One day after Chinese New Year this year, I suffered a bout of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) during a practice session. I had to arrange in order all the small items on table—like saxophone reeds and coins — to finally calm myself down. Suddenly I wanted to know more about how other musicians practice.
Thanks to the omnipotent internet, it was easy to find several books on the subject right away. Among them I benefited tremendously from Gary Graffman’s autobiography, I Really Should Be Practicing (Chinese translation published by Guangxi Normal University Press).
As a musical improviser, on top of fundamentals, my practices include various special techniques. I’m not intimidated by the more difficult techniques. However, sometimes I do find myself stranded, making no progress. At these moments I’ll open a book to see if I can get inspiration from the obscurity of words. Immersed in reading, I will put my instrument aside. I call it improvised reading. For me, improvised reading is also an important part of practicing.
The way I’ve been listening to music for years has shaped the way I read. When struck by a section of heart-throbbing music, I stop the work at hand, listen over and again to that part that touches my heart, and analyze it carefully to discover the writer’s ingenious way of making music. Likewise, one day I was reading these poetic lines by chance:
Long conversation like this would only take place
Between a Herzen and a Turgenev in youthful years.
In that scene people stay awake all night long
Discussing beauty, eternity and the art of sublimity.
I could not help reciting it over and over, struck immediately by its beauty:
“I go to the cave to wait for you, at the promised hour.”
Before he went to the States
We met many times
Which could never be like
Our first acquaintance.
On a beach we were talking all night.
He embraced me: we shall be friends forever.
(In Yalta, Mu Xin)
In the splendor of these words I hear dancing music notes, free, rich and vibrant. A scene appears before my eyes: a saxophonist is improvising with deep emotion for a new acquaintance who shall be his lifelong friend, on a beach at sunset. Their shadows are cast upon the glittering sand at dusk, getting longer and longer…
One day, my aimless improvised reading led me passionately to a corner I’d never visited before: “Your real home is not your apartment or your house or your city or even your country, but your body. It is the only thing you, your soul and your mind, will always live inside of so long as you walk the earth.” (You Are Your Own Gym, Mark Lauren)
I was touched once again. I began to take care of my health and put my resolution into action. I set up a schedule training my body: jogging outdoors, mountain biking, tennis, pull-ups… Since the end of 2015, I have completed four half marathons, which I never could have imagined doing before.
Bodybuilding strengthens my physical fitness, grants me a strong body. I have greater stamina to practice, do improvised reading and perform. OCD no longer bothers me.
Text by Li Tieqiao, Musician, Saxophone Improviser; English translation by Erebus Wong