Winnipeg's Jazz Magazine


The Real Magic

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When I was a little kid, there was magic in almost everything. There was magic in the smell of certain plants in spring, at sunset, when just the right blue covered the horizon, after just the right words from my parents. There was magic in my aunt’s fried chicken—I don’t know why it tasted that good! There was magic in Cheryl Chapman, the cute girl who sat across the aisle in first grade. The whole universe came together when she was born! It was magical to fantasize that she secretly liked me too.

As I got older, there were fewer magical things. And I get it—magic is attached to mystery, and innocence. Now that I’m classified as an adult, my activities rarely have either mystery or innocence attached to them. I am now compelled to traffic in rationality practicality, and the most sobering of all notions judiciousness.

As a kid, the magic of mystery was inspirational. As an adult, the mystery is finding inspirational magic. I look for a few words in a song or a certain combination of notes that sends the hair up on my back or causes me to shiver. Just the right tone and immediately I’m back to age four, drawing pictures while sprawled on the floor next to my mother. Or I’m looking down into a ravine and there’s thunder in the background.

Today there’s tons of information available to us. In music, I hear so much harmonic and structural nuance—and so little magic. John Coltrane took decades of hard work and sacrifice to invent “Giant Steps.” Today we assign students the task of transcribing that recording and expect even the average student to pull off “Giant Steps” in a month. After four years of university, students will have more information than many jazz greats ever had, yet the mystery of self-discovery can get marginalized. Without experiencing that mystery, they can come out like robots. We educators must be vigilant.

The spark of magic we seek lies somewhere in personal discovery. When we first start to experience music, there is a magical element of delight and permission. We’re mapping things about music—and life—that are uniquely personal. Here’s the conundrum: with so much information out there to master, self-discovery begins to feel impractical. Why reinvent the wheel when you haven’t quite learned how to use it?

Here’s why: I often sit with my toddler son Solomon and find rhythms and notes that make him dance or giggle. I can relate when that happens because it feels good to me too. I find sparks of magic, and through his innocence I’m able to touch my own.

Everyone has a voice and something to say. The uniqueness in that voice lies somewhere between permission, innocence, and childlike curiosity. For me, innocence carries the most intrigue because of the absence of conventional knowledge and the presence of so much profound universal wisdom. When others can tell why you love what you do by the way that you do it, we all discover the real magic in who we are.

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