Bob Hemenger on the skill set for connecting with music and nature
Photo Jeff Laydon
My two loves growing up were the outdoors and music. Now I have an additional love, which is my wife and kids. I spent many years studying how indigenous people lived with the land. I wanted to learn everything I could about the natural world. Our connection with the natural world seems have been lost. We don’t see that everything comes from nature anymore and the importance of our role as creatures on this planet. I studied biology and animal behavior in graduate school. I went on to teaching primitive skills with Tom Brown Jr. at his Tracker School. Through this experience I met bassist Victor Wooten. He was a musician and I was a musician, so we connected. We hung out and tracked animals together. While learning these skills Victor started seeing all of these things as music and started to really make the connections between those two worlds. We stayed in contact and I started teaching at his camp, Victor Wooten’s Center for Music and Nature about 7 years ago. I’ve also had the pleasure of playing many festivals with his band. One of the highlights of playing with Victor was at Stanford University where we used music as a metaphor to show how people can come together, listen, add their part and create something great than the sum of their parts.
To me, the connection between nature and music can be explained in a couple of ways but ultimately needs to be experienced to fully integrate it.
If you want truly experience nature you need to slow down. The earth’s pace is a lot slower than our modern one. Awareness of oneself and your surrounding is very important. We are no longer aware of our natural environment like we used to be. Being quiet, both externally and internally is important to get “in tune” with nature. Listening with all of your senses opens that space.
The skill set for connecting with nature and connecting with music (on a deep level) are really the same. We musicians strive to get to the place where music plays us. Sometime it is more about playing what music wants us to play. I guess an athlete would call that “being in the zone”. That’s that place where there is no thought involved and where music just happens. It helps to understand your role in it and to have the right intentions. The more “in tune” you are the deeper you can go.
I have seen the same thing time and time again with thousands of musicians from all over the world at Victor’s camp. Many of the participants are city people. They haven’t connected with nature but have a conscious or maybe unconscious yearning to. We help them slow down, to get quiet and just be. Everything that we teach has a connection to music. For example, we use an exercise at camp where we blindfold the musician. Vision is a very dominant sense, but if we take it away the other senses become more engaged. So we have sixty blindfolded musicians stalking through the landscape to find a drum that is playing in the woods. Some go too fast and bump into trees before they start to really slow down and listen. I guess life is kind of like that. It’s amazing what this activity does for people.
Bob Hemenger and Victor Wooten
Victor Wooten's Center for Music and Nature
My interest in nature and in music grew simultaneously. I started piano lessons at the age of 5. I moved on to saxophone by 10. I had a natural ability with music and was glad to settle into the saxophone as my main instrument. One of my strengths as a musician is being able to tap into what is going on and let the music speak. I have sat in with many world class acts, often times not knowing the song and being in front of lots of people. If I get myself out of the way, the magic usually happens.
The music that is closest to my heart is soul jazz, and saxophonist Stanley Turrentine is one of my heroes.
I really enjoy working with singer/songwriter Darrell Scott. He is one of the best that we have in America. We first met briefly at a festival. Then I literally ran into him backstage at a concert and he asked me if I wanted to play a couple of songs with him. We have played many times since. He is a very deep musician who understands the agreement that one needs to have with music.
I am currently working on my very first album. I have played on many projects, but have never sat down and said ‘This is what I want to say’. I turn 50 in February and my goal is to have it done by then. I am extremely blessed to have many world-class musicians who have offered to play on it. Bassists Victor Wooten, Chuck Rainey, Steve Bailey and Anthony Wellington, drummers JD Blair, Kenny Malone and Roy Wooten will be playing on it as well as guitarist Eric Struthers, keyboardist Joseph Wooten, Ryan Cavanaugh on banjo and Anders Beck on dobro. Singer/songwriter Darrell Scott is writing a song for it. The album will also feature a number of amazing local musicians from Colorado where I live. I have written most of the songs. There will also be a few co-writes and at least one jazz standards. I’m excited to see what happens and will be creating a KickStarter campaign soon to raise the funds necessary to do it right.
Special thanks to Maria for all the hard work she does supporting musicians!
Bob Hemenger, Tom Brown Jr, Victor Wooten, Stanley Turrentine, Darrell Scott, Chuck Rainey, Steve Bailey, Anthony Wellington, JD Blair, Kenny Malone, Roy Wooten, Joseph Wooten, Ryan Cavanaugh, Anders Beck