Playing the Guitar in Jerusalem

Playing in Jerusalem

During my recoupalescence in a hotel room in Jerusalem overlooking the Kidron Valley and the Old City on Mt. Zion, etc., tastefully furnished in iron frames and pillows designed in lapis and scarlet and greens and turquoise a mix of middle eastern and Indian motifs that worked well together, the lighting not nearly as careful but I opted not to use much of it and let the remarkable night-light outside my window be my attention and I threw the curtains back opened the windows and listened everyday for the muezzin announcing the end of the Ramadan fast at sundown from the Arab village Silwan across the valley. Tonight I will record it; it is so close over the valley.

My guitar playing friend in Jerusalem dropped off my guitar that I leave with him. I met him my first week here, my first visit, thirty six years ago. I was playing guitar on the steps of the only address I knew, the College I was to attend, and he heard someone had been playing there at night so he came looking for me. He was then and is now a complete guitar fanatic.

He became a doctor, also an engineer, he is quite clever and an excellent guitarist. I also appreciate his form of doctoring. I told him how sick I had become so he dropped off the guitar at my hotel, said he’d talk to me later. That’s my kind of doctor. Don’t worry about it, he said, everybody gets what you have now. You’re an official resident. You’re just not used to it. I’ll be back.

He and I toured all over Israel within the month we met and he is one of those people who I encountered in life and changed everything for me. We were touring Israel three four nights a week the first year I was here. I played with musicians from all over the world. I played entirely American music which I might have stuck with had I not been exposed to a different sound while here, a sound which eventually pushed out the sound I had in my head. It burrowed deeper into my soft tissues opening up worlds for me I didn’t know existed.

My friend is more into American music, knows more about roots music than I do, still he appreciates what I do and every time we get together I meet with his musician friends and he asks me to play for them and they go crazy with the music I now play. Which is their music. I learned it from them in a sense and every time I return here I give it back to them, these middle easterners who are playing the blues and jazz heroes of my youth. Just another metaphor for how idiosyncratic our histories are and who could have predicted where we are going.

When I am here I am studying the oud with a great player I met over the internet who lives in south Tel Aviv. He is also an excellent teacher. He has taken me on as a student and will give me as much time as I ask for and also loans me one of his instruments. It’s perfect.

The material he gives me is demanding and I generally make as much time as I can to practice but it’s all on the fly and the material is challenging. This trip I was working on a 7/8 rhythm that was really throwing me at first. I kept sneaking in another beat and turning three into four now and again and I could feel the need to push the rhythm down into my body, it wasn’t a problem of counting, it was a problem of feel. I had to feel that rhythm in my joint that jaunty three when I am anticipating four.

Because I have been sick, I am walking now in three and four time and it’s an interesting walk/dance and I don’t know if I’ll ever return to a regular stroll. I have the 7/8 I believe fully integrated.

I felt that when I hurt my ankle, between my first and second lesson, it threw off my musicality. The first lesson was fantastic; I picked up the piece he showed me and played slowly through it with no problems, the first several times I played it even managing to get the feel of the 7/8. I would have to work on all the fingerings and gather up some speed but I could do that in my practice time before the next lesson.

In between lesson one and two, I hurt my ankle, went to the hospital, bound up my leg too tightly and in the second lesson I couldn’t play a thing. Lost the sense of the 7/8 and felt bad. I had practiced but I had lost the music in my body; I was compensating in my head and it was no compensation just distraction. Phone is ringing.

That was Meeli who is my friend living on the kibbutz near the Sea and when I told her the whole story she said she is delighted that I am cos m’leiah kind of person. The cup is full, not empty quite similar to the English idiom half full except in Hebrew it’s full full.

That’s right; I’m in Jerusalem, I haven’t left the hotel room in two days and I’m having the time of my life. She thought this was just great. Meeli is a natural philosopher. We laughed and laughed at all the unfortunate circumstances of this experience. Two Akivas chattering away in the holy tongue.

jsg, usa