stranded on a desert island (#1)

A new blog series in which a musician shares which three pieces they would choose to listen to, if they were hypothetically stranded on an island and could only listen to those three pieces for the rest of their life. Want to contribute? Contact me here!

This week’s contributor is Eric Tran, a fellow graduate student and a pianist friend who has an inspiring enthusiasm for music and also has the distinction of being both a composer and a talented performer. Without further ado:


Three pieces on a desert island.

This challenge is the worst. Just three pieces? On a desert island? Not even a *dessert* island? Both ways I’m sure to die quickly, but here I would be unable have my creme brûlée… nor would I be able to float to safety on a giant donut (would eat accidentally) or a raft of a million marshmallows tied together with twizzlers (would not eat).

OK, enough of the food fantasies. I will also assume that I would break the conditions of the challenge by selecting pieces that by nature would radically change – else I would select an improvisation. 😛

Here we go – three pieces accompanied by brief notes with my thoughts and experiences:

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“lose yourself”

By Hugo Boettinger, 1907 (source)

A great excerpt that emphasizes the importance of “forgetting yourself,” particularly in collaborative playing, and thinking as a group.

It is egoless listening that tunes you to the music. The same quality of listening applies when playing with a group. Fear-based listening is trying to play with others while being preoccupied with yourself. One of my students said that his self-consciousness got in the way of listening to others while he was playing. He found himself listening and trying to respond. That’s partially right. You want to listen and respond, but you can’t plan your response or you’ll lose the moment: that precious connection with true self. This same person said that once, when he was playing with a group, he kept repeating to himself like a mantra, “Don’t think, listen…Don’t think, listen…” He realized that he was so busy saying, “Don’t think, listen,” that he wasn’t listening. That is called trying not to try and it is one of the follies of an intrusive mind. In the book, The Music of Santeria, Traditional Rhythms of the Bata Drums, by John Amira and Steven Cornelius, the authors point out the nature of listening: “In the early stages of learning it is not uncommon to lose track of the very sounds that one creates on his own drum amongst the broader sounds of the ensemble. While disconcerting at first, this may also be a positive sign, for it suggests that one’s ears are experiencing and assimilating the totality of the ensemble rather than being locked onto a single musical line.”

– Kenny Werner, Effortless Mastery: Liberating the Master Musician Within (New Albany: Jamey Aebersold Jazz, 1996).

What is something you do personally, when playing with others, to help you tune into that group consciousness?