Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Five Things I Learned From My Cat

Yesterday was one of those rare days. I had the chance to just stay home all day, catch up on some chores and, as usual, play some guitar.

I also spent some time observing my cat, Sunny. Felines have always amazed me.

From watching him, these were some of the things he taught me, or at least reminded me about:

  • Focus:- Cats concentrate intensely on the task at hand, be it in trying to capture that bird or insect, or lying in wait to pounce on our ankles. As guitarists we have ingrained so much information into our muscle memory that we often practice without really thinking about what we are doing or exactly what we are trying to accomplish.
  • Agility, Relaxation and the Coiled Spring:- Cats have amazing ability when it comes to leaping. This agility seems to be the result of being able to go from a state of relaxation, to a momentary state of intense muscular contraction and energy during the jump, and then back again to a state of total relaxation. Rather like a coiled spring. Humans on the other hand often play music while holding continuous, unrelenting tendonitis-inducing tensions in the arms and hands (and even in other parts of the body that have nothing to do with playing music).
  • Alertness:- This is an inherent survival trait, even in well-fed, domesticated animals. ("Cats? Domesticated?", I hear Sunny mewing). Unfortunately it is also a trait noticeably lacking in many musicians. Singers who day-dream onstage during a 16-bar guitar solo and miss their cue; band members who are oblivious to the drummer who has dropped a stick and who's been signalling desperately for the last 15 seconds while attempting to keep the song's 16th note shuffle groove going with one hand.. Sound familiar? If this were Wild Kingdom we would be eaten alive.
  • Listening:- Another key survival trait in cats. Their ears are always attuned to their surroundings, even when napping. Which should also be a key survival trait for the practicing musician. Other than popping in earphones to listen to Britney (and singing along loudly, and in a public place at that), attuned listening applies to qualitative practicing, transcribing and ear-training. Listening to oneself, preferably with the aid of a recording device, is essential for developing one's sound. On the bandstand, Listening and Alertness go hand-in-hand.
  • Meowing:- I've read that cat's do not meow to one another as a regular form of communication. Instead, they vocalize to each other when they get into fights or are looking for a mate. Cats only meow to us humans. They meow when they want our attention, be it for food or for that little pat on the head. As musicians we have to 'meow' and meow constantly. We have to network with agents and other musicians, sell our services, market our music, hustle for that choice gig, do interviews, promote and publicise. At one point or another we've all missed out on that golden opportunity because we didn't 'meow' loud enough or long enough.
To paraphrase the great Bruce Lee, "Be the cat, my friend.."

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