Thursday, June 17, 2010

An Unexpected Gap in my teaching ...

A couple of nights ago I was able to do something that I can only occasionally do > sing in a monthly CircleSinging group that has been meeting in an Oakland Church for nearly a decade. The large downstairs room not only was very resonant, but sound also rang through the entire bottom floor of the building—a singer's dream, for sure.

About mid-way through I was invited by the facilitator, David Worm, to improvise in the middle of the circle as well co-lead by creating new parts for the 40 or so participants. Fortunately, David and I sung together in my vocal group, The Mirabai Ensemble, for five years, and even though we have been a bit out of touch in the last year, it was remarkable how easy it was to swim in the waters of spontaneous composition. As many as six different vocal parts weaved their way into a beautiful mosaic, like a rain forest after a sudden downpour. Even though I was concentrating on all of the complexity and reacting to what was developing, I experienced time as moving very, very slowly. Within a couple of minutes my breath deepened and slowed down, not unlike what I feel like when receiving a good massage. To quote Neil Young, "And when it was over it felt like a dream..."

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Spirit In Different Clothing...

I thought I would take a moment to answer a question that comes up in my conversations with people who are just getting to know me. You could say that it has to do with my range of musical interests, which have always been pretty wide.

Because I love composing and arranging, I've found that having different groups is the most inspiring thing I can do for drawing out new kinds of pieces. That's why I put together a totally out-of-the-box vocal group (The Mirabai Ensemble), a muscular mini-big band (The KRIYA Octet), an electro/acoustic world/jazz group (the earPlay Jazzquintet), a West-African fusion trio (Bal du Kor), and co-lead a group that features newly arranged jazz & pop standards (The Paula Bradman Quartet). I joke to people about having "A.B.L.S."—Acquired Band Leader Syndrome !

OK, so you're probably wondering what the question I get is ? It goes something like, "Why do you like to play for so many different kinds of spiritual and religious groups ? Don't their messages conflict ?"

Spirit can be felt in any kind of music, and I feel that the philosophical differences between these groups is about as important as the clothing that people wear—interesting as a first impression, but ultimately of very little very importance. So when I sing my arrangement of the Negro spiritual "Mary Had A Baby" in church, I'm feeling all that yearning from "the train a commin' in." When I recast the Jewish folk song "Artza Alinu", I am propelled by it's passion for the land. When I accompany the Sufi whirling dervishes, I am part of their spiraling into pure forgetting. And when I drum in an all-night fire circle, I am helping to propel Spirit into whoever needs this the most.

Being a 'musical chameleon' has always been very natural for me. And the more different kinds of performances I undertake, the more I experience all of the special moments as well as longer arches in each performance. (They're so rich in detail that someone could write a short novel about each performance !) As I become more present and more immersed in the spirit of contribution, the more I experience them as essentially the same...

From the Source comes many rivers, and from those many rivers, they return to their Source.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Well, the recent Bal Du Kor concert did turn out splendidly and my assistant Andrew managed to not only get a great live mix, but he also multi-track recorded the whole concert at the same time ! Ah, and then there was PG&E, who decided that Saturday night was the optimal time to work on a gas main (right next to our building, of course), and so I retaliated with a thoroughly twisted improvised monologue about PG&E and Harry Partch's 43-note octave scale (for good measure). I loved how the audience kept looking at each other like they had entered an old Twilight Zone episode. We also had fun premiering my new ukulele/melodica fusion outing,
"The Funky Cuke", along with Daniel's haunting piece, "Volar."

And because this was our first sit-down concert (vs. private or school event) I got to ask the audience what combination of instruments they wanted to hear for our last piece. Wouldn't you know it—they chose the marimba (balafon/Bal), talking drum (dun-dun/Du), and harp (kora/Kor). We have more fun planned the end of this month with an outdoor concert in the
East Bay...