Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Slip Rhythms

As a hospice volunteer, since last fall I've been visiting a client in the final stages of Alzheimer's disease. I go by his home every Wednesday and do 30 minutes of music with him. Like every hospice client I've worked with, he's taught me a lot about music and taken me in directions I'd never gone in before.

But today was extra special. Ideas that have been sort of on the periphery of my consciousness popped onto center stage. My client's wife says he's always had a great sense of rhythm, and he sometimes plays the maraca I gave him in perfect time, but I've never quite figured out how the best way to "get traction" with him. Sometimes my guitar playing and singing will engage him, and sometimes it won't. 

I'd always thought that maybe tempo was the key, but today realized that the rhythm itself is far more important. After a lackluster start to the session I did "Eliza Jane", really working that I-IV chord change between the first and second beat of some four beat measures. Because of the afternoon with Dave last week, I've really been able to get a "groove" on that rhythm. Every so often when it's really going well I get flashes of being caught up in Mardi Gras parades (Crewe of Zulu, maybe?) back when I lived in New Orleans. There's something sinuous and trance inducing about that slip time groove. (And I learned "Eliza Jane" going to Preservation Hall back then.)

When I hit on trying "Eliza Jane" today, my client just flipped channels and was totally engaged for a while. Went on to do "She Belongs To Me", "All Along the Watchtower", and "One More Cup of Coffee for the Road" - all Dylan favorites of mine I've done for years and have some slip rhythm type strumming, and he connected with them as well.

Of course, every day is different in situations like that, but I intuitively feel I've hit on something that could have great value.

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