Day 2: Fear, Destruction, and Using Our Senses

Day two was an eventful day at woot camp and full of fun surprises. The morning felt more like an opening ceremony to the camp. Bass / nature camp isn’t so much about bass as much as it is about music. Before I discovered Vic’s videos and books, I was somewhat torn on music. I played it as an expression through my time with various church bands, but overall thought music was something to compete with. Picking up the bass had originally felt as if I had resigned myself to a lifetime of frustration and competition. While I knew there were ways to serve with music, Vic taught me that music is something to fellowship with, similar to a relationship. It’s something you grow with and learn to become familiar and affectionate with. And if you stick with it, you and music will grow old together and learn to appreciate the trials and frustrations you’ve faced together; the pain is someday replaced with joy in your playing.

Our nature instructor, Richard, proceeded to build fire in only a couple of minutes using the bow and drill method, while Victor serenaded us to some smooth bass. Every native culture has fire as an integral part of their makeup, and soon we’ll be making our own fire building sets. Fire produces warmth and companionship, just as music does. It gives life just as music does. Much of what we have learned so far about music, in fact, comes from our understanding of nature. Richard made the point that what you don’t take the time to get to know something, you fear it. When you don’t take the time to get to know nature, you can fear it too, such as strange bugs or animals, but also in life. How many things have I feared in life because of mere ignorance? How many opportunities did I have that I’ve abandoned because of ignorance and fear? Richard continued, saying that what you fear, you also destroy. Whether it’s a non-threatening spider crawling into a tent, or bigger things in life; how many things have I destroyed in my life simply because I feared them or failed to understand them? I’m no more innocent of making bad decisions in my life than anyone else, and have plenty of regrets in my 34 years on this planet. Have fear and ignorance robbed me? What have I destroyed, or almost destroyed, in my past simply because I was afraid? What you fear, you also attract, and the things you fear in life keep popping up; you can’t run away from what you fear because you call to it. Your fears haunt you like old ghosts.

Apart from the many wise points made during this morning’s ceremony, the rest of the day was filled with all sorts of fun and hijinks. The very first class was a nature class. Richard took us on a walk through the camp grounds and pointed out a number of native plants. Even in this, I found intrigue in many of his observations. Richard, just like Victor, is a man with strong convictions – but he doesn’t require that you share in all of his opinions in order to appreciate them. Fear is most definitely a great motivator and Richard believes it’s so powerful, it can motivate nature to react a certain way. Poison ivy, for example, only grows in disturbed soils. Think about some large national forests; many undisturbed forests have no poison ivy anywhere to be found. While I’m sure there’s a scientific explanation to this, the more romantic notion is that nature finds ways to protect itself. The Cherokee indians refer to poison ivy as their “friend”. Richard is on a personal journey to become more of an ally to nature, and claims to not get poison ivy anymore since approaching nature with the attitude of giving it nothing to fear. I’m a much more analytical person, but I do respect his views, and I think he at least has a point: most of us don’t care about nature enough, or even appreciate it at all. There’s a reason birds fly away and send shockwaves of warnings to other animals when humans approach: they can sense that we don’t respect their habitat.

Some more practical things we learned today were various types of growth have healing qualities. Plantain leaves can draw the proteins in venom out of a bee sting, or other kinds of stings or bites. Plantains are found nearly everywhere, and are often taken for granted. You can identify them by their parallel veins and oval shaped leaves, which come to a point. I have several sores on my fingers from playing bass so much the first day that they are actually burning. I gave the Plantain a try and was surprised to find it did have a bit of a soothing effect. Richard advises either mashing the leaf up or chewing on it, then applying it to the affected area. When there’s no appropriate first aid around, it could possibly save one’s life from a bee sting, or perhaps even a snake bite. We also learned that Jewel Weed is a great neutralizer for poison ivy. There’s balance in nature, and just as nature grows poison, it also grows the antidote nearby. If you happen to walk through poison ivy, find some Jewel Weed and rub it on the area that got exposed. It apparently can prevent it from turning into a full blown rash. Finally, Richard’s piece de resistance was all about Dandelion root. Dandelion greens are apparently the most nutritiously and medicinally powerful plant in existence. A man named Carl Waters, well known to the camp, claims to have cured himself of throat cancer by taking a nutritionalist’s advice and preparing and ingesting Dandelion root. I dunno. But if I was dying, I’d definitely try some.

Richard had plenty of other wisdom to share with us. As we walked through the forest, Richard pointed out numerous things we couldn’t identify, but pigeonholed with the closest thing we could think of. He then said that we, as humans, tend to want to label things right away; both in nature and in life. Labeling things isn’t really the best way to experience something, but we do it so that we can feel like we know about something. Knowing the label, however, doesn’t necessarily mean you know anything about what you’re labeling. We label people, relationships, motives, and a number of other things in life without really knowing anything about them whatsoever. Labeling is almost an excuse to stay ignorant.

Springs with salamanders are clean streams because salamanders are extremely sensitive to toxins in the water. If you’re hiking and need to find clean water, follow the salamanders.

Later on that day, I found myself in bare feet in an open field. Somehow this has to do with bass guitar, but I have no idea how at this point. I was about to find out: out of our senses, our sight is our most dominant. Sight can interfere with our other senses, because when we observe something, we’re usually content to just identify it, label it, and move on. Richard had us reach out and touch a tree with our eyes open, then do the same with our eyes closed. While I initially considered this exercise trivial, nobody had to tell me how enormous the difference was after I actually did it. With my eyes closed, I immediately felt much more detail about the tree: the warmth from the sun, the details in the texture, and even the humidity of the wood. Everything was more focused. In fact, many of us felt as if our sense of touch was heightened because our minds couldn’t automatically identify the size of the tree, keeping us from pulling all of our judgments and observations about it from the file labeled “tree” in our head. In other words, the tree seemed infinitely large because we couldn’t “see” its limits. How many times to we put limits on things – people, God, etc. simply because we see what we want to see in them?

Peripheral vision was another important point made. We spend time looking at computer and TV screens at home which train us not to use our peripheral vision – yet another reason I’m glad I don’t have a TV in my cabin. Because we’ve been conditioned by society to ignore observing everything around us, we’ve become more intense and highly focused in life. We bring this tension into nature (and onto the stage), and it scares animals as well as musicians. Our intensity in life can also scare people, simply because we’re so used to being focused and not stopping to enjoy all that is going on around us in the peripheral. I find myself stopping to appreciate the beauty in life often, but I often find myself among a rare breed who does.

Ask yourself, “what am I missing right now?” What are you missing in your immediate surroundings by simply not being aware of them? What are you missing in life simply by choosing to focus on what’s right in front of you and ignoring the peripheral?

We were then given instructions to close our eyes and follow Richard’s movements as he walked around. We were instructed to point to him. What we found was that, with our eyes closed, we could follow even a wild animal in total darkness just by our hearing. Even when our primary sense fails us, we can find our way.

The next sense we explored: touch. We can’t survive without touch. Premature babies, in fact, must be touched to survive. I read a book recently that explained the five different ways in which humans accept love. Physical touch was one of them; imagine not being touched by a friend on the shoulder, or ever touched by your mate, and the kind of emotional damage that can cause. A world without touch is sterile and cold. Musicians afraid to touch their music or their instruments (or are unfamiliar with them), similarly play sterile and cold.

I brought a significant amount of wisdom back with me to ponder for the day. After the nature exercises, we had a number of other activities.

Steve Bailey taught us a class on visualizing the fingerboard, and gave us a few exercises to become familiar with it. Steve can stick his finger anywhere on the fretboard and instantly know the exact note he’s playing. If there’s a #2 best bassist in the world, it’s probably Steve (although he’d argue that Victor is #2). Becoming intimate with the fingerboard is the best way to not get lost when playing. It’s not based on ear training, but rather mastery. This feeds into earlier sentiments in the day about fearing things: the mere fact that most of us don’t fully understand our fretboard leads us to sometimes fear to reach out and play something unique on it. When we spell words, we visualize them. We look up as if onto some billboard. Learning how to visualize the fretboard in a similar way: to daydream about the fretboard while playing, and being able to visualize anywhere we are even before we play a note, is one key to being an accurate player.

Another thing we learn about the fretboard is that most musicians make their living below the 12th fret. The fingerboard really does follow the law of diminished returns. Steve explained that houses are paid for in cash on the lower part of the fretboard, and barely get bubble gum money the higher you get.

Brunch was served early in the day. If you get nothing out of bass / nature camp, at the very least come for the food. Chef John is an insane genius and we all love him for it. The amazing things he does with food makes us all forget we’re at a camp in the middle of nowhere. His dishes tantalize all of the senses of your taste buds and excite your mouth. The one thing nobody can seem to stop eating are his home made banana chips, which come seasoned with something fierce. They are teh nom.

After lunch, one of the most notable activities today was a two hour Groove Workshop with JD Blair, drummer for Shania Twain. Blair is also known as the “Groove Moderator”. He’s a crazy fun guy, and kept calling us all “cats”. He’s smooth and cool, just like you’d expect an old drummer to be. He wears spurs on his boots, gets wide-eyed when he’s excited about something, and is passionate about learning just as much as he is teaching. JD taught us that “groove” is in the simplicity, and when you go simple, you play in the pocket, inspiring others to play. Even the audience is inspired to think about playing and crave more when you play with simplicity. “It takes great discipline to play in the pocket for five minutes”.

Blair gave us a number of practical pieces of wisdom too. For example, follow the hi-hat: when the drummer closes his notes, you should close yours too. It means a solo is coming, a mood change, or some other event. Also, when the drummer hits a loud snare on the “one” beat, it means wake up: somethings’ going to change. By the end of Blair’s workshop, a bunch of folks were up on the stage for a group jam – and it sounded phenomenal by the time everyone caught on. ┬áThe biggest takeaway from Blair was simple: a good musician inspires others to play. He doesn’t try and play “up”, but rather to open up “pockets” allowing other musicians to get in and groove on their own instruments. This shadows what Abe Laboriel has said about music in the past: it’s a musician’s job to support, protect, and inspire the other musicians you’re playing with. Not to compete with them.

Later on, Vic gave his own class and gave an introduction to music from his DVD. He’ll be getting more in depth later on as the camp progresses, but wanted to get us all on the same page for now. We discussed the ten elements of music. If you want to know what they are, buy his book :)

Finally, the evening wrapped up with a theory and sight reading class. Boo. Hiss. No, it was actually a good start. I’ve got some holes in my basic theory, and filling those gaps in would be nice. Fortunately, the one thing I remember from my high school theory class (before getting a book beamed at my head) is how the cycle of fifths works so I was able to easily identify the key signature.

Vic gave us a cooler “in the know” way to identify a key signature: It’s almost always the second-to-last flat in the signature itself.

More fun and hijinks tomorrow! I’m beat as soon as I got back to my comfy little bed-and-breakfast campsite, I jumped in the shower, connected up the WiFi to write this blog, and was welcomed with a fresh batch of sweet tea made by George and Cher. What an awesome place to hang!

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