' sits pretty close to 'leaping and being caught' on my list of must-practices for a happy, albeit not altogether carefree state of being. That said, I'm not claiming to have mastered either technique by any stretch. I am just here to offer my experience along the road to mastery. (Right at this point in time I'd put myself in the white belt category).
But that is actually the easiest place to start learning such a practice in my opinion. I tried it out last night while performing Life on Mars before a crowd of David Bowie fans as part of a show commemorating the life and work of the man himself.
All week I had been rehearsing, and the more time I spent with the music, the more I felt acquainted with the man behind the composition. By the time the show came around I felt like I had it down. I'd been repeating the track on loop daily and in my sleep, thinking only of key changes and chord progressions..and of the pink velour-partly-ripped-in-the-chest-area bodysuit I donned on the night of the performance. I'd even sacrificed a night out at Ballarat's 'Eastern Hotel' in preparation.
I was going to have this perfect.
The next day. 32 degrees. Pink velour. Not good. Car rides to Melbourne. Broken air conditioning. Running face paint. Amusing in hindsight. Not so at time. Got to the venue in one very hot and sweaty piece. But made it nevertheless.
My time came. 9pm and I was up there on stage in front of a host of fabulous Bowie enthusiasts. Hands shaking somewhat, I panic. Not a minute in I was dropping wrong chord progressions and changes irreverent of the song's original fabric. Panic again, but played on. It was a cover show after all, and what was covering a piece of music if you couldn't make it your own. So that's exactly what I did.
I let my fingers go where Bowie may or may not have gone before, and I played, and sang. With the pressure off performing a note-for-note replica, I found I could just let the music flow through me and the craziest thing was it worked! I finished with a nod to the original score and then all of a sudden it was over. Done. The crowd erupted in applause and I had a number of people come up to congratulate at the end of the performance. It felt amazing. Still, there was still a small part of me which felt like I'd failed at playing the original score note for note, but just under that voice, a little quieter but nonetheless apparent, there's another one applauding my improvisational feat, imploring questions of me like - What is it that makes me come alive? What would I do if I could make my own rules and draw my own road map? What was it that made an entire room applaud my efforts in improvising Bowie, instead of sticking to the original script, and so much so that some of them came up to tell me how much they'd loved it when I'd let myself fall into the song instead of having to pin it down?
The answer, I believe is in allowing yourself to let go and give over control to something bigger than you, but there is a trick.
A lesson in Timing
Letting Go (Too Soon/Too Late)
The first scenario which came to my head (being a Kiwi kid who grew up on bush walks and jumping into waterholes) was that of jumping off a rope swing into a lake as my cousins and I used to do. You let go of the rope too early and you are liable for a bruised pelvis and at the very least a scrape on the bum on your way in, but too late and you're likely to bruise your ego as you swing limply from the rope a few metres above the water, long after Kiwi etiquette deems appropriate. No good.
But you measure the right amount of run up, with the perfect amount of cling, timing and aptitude and boom. You've got yourself a perfect bomb and the cheers to prove it. Provided you're not just in there by yourself (not the done thing in most cases).
I will be learning said trick for a long time to come, but moments like I had last night, with a generous audience helping me along the way, make me realise there's a lot more to gain than just playing the right notes, and that if you can't take a few trips on your way into the water, you've got a lot to learn before you'll have any more fun on a bigger swing.