Etude

I work at home most Fridays and in our new apartment, I look forward to the soundscape. Sitting in bed with my laptop and my second cup of coffee, I listen: spring birds, purposeful footsteps heading down the sidewalk toward the subway station a couple of blocks away, school busses pulling up to the stop sign on the corner and then pulling away. But the sound I enjoy most is coming from the house across the street. A guitarist lives there. He’s good — at least I think he’s a he. Our landlord, who lives upstairs, has referred to him as “the boy across the street” but I’ve never seen him and I don’t know if our landlord has seen him either. We’d assumed he was a kid with an electric guitar like my son AJ. But this is a serious player. He practices on and off throughout the day. This morning he started early, shortly after AJ had left to catch the subway to school (in his sneakers, his footsteps, purposeful or not, go undetected), slowly working his way through scales, up and down the neck of the guitar, until he settled into a slow bluesy jam.

This is only my second Friday here. Our move was sudden, the result of an unexpected announcement from our landlord of the last five years that she was selling our apartment. We have moved around the corner of the park, a 30 minute walk away from brownstone Brooklyn into a baffling neighborhood that looks like a small New England village plopped down in the middle of Flatbush. The process of moving was chaotic and put all thoughts of songwriting on hold for a while. It did, however, allow me to reclaim — and I am not exaggerating — 42 guitar picks from under my bed, behind my son’s dresser, inside radiators, you name it. So not a total loss in other words. And we are now living in a much bigger apartment with much better acoustics. Everybody wins.

This morning the guitarist across the street is all blues rock, but he plays all kinds of things, sometimes jamming away on a rhythm part, others working his way through jazz or rock solos, slowly and carefully. He let’s loose to just play very seldom, but when he does, I almost always stop to listen.

In the early evenings, after I’ve unlocked the four locks in the front doors and taken off my shoes, I often haul my guitar into the bedroom and sit by the window to practice. I am not so patient with the slow scales. I need to spend more time on them. But I have my own warm up routines, picking my way through “Blackberry Blossom” and loosening up my improv brain with the D-A-C-G progression, starting out with Courteney Barnett’s “Don’t Apply Compression Gently” (linked in my last post) and moving somewhere else entirely. After a day of precise and careful editorial work, I need something to undo the adherence to rules, something to help me set aside for a little while the years of classical training to pay attention to being accurate about what’s on the page of music in front of me and pay attention to what my ears are telling me.

Across the street, my invisible colleague is settling into his final practice session of the day. I imagine our separate work weaving together, electric and acoustic, experienced and novice, weaving together somewhere over the street. We are mostly in our own heads and ears but sometimes I try counterpoint, an invisible duet with someone I’ve never met.

Who yet knows what music the new neighborhood brings. But I aim to find out.

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