I’ve heard the expression before ‘Let the music do the talking’. I’ve just gained a new appreciation for it.
I’m in Pakistan right now. I’m here as a VIP guest to attend a family wedding. I wasn’t sure what to expect when I left Canada, but I’ve learned two things so far: 1) Music breaks all boundaries and barriers, and 2) the song ‘Ring of Fire’ may have been written about lamb curry.
Something to know about traditional Pakistani weddings is that they typically are done over a number of days. One of the first days, we attended a function called a ‘dholki’. As far as my understanding goes, it is so named after a drum that is played by the families as they recant traditional marriage songs. In this case, the bride’s family did so, and it was lovely.
Then, something unexpected happened. They passed the drum to us (the groom’s extremely Caucasian family) and told us that the tradition is to alternate singing between the families. Well, since this came as a surprise, and since we didn’t have time to practice or learn anything specifically for this, we sang the first song that came to mind: Last Kiss. This is the song that was most recently recorded by Pearl Jam, that tells a tale of true love.
Well, not really.
It’s the story of a guy who takes his girlfriend on a date and ends up killing her in a car crash. He leaves her with one thing – he kisses her one last kiss before she dies.
As we were all singing this lovely and upbeat song about vehicular homicide, I looked around the room and was pleased to see that everyone was really enjoying themselves. Then I remembered that most of the family could understand basic spoken English, but understanding the lyrics in a song was not going to happen. They just loved the music…the melody and the fact that we were all in key.
The music did the talking.
My second song ‘I Hate Everyone and I Want to Throw Feces at Your Daughter’ also went over quite well.
The reverse happened the next night as we attended the Mendhi – the formal celebration.
The family had hired a Kwali singer to perform. On the stage sat 16 musicians…2 accordion organs, 1 keyboard, a set of bongo-type drums, and a Fender Strat. They played for 2 hours straight, and there was a lot of chanting, harmonizing and clapping. It was an experience that I am so grateful for, and although I didn’t understand the words, it was still a moving experience that I will never forget. One of the bride’s family was nice enough to translate the words to one of the songs for me, and it was all about how life is much more vibrant when you have love. They painted a picture of a man who realized that as long as he had the woman he loved, he no longer needed anything – even alcohol. (Really!)
Here’s the thing…even before I got the translation, I was already in a world that the musicians had created – a place where the landscape was sound. Where the visuals were created by the music, framed by the clapping and the drums, and coloured by the simple yet effective soloing done on guitar in combination with the vocals.
And that is the lesson that I learned from this: whenever we set out to play – whether it’s to solo, or to play chords, or just to noodle in support of another musician, the music is what matters. So often we lose sight of the proverbial forest for the trees – we get so caught up in the technical aspects of playing our guitars that we lose sight of what is the most important: using the music to communicate. To move someone. To evoke emotion. To tell your story.
So the next time that you get frustrated with playing, just remember that what you play often isn’t as important as how you play what you play. Deliver an experience to someone, and they won’t care how you did it, which notes you did or didn’t play, or even what your lyrics were. Just remember that when you play in front of people, you have to leave them with something of yourself for them to take.
A ‘Last Kiss’ of sorts.
By the way, the father of the bride’s last song ‘Don’t You Dare Throw Your Feces at my Daughter, You White Jerk’ went over really well…
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