Over the last week since I wrote Listening and Learning with Ronan Browne, memories have been seeping back in through the defenses of time; I’ll return to that trip to the Proitze Mühle in 1995 for a further thought, this time about de-blinkering.
After the listening class, one of the participants came up to me, introduced himself and informed me that he was available to accompany me on guitar at the recital that night; I answered, as kindly as I could, that I was fine and, being self-accompanying, I wouldn’t need any backing. He asked was I sure, saying that he had accompanied the guest piper on other years and that it was a nice thing to do. I realised it would be right to say “yes, of course” so we arranged to meet later and run over a few tunes in preparation.
As we sat down and played a few tunes in a back room, I saw that he was indeed a very good player but, as accompaniment hasn’t ever been terribly important to me, I just added him to the long list of wonderful accompanists and played on. After a while I hit a few chords on the regulators. To my amazement, he immediately echoed what I had just done. Quietly incredulous, I tapped out a few more and he followed in tight formation, both the notes and the rhythm of the chords! I guffawed and stopped playing as I realised that this man was listening acutely and responding to every note I played…! I grinned dumbfoundedly as he explained that he played the pipes too and knew exactly what I was doing! Here was me, super-duper-delux-solo piper humouring him, while all the time it was him, not me, who was showing great generosity of spirit.
The name of my gentle giant of an accompanist was Jens Kommnick, and apart from having a deep understanding of piping and backing on guitar, he is also a master player on bouzouki, cello, whistles, harp and piano not to mention mandolin, lute, fiddle and bass which appear in the sleeve notes to his solo CD which I just bought on iTunes!
We spent a few wonderful hours playing through various tunes and when I invited him up on stage that night for the second half of my performance, it was with a joyous but humble heart. His open good nature shines through his music and the audience’s hearts danced with ours as we played – the solo piper who joyously met the unexpected accompanist half way…
Although I’m still a supreme egotist, I learned a valuable lesson that day in northern Germany – we tend to see the world only from our own point of view thereby rejecting many wonderful possibilities before they are given a chance of occurring; and we are invariably the poorer for it.
Thank you Jens, for teaching me to see when I was blinded while teaching others to listen…