Sunday, December 30, 2007

In Review--Iver Kleive's Requiem

Iver Kleive
Kirkelig Kulturversted

It's not that I want to end the year listening to a requiem and in the past couple of months, I have listened to two of them. Norwegian pianist/organist/composer Iver Kleive composed a Requiem for the death of his son, Alexander, for the victims of the attack on the Twin Towers of September 11, 2001 and also the fallen in Iraqi war. "Based on requiem text in Latin, it is composed for choir, organ, and two soloist." Requiem was recorded in Ljubljana, Slovenia last spring and was released during the fall.

Although the work here which includes the illustrious choral voices of the Oslo Bach Choir, Mimas chamber choir, APZ Tone Tomsic, soloist Marianne E. Andersen (mezzo soprano) and Trond Hallstein (baritone) and booming organ, it is not an easy listen. As you would guess the music falls in a minor key with many descending lines and often times the organ takes on a dissonant journey. The music might feel cathartic to some listeners, especially those grieving their own loss. To others, such as myself, it might help to listen to work by Bach or other somber classical music before putting this CD in the player. I listened to it in two sessions and in the end found it worthwhile and healing. But I am reminded of a painful therapy session that most of us would try to avoid.

Requiem acts as a powerful healing journey to those who delve into its deep and turbulent waters. The work itself can be compared to the selections that appear on Greek composer/pianist Eleni Karaindrou's Elegy of the Uprooting or American composer Ingram Marshall's Savage Altars in that we are reminded of human suffering, that which none of us can avoid. We are reminded of the losses the world-at-large has faced and individual ones. And we are reminded that the beauty and grace found in our artistic expressions lead to rebirth of the human soul. KKV

Friday, December 28, 2007

In Review---Celtic Woman 3

Celtic Woman 3 (Ireland)

Hearts O' Space/Valley Entertainment

Celtic Woman 3 lends itself well to those people who like to unwind themselves once and awhile. Fabulous vocalists including Mary Black, Kate Power, Margaret Brennan, Lucy Champion, Dolores Keane and others, sing ballads strung over an ambient and mystical backdrop. The end result could be used during a massage session or for an afternoon relaxation break. Although enchanting and beautiful this collection of songs does fall on the sleepy side.

I was hoping for some jigs or reels--for some kick since I mainly suffer from low energy. I find that this CD works best for relaxation and not for energy-building. I also find that I prefer to listen to this recording in the evening when I am winding down rather than in the morning when I am trying to jumpstart my day. Although it might add tranquility to a peak hour traffic commute. This recording would also make a fine soundtrack for a long journey by train or car, especially a journey that roams through lush green meadows.

Certainly these women render the songs gorgeous while reminding us of the mysticism associated with the Celtic tradition. And as a sampler, you can also decide if you want to pick up full length recordings by any of the artists--no doubt you will. In the meantime, add this one to your library of relaxation tunes.

Valley Entertainment

Monday, December 17, 2007

In Review--Stella!

Stella Chiweshe (Zimbabwe)
Double Check
(Two Sides of Zimbabwe's Mbira Queen)
Piranha Musik

Formerly posted on Cranky Crow Whole Music

I am currently reading about the medieval woman mystic Hildegard von Bingen so I find myself drawing comparisons between the German prophetess Hildegard and the contemporary Zimbabwean Queen of Mbira, Stella Chiweshe. These two women share many commonalties including hearing songs or possessing a knowingness during their respective childhood. Both women encountered life-changing experiences around the age of 8 and both women pursued paths forbidden for the women of their time or culture. In the press notes for Stella Chiweshe's 7th recording, Double Check, on the German label, Piranha Musik, Chiweshe wears the label of mystic and the words, "spiritual" or "inspiration" pop off the page when others attempt to describe her. Which only proves you can't keep a good woman down and as history would prove again and again, both women and men are enraptured by the music and teachings of these powerful women mystics.

The folks at Piranha Musik were certainly impressed with Chiweshe's musical talent. She was the first artist signed to the label in 1987 and has released several albums since that time. Her latest 2-CD recording marks the 100th recording released on the label's 19 year tenure. And why not make something special out of this recording by a remarkable woman who set out to do her own thing based on a rhythm she carried inside since her childhood? If only more of us had such courage!

According to the press notes, "When the British colonizers tried to stop mbira sessions in what is now known as Zimbabwe, the police were so enchanted by the music that they lost track of their mission." This story appears in Chiweshe's song, Kusenini. Chiweshe also compares the sound of the mbira to the sound of water, while noticing its familiar healing effect. "It is a total form of therapy." And on this 2-CD set, Double Check the first disc features mbira trance music, not to be confused with the type of pseudo trance music played at raves and dance clubs. The music here causes spirits to float out of the body and soar to great heights. The trance music represents the healing power of music.

The second disc features urban classic hits with added guitars and marimba. Chiweshe walks between worlds, that of urban contemporaries in need of healing, and the world of sacred trance music performed at rites of passage ceremonies. Although these two forms have crossed boundaries when Chiweshe, (dubbed a cultural ambassador of Zimbabwe by some), brought the sacred music to the stages of concert halls. While some people might have a problem with that concept, everyone everywhere needs to hear the healing power of music so why now start with mbira trance music?

Besides, people often look to traditional India or traditional Africa for healing music, even if healing music exist within our own backyards. The music on the disc can best be described as bubbling over with joy. The combination of tribal drums, mbira (thumb piano) and vocals on the first disc takes listeners for an inward journey. And the second disc, which leans towards Afro-pop with its guitars and sprite arrangements, but still clings to an ethereal realm, brings us to the present moment and our feet which ache to dance. Chiweshe's Double Check is highly recommended. Piranha Musik

Sunday, December 9, 2007

In Review--Nordic Holiday Music from KKV

Aage Kvalbein & Iver Kleive
Julemeditasjoner (Christmas Meditations)

Kirkelig Kultverksted (KKV)

The Norwegian Girls Choir with Kari Bremnes

Julens Hjerte (The Heart of Christmas)


I received two Nordic holiday recordings, Christmas Meditations and The Heart of Christmas in the mail a few days ago. I wasn't sure that I would have much time to listen to them until I slipped a disc in my neck and had to rest for a couple of days. Fortunately, for me, the repertoire on both recordings lent itself well to relaxing. I have enjoyed the music too even though I normally do not listen to holiday music.

This year however is a little different because I moved to a small town which is currently decked for the holidays. We also experienced a bit of snow this morning and well, it kind of gets you in the mood. Cellist Aage Kvalbein pairs up with pianist Iver Kleive (two regulars on the KKV label) to bring us a collection of meditative holiday songs. The collection includes pieces by Vivaldi, and Schubert, some originals and traditional folk. All of the music is played in a low-key and somber style, except for a lilting version of Joy to the World. Certainly if you enjoy holiday music, you will want to add this gem to your collection.

The Norwegian Girls Choir, ranging in ages 10 to 12 years old sings both traditional and famous Christmas carols on their recording, The Heart of Christmas. The girls' soprano voices shimmer over strings and the folksinger Kari Bremnes lends her gorgeous vocals to a couple of the tracks (the liner notes on the CD do not match up with the press release). This CD also creates a meditative and reflective atmosphere, while featuring some famous carols sung in Norwegian.

It's okay to chill during the holiday season so grab a cup of hot chocolate, curl up and listen to reflective holiday music. You will be forgiven if you feel a bit sentimental.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

In Review--R. Carlos Nakai Voyagers

R. Carlos Nakai with Udi Bar-David

Canyon Records

Although you don't hear about it in the evening news, alternative or otherwise, musicians play a key role in the peacemaking process across the planet. Navajo-Ute flutist R. Carlos Nakai pairs up with Israeli cellist Udi Bar-David in a cross cultural conversation that includes Middle Eastern modes and scales, classical and jazz music, as well as, Native American flute. In fact, the theme of the recording, Voyagers speaks a Universal language that reminds us that no matter our race, culture or religion, we are essentially all one people.

R. Carlos sums it up in the liner notes, "Separate beings, separate voices, one mind, one dream--human. The social issues of race, color, culture, religion, etceteras all become meaningless defiles and encounters when the interpersonal communication is the language of music..." So I ask you, why do we not see or hear about peacemaking musicians in the news? Why do we only hear about corruption-makers when there is so much goodness in the world trying to reach our souls? Perhaps that is why we reach for our collection of recordings to squelch the bad effects of the evening news on our psyches.

Despite the ignorance of the masses and media-at-large, one listen to Voyagers with its "adventurous imaginations and iconoclastic perspectives," proves that thinking out of the box, bridging cultural gaps and forging new musical frontiers has its rewards. Voyagers is the first recording of its kind to combine Native American, Jewish, Arabic and Turkish idioms and I will add, seamlessly blend all the above. The three players here, R. Carlos, Udi and percussionist Will Clipman possess a great deal of sensitivity and musical masterfulness which they bring to these fourteen stunning tracks.

Occasionally we hear just the cello playing alongside Clipman's world beats such as on the track, Go to the Desert or we hear Native American flute solos. However, when the cello comes together with the flute, such as on the re-arrangements of Amazing Grace, Crow Wing or Lake that Speaks, electrifying music results. The closing track, Indigena Indigenous with Udi plucking his cello like a double-bass and Carlos' enchanted flute fluttering over the top, brings forth a dialogue that should have taken place centuries ago.

I find that I have too many favorite moments and songs on this CD to give it full justice. I know fans of R. Carlos Nakai will run out and pick up this recording, but I would also strongly suggest that any music listener with an adventurous spirit and who enjoys musical innovations and cross-spiritual dialogue, do the same. Treat your ears to out-of-the-box music. Canyon Records

Also see article/tribute on World Music Central

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

In Review--The Vahdat Sisters and a Persian Garden

Mahsa & Marjan Vahdat  
Songs From a Persian Garden  
Kirkelig Kulturverksted

In 2004 an intriguing CD with the ironic title, Lullabies from the Axis of Evil arrived in my mailbox. Produced by Erik Hillestad for the Norwegian label, Kirkelig Kulturverksted, the recording married the voices of western women with the voices of women from the "Axis of Evil" countries (as dubbed by President Bush in a State of the Union address). The women sang lullabies from their respective countries and while the women such as Lila Downs, Eddi Reader, Sarah Jane Morris, Nina Hagen and Kari Bremnes were the famous names at the time, the vocalists from some of the East countries appear to be gaining international recognition.

KKV also released recordings by the Palestine vocalist and composer, Rim Banna to critical acclaim and now two sisters, vocalists from Iran debut in the West. Similar to Banna, Mahsa and Marjan Vahdat sang lullabies on the Axis of Evil CD and in fact, they led off the CD with their collaboration, Sad Sol--You My Destiny with English vocalist Sarah Jane Morris. Now, you can hear the sisters singing a blend of contemporary and traditional Persian songs on Song From a Persian Garden.

Again, Hillestad comments in the liner notes that the media has acted irresponsibly by turning Iran into a villain country without giving any consideration to the beauty of Iranian arts, spirituality and culture. For someone who has watched my share of Iranian cinema, (most of them banned in Iran due to strict government policies), and who has enjoyed reading the work of Persian poets and listening to traditional Persian music, I embrace the Vahdat sisters' recording. And I believe that we must separate the governments from the everyday people. And if you are seeking a bit of tranquility, you might just enjoy entering this Persian garden, ripe with poetry by Persian masters (Rumi, Hafez) and other gems.

Silk Road instruments such as setar (lute), daf (frame drum), and ney (reed flute), appear along side bass, guitars, drums and keyboards. Again, we have a tasteful marriage between music of the East and the West. Norwegian bluesman and master guitarist Knut Reiersrud lends a gentle hand here with his atmospheric guitar. He even sings, a feminine version of the African spiritual, "She's Got The Whole World in Her Hands," along with the sisters' Gole Laleh. The end result is a moody set of songs performed live in Tehran, during a time when it is against Iranian law for women to sing in public. The sisters broke the ban on public performances by women.

Songs From a Persian Garden promises to delight its Western audiences with its poetic charm, lavish instrumentation and exquisite traditional vocals. The album could lend itself towards cultural awareness, building bridges, or just act as a musical respite for someone seeking something more exotic. And in the realm of global music, let us welcome two more superb women vocalists to the table. These sisters are always welcome at my table.

For more information on this recording and other gems, go to KKV.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

In Review---Terence Blanchard's Requiem for Katrina

Terence Blanchard A Tale of God's Will (A Requiem for Katrina)
Blue Note

So many natural disasters have occurred after the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Yet, with each storm, each flood, each drought or other catastrophic event, we have the opportunity to further awaken ourselves. We can ask ourselves what we can do to live in balance with the planet. And we also need to ask ourselves what we are willing to sacrifice or jettison in order to live in balance? One thing we don't want to do is to turn our backs to musicians with messages about what went wrong and what could go wrong.

Musically, New Orleans presents us with so many musical legends. The birth of jazz in the hands of Jelly Roll Morton happened in New Orleans. A variety of musical styles hail from New Orleans and when people visit the city, music is one of the main attractions that grabs their attention. But, now the Crescent City has become the focus of dialogues about racism, earth climate changes, poverty, inequities and changes unforeseen by so many. And we are talking about the people still in conversation about the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Others have silently walked away, perhaps shrugging their shoulders or sighing, "oh, what can be done? Anyway, it is in God's hands now." And my response to these people, "you are God's hands."

Trumpeter Terence Blanchard, who hails from New Orleans, and who designed the music that appears on Spike Lee's HBO documentary, When the Levees Broke, is still engaged in conversation about the hurricane aftermath. And in fact, when some of the shock of the event faded, the composer-musician found himself expanding upon his musical themes from the soundtrack which gave birth to his latest recording on Blue Note, A Tale of God's Will (A Requiem for Katrina).

However, Blanchard did not just expand upon a few themes and leave it at that. He invited members of his band to share their Katrina-inspired compositions. And then, in the recording sessions which took place in Los Angeles and at Bastyr University Chapel in Seattle, more magic transpired in the form of, the Latin explosion, Ghost of Congo Square, the beboppin' Ghost of Betsy (another hurricane that struck New Orleans), and the snappy Ghost of 1927, (another hurricane). These short interludes act as the string that holds the pearls, the longer compositions.

And those luscious pearls ripe with human emotions running the gamut between an outpouring of rage, mercy, resignation, compassion, and willingness (to rebuild), present us with some extraordinary musicianship. Blanchard whose horn becomes a treasure chest of the above emotions is joined by Brice Winston on tenor and soprano sax, Aaron Parks on piano, Derrick Hodge on acoustic and electric bass, Kendrick Scott on drums and Zack Harmon on tabla (on Mantra Intro and Mantra). Then an orchestra is brought in to add more color to this vibrant palette.

The recording starts out with Ghost of Congo Square which teases its listeners with images of happier times from New Orleans' past. Levees follows with its heartbreaking and sultry tones. Blanchard's crystal clear notes pierce through any veils of denial. Blanchard's horn playing, ripe with emotion and technically brilliant, recall Miles Davis' work of the late 50s and early 60s. The chamber strings which also add their stinging tears to the mix, join Blanchard's weeping horn. We are now long past nostalgia and into a gut wrenching reality.

But Blanchard does not come across as a cloud of despair nor heavy-handed. He offers up condolences and respect to the residents of New Orleans, while burying the dead on Funeral Dirge. And the album ends with another respectful tribute to the trumpeter's mother who lost her home in the hurricane. She is shown returning to her damaged home in Spike Lee's documentary, (which I have not seen yet).

And while I have taken notes for every track on this recording, I would just like to say, that Blanchard captures on this audio disc, what reporters and cameras cannot capture with their images and verbal narration. As an insider and as a top-flight musician, Blanchard uses a wide range of human emotions that take his listeners deep into the experience of loss, of redemption, and compassion. After all, musical expression is one of the only forms of communication that touches deeply the heart and soul of all creatures. So stay in conversation about how we can live in balance and how we can help in rebuilding a city, while never forgetting to honor the ghosts and lessons of the past.

For more information visit Terence Blanchard's site

In Conversation--Archival Interview with Axiom of Choice

Freedom of Expression: A Conversation with Axiom of Choice vocalist, Mamak Khadem

(This interview was originally published on Cranky Crow Whole Music in 2002. It is one of the articles that led me on the path to exploring the consciousness of music).

For many years I have harbored a growing interest in the healing qualities of music. I had read many articles about the healing properties of Mozart and Beethoven and I had read about music from the celestial spheres, but reading expert opinions is one thing and experiencing the healing effects of music even for something as simple as a cold is another story.

I sat in a crowded theatre at Meany Hall at the University of Washington campus fighting off chills and certainly not wanting to deal with a crowd, music enthusiasts or not. However, when the members of Axiom of Choice, a group that blends Persian classical music with Western influences hit the stage, I felt my fever abating somewhat as I absorbed the music that emanated from their ancient instruments. The group started the set with Mystic and Fools from their latest release, Unfolding then continued through a set of hypnotic drum beats and flowing, exotic melodies. The audience responded with clapping to the exotic beat on one song and appeared memorized by the performance in general.
I spoke with vocalist Mamak Khadem during the group's intricate sound check. Duduk player-clarinetist Ruben Haratoonian's musical gift eddied throughout the green room while Mamak and I discussed the musician's role in achieving world peace and planetary harmony. While it's comforting to know that some people have heard celestial music, many of us have experienced the healing effects of music from various cultures here on earth. And by the way, the next day when I awoke, my cold had left my body and music had replaced it. If music can cure a cold, can it also bring peace to the planet? I believe that it can and so Mamak and I discussed the healing effects of music and the magic of cinema as a way of transcending the chaos of contemporary times.
Patty-Lynne Herlevi: Cranky Crow World Music is about promoting cultures and music from around the world in order to promote world peace so my first question is in regard to my site's agenda, which is to promote peace. The question that I ask musicians, "do you believe that music can sooth the beast in us and create an environment of peace within the chaotic times we are facing?"
Mamak Khadem: I definitely think so. Just even amongst our selves and the nature of this band includes people from different cultures that have gotten together. And there is a lot of love and respect for one another as a person and a culture, also. I think that if people can communicate musically, I think that really opens up your soul and it opens you up to other people's way of thinking. I mean for right now as Ruben plays his clarinet and just listening to it and I feel there is something in there that touches (me). And that just makes me a better human being to be honest with you.
PLH: I have noticed two types of musicians. I have noticed the more mature ones that have day jobs. You have a job teaching mathematics to high school students. And I have noticed that some musicians never grow up and they are stuck in a perpetual childhood. But in order to do music, you have to have a sense of child because it is about play. And it can only make you a better musician to reach that place of innocence.
MK: I have heard this from other people and it's exactly what I feel when I am performing. When I am with the band singing there are moments that I am absolutely in the moment. I don't even know what's going on within myself. I am in a very tranquil, peaceful place and I think just for me to experience a few moments of that is a blessing. Other people live their whole life and they don't ever experience one second of that. And that's very unfortunate. There are so many distractions around us, especially in this country. You know there is hardly any time anyone can take for them selves so for us I think it's a blessing to be able to really get present with life and in a place where everything is peaceful and nothing matters. Nothing really matters because you make that connection.
PLH: That's exactly what I had in mind. I know little about Persian music, I was a film journalist and the thing that I do know is Iranian cinema. And what I discovered with the music on your CD and also Iranian cinema is that in Iranian cinema you have these images that are so strong and there is all this universal storytelling that you really don't even need the dialogue to understand the story. And with the music you play it's almost that you don't need a translation of the lyrics because the moods are so strong. And you as a singer evoke different emotions so it becomes obvious and you can figure out which songs are heartbreakers and which ones are about joy.
MK: I am so happy to hear that because I have lived here for so many years and of course, Farsi is my first language, but every day I am using English to teach and to get by with life. And a lot of times there have been suggestions or thoughts of singing in English were made. But up until this point there hasn't been a necessity to sing in English because absolutely what you're saying is that a lot of our audiences are non-Persian. But they get the feeling and I think that is one thing because I could sing in the same language. And people could hear it and not even get the feeling of what's going on or it could be in a totally different language but the feelings and emotions are there. And I think actually I much prefer to go that way because if I can bring that emotional thing that exist in every human being no matter if you're American, Iranian or whatever because we all have that. We just have it in different places and we randomly pull it out.
Since you're talking about film, I have to share with you the movie that I saw by Abbas Kiarostami, Where Is My Friend's House (English title). It was made many years ago.
PLH: Wait a minute, I know the film. It's the one where the little boy is searching for his friend's house so he can return the friend's homework to him (and adults basically ignore the boy as he tries to locate his friend).
MK: Yeah. It's called khane-ye doust kodjast (Iranian title). And that's the title of one of the songs we did on our last CD, Niya Yesh. That's poetry from a late (Persian) contemporary poet, Sohrab Sepehri. I just wanted to let you know that when I saw that movie maybe ten years ago, I was sitting in the movie theatre and I was crying the whole time. I mean just absolutely crying. I am a teacher and I work with kids and you know there was a place in my heart that hadn't been touched for years. And that movie just touched it. So I was just crying and people were looking at me like woman this is just a movie.
PLH: Yeah, but it was the director. He has that effect on most of us.
MK: It was the director and I think that it was the fact that the kids had no idea there were cameras so it was real. I mean I get to see kids with all their fears and anxieties. So just being there in the moment with that kid, he was so innocent. I just kept crying. So when I saw the poetry by the poet that was titled Khane-ye doust kodjast which was the same title. So when I singing that song I kept remembering all the pictures and it was unbelievable. So I think that we all have different kinds of feelings and emotions and music is one of the arts that can absolutely touch that. And when it touches that it doesn't matter what language it is or where you are at or who you are. It touches it.
PLH: And of course, there is Persian music in Iranian films. And my first real exposure to world music was when I reviewed world cinema. I was raised as a musician so the first thing I notice with cinema is of course the music. I understand the language of music and I don't care what country it comes from because it's still going to affect me as a musician. So a lot of the times when I was watching films I became so absorbed in the music that I couldn't keep pace with the story.
MK: I experience the same thing.
PLH: I read that you had studied Bulgarian and Indian music. What other types of music are you interested in and what type of music do you listen to on a daily basis?
MK: To be honest with you, some times nothing. Especially when we are recording and all I am listening to is our music just to see how we can enhance it or see what's wrong with this or what's wrong with that. And unfortunately sometimes that's all I listen to because you have to go into the mode of listening to yourself. I love music from all over the world and there was a period of time when I was listening to Indian music a lot and there was a period of time when I was listening to Bulgarian music a lot. There are times when I get hooked on something, but usually I just love music all around the world. Flamenco and Spanish singing is wonderful.
PLH: As a vocalist are you first attracted to the vocals when you listen to music?
MK: Well, not really. I think the melody is the first thing that has to touch me, the melody overall. And then the instrumentation definitely a voice with this or that, the feeling of the song rather than the voice. Of course the voice is very important, but you know, I think melody is the first thing that hits me. You know if it really hits me good or not. I listen the voice critically, but when I listen to the song it's overall. Do you know what I am saying? I really want to listen the whole song and get a feeling for that instead of listening and saying, ooh, did she sing this well or not? That just kills the whole thing.
PLH: Some times it's the emotions that count and not the technique. Do you think that vocalist with training have a difficult time listening to other vocalists?
MK: I can see how the classical musicians and the traditional musicians of Iran (would affect that). I have friends who absolutely can not tolerate one off note. They are looking for perfection and perfection is more about technique and not emotion. They could be listening to something and say that's perfect and I would think what is this? Back home we have these old guys, street musicians and that would totally touch my soul even though the guy had never been to school. And (I say to my friends) "you guys are listening to this and you think this is perfect?" It's just a matter of training and in a way, I think it's good not to get hooked into being trained all the time.
PLH: Axiom of Choice refers to artistic freedom within your group, but in the world many people are either afraid of losing their liberties or have already lost those liberties. What type of world do you envision for our future and again, do you believe that creativity will allow us to manifest a more harmonious world?
MK: I think that if any human being can actually get into their true self, definitely there is harmony. I have been to places at times where it was a poetry or Rumi class and I have been around people who have been around for a long time or are special people. When I am singing poetry that is ancient, you know that the poet was able to reach that level of self. Rumi achieved a sense of self so when you get familiar with it, there are times where I have actually been one with myself. Not very many times, but now I have a taste of that and I crave that. If we could all get to that, I think the world would be in harmony.
PLH: I just read that if you learn to love yourself, you won't need to get love or anything from anyone else.
MK: That is absolutely true. I think those of in life who at least have been introduced things like that such as there is a self and there is a self love you are blessed. Even if you haven't reached it you know that's where we want to get. That gives our life a purpose and that gives us that we have something to move towards. I feel sorry for people who don't have that and I feel that there are absolutely lost. But that is their thing and that's their journey. That's what they have to go through, but anyone who has been there can think that's why we are living on this planet.
PLH: But some times I think we need something to trigger that response to spirit. Music is one way and poetry is another way.
MK: Music is definitely one way. Poetry and poets such as Rumi (can help us reach that place). The more I learn about Rumi the more I admire him because he was someone who actually lived it. When they talk about (self) you know that they were physically, spiritually and mentally there.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

In Review---Archival Miles Davis' Kind of Blue

Miles Davis
Kind of Blue

Columbia (1959)

It is now over 20 years ago that I hosted my first community radio show in Bellingham, Washington. My first live show featured jazz, during time when alternative rock was the only music to hit the spot with me. Needless to say, I didn't know anything about jazz other than the music my mother played around my childhood homes.

Yet, it did not take me too long before I discovered the wealth of talent associated with American jazz. Miles Davis' Kind of Blue and Bitches' Brew were staples for my show, and the rest of the show sadly was made up of me giving blind faith to whatever jazz records I could pull out of the bins before my show. And I had not listened to those artists previously nor did I know anything about the artists. That would come much later, but jazz was indeed shouting at me.

Today I am rediscovering Miles Davis' Kind of Blue and the end result causes me to walk around my apartment snapping my fingers and taking in all of these great vibes. The musicians that appear on this "improvisational" album are well-known, if not legendary by now. Miles Davis plays trumpet, of course, and he's joined by John Coltrane on tenor saxophone, Julian "Cannonball" Adderley on alto saxophone (except track 3), Wynton Kelly on piano (track 2), Bill Evans on piano for all the other tracks, Paul Chambers holding down bass and Jimmy Cobbs on drums.

The album starts out with one of my favorite instrumental jazz tracks, So What, which might or not be a musical snide remark. It hits the spot nonetheless. Freddie Freeloader follows with Miles blowing crystal clear notes on his horn. And while he's hardly a freeloader, he grabs the spotlight on this track and then let's Coltrane take it away. And yes, this is another one of those tunes that causes listeners to snap their fingers. I feel like I should be reading Jack Kerouac's On the Road.

Blue in Green slows down the pace. This track feels steamy and romantic with an after hours sheen. Again, Miles' horn playing is in top form balanced by Evans on piano and Chambers on bass. This tune reminds me of hanging out in a posh restaurant during closing time when the sun begins to rise and memories of the past night linger. And that is one of the wonderful attributes of this recording, in that it allows your imagination to roam and create images for a carefully provided soundtrack.

The longest track, All Blues, recalls Sketches of Spain with its muted trumpet and syncopated rhythms. Then we get two versions of Flamenco Sketches (only one of them appeared on the original release). Miles even dresses like a Spaniard during the recording sessions. If you look at the vintage photographs of the sessions, you will see Miles wearing high waist trousers sporting his narrow waist and he wears a scarf tied around his neck with a button down shirt. Certainly he was feeling the Spanish spirit.

Overall, these musicians provide a grounded experience while improvising Miles' solid compositions, sketches or not. These recordings capture the musicians' in the moment, and during a time when many numerous innovations were occurring in American jazz. Now we know the musicians as legends; the CD a well-loved classic.

For those of you who enjoy multi-tasking, you can read the liner notes on the re-issued CD, (1997), which includes some insights by Bill Evans. He writes, "Miles conceived these settings only hours before the recording dates and arrived with sketches which indicated to the group what was to be played. Therefore, you will hear something close to spontaneity in these performances. The group has never played these pieces prior to the recordings and I think without exception the first complete performance of each was a 'take.'"

I don't know about you, but I need to add this recording to my collection. At the moment, it is on loan from the library down the street. I listen to it and I don't feel blue at all. Although it might just be the cure for the blues.

For more information about Miles Davis, go to

Monday, November 12, 2007

In Review--Will Clipman Pathfinder

Will Clipman

Canyon Records

If you have listened to R. Carlos Nakai or any number of Canyon Records artists, you have heard Will Clipman's work on percussion and drums. On Pathfinder, the master percussionist Clipman performs on all of the global percussive instruments himself. The pieces feature polyphonic drums and global percussive melodies--that's right, Clipman plays melodic percussion. The music ranges from whimsical to dance-inducing-hip-swaying and many moods in between.

The rhythmic music lifts our spirits and begs us to dance along with it. Sometimes we find ourselves on the African continent, or we find ourselves snaking our way across an American Southwest desert. The drumming comes from ancestors and it hails from the spirit of the present. Clipman who calls himself, Saamokee (a marriage between Saami and Cherokee), finds his shamanic roots while igniting his passion for drumming on Pathfinder.

With such titles as, Bodhisattva, Thirteenth Moon and Desert Rain, you can expect to go on a delightful healing journey. It is hard for me to describe a percussion recording since I am not a percussionist, so pick up this recording, and take a heady journey along with Clipman. This album will delight drummers and non-drummers alike.

Will Clipman

Sunday, November 11, 2007

In Review--Archival John Coltrane A Love Supreme

John Coltrane
A Love Supreme
MCA Records, (1964)

Jazz saxophonist-composer John Coltrane discovered God in the late 1950s which led the be bop performer to eventually record, A Love Supreme. According to Coltrane, "During the year 1957, I experienced, by the grace of God, a spiritual awakening which lead me to a richer, fuller, more productive life. At the time, in gratitude, I humbly asked to be given the means and privilege to make others happy through music."

A Love Supreme with its hard edges and dissonant staccato saxophone passages, would not be my first place to seek happiness. But having been through an ordeal of relocating and completely altering my life circumstances recently, A Love Supreme seems like the right medicine for me. And anyone experiencing a dip on their life path, might also find this music to act as a healing balm.

It's not for everyone, and Coltrane caused a lot of controversy among the jazz world with his hard edges and experimentation. Yet, he is considered one of the legends of American jazz and his music often is mentioned in books referring to healing music. Those are the healing books I trust, because any mindful healer knows the messy process of healing. Soft, soothing music has its place in the massage office, but when it comes to getting in touch with one's soul, hard edges and disonnant passages work wonders.

A Love Supreme features a quartet of gifted musicians including Coltrane on tenor sax, with McCoy Tyner (piano) and Jimmy Garrison (bass) anchoring the Coltrane's flights of fancy. Drummer Elvin Jones' solos throughout remind us that this is a be bop album, and on the final track, Part 4-Psalm, Jone's drums mirror kettle drums with his thundering beats. The musicianship here is beautiful and profound; chaotic and unnerving.

I wouldn't call the album bright and cheerful by any means, but a spiritual awakening is hardly an ice cream social. What Coltrane and his band capture here is the path to God starting with Acknowledgement, followed by Resolution, Pursuance and ending in Psalm (a saint or prophet's path). And like the Biblical Psalms, we can feel Coltrane purging his demons through his saxophone. Those sharp edges, like shards of glass that cut deep into our skin, and to the core of our being, act as a mirror to a soul seeking perfection.

A Love Supreme gives the impression that it should be a feel-good album, but you won't find smooth jazz on this album. You will not find any pretty melodies or love songs, (although you will find some of that on Coltrane's Giant Steps). Yet, A Love Supreme does bring atonement to the soul, and it is a good remedy for those willing to face chaos which leads to change in one's life. It is only when pain signals that something is wrong, do we take the necessary steps to heal ourselves. And A Love Supreme reminds us of that. And if you want, you can follow-up with Coltrane's rendition of My Favorite Things.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

In Conversation--Marjorie de Muynck

A few weeks ago I received a powerful recording in the mail by sound healer and musician Marjorie de Muynck. In The Key Of Earth features overtones of several acoustic instruments, revolving around the earth tone, Ohm.

I have been playing this CD on a daily basis and I have noticed a difference in my physical and emotional being. I am calmer and more centered than usual. I am feeling more present in the moment and more connected to the earth in which I walk upon. Not only that, I have noticed more birds and non-human creatures showing up for the duration of the recording.

Most important, Marjorie's atmospheric earth sounds reminds me of the vast musical experience we encounter on a daily basis. It reflects on the nature of sounds that we normally take for granted and also the earth which we also take for granted. In an era of global warming and the loss of a great number of species, we must become more aware of our carbon and I would add, sound footprint on the planet. We must become more conscious of what we consume and what consumes us. And as consumers, we must become more ecological conscious and more appreciative of the earth that sustains us.

The following conversation took place via email.

Whole Music Experience: What healing aspect could a listener expect when listening to music tuned to the universal vibration, "ohm"? My guess is that listening to this vibration that lands between C and C sharp according to your notes, allows us to ground to the earth and feel a sense of oneness.

Marjorie de Muynck: Ohm is an Earth tone. It is scientifically calculated and spiritually upheld. The ancients knew this music/tone. We find it in the tunings of sitars and Tibetan bowls, as well as antique Irish musical instruments. When we listen to this tone we are actually resonating with the earth. I use Ohm tuning forks placed on strategic acupuncture points to balance the whole body system. It’s called Ohm Therapeutics. The music enhances the treatment as the tuning forks are in the same key as the music. A little of this treatment is extremely

The diatonic musical system, as in the piano/keyboard, is really quite new in the world, having been around for approximately 400 years.

I am writing a book on these concepts now, called Ohm, Overtones and Sound Healing looking for a spring release.

WME: Explain what overtones are to listeners out there unfamiliar with the term? And what type of effects do overtones and harmonics have on our bodies and minds?

MM: Overtones are subsequent tones of the fundamental tone that is struck or sounded. Overtones surround us daily. If you pass an auto mechanic shop and listen to the sound of struck metal you will hear overtones. The human voice is lush with overtones, as is apparent listening to the Tibetan monks or when children are playing around with their voices and opening their throats while sounding a tone. We used to do that as kids. This is the same thing the Tibetan monks are doing, however they have practiced it for many years with tone intention. A didgeridoo is so lush with overtones, as well as the sound of crickets. I have a whole chapter devoted to overtones in my upcoming book.

These “unstruck” tones occur naturally and contain intervals and sacred geometries. The subtlety of these tones is unlike the heavy handedness of much of our modern medicine.
Allowing the natural intelligence of our vibrational bodies to assimilate these subtle tones is healing.

Notice the smell and clarity after a thunderstorm. Imagine this happening inside of your body after listening to overtones.

WME: In your liner notes you mention the childhood origins of your work; the music of the natural world. Would you consider those experiences shamanic in the sense that you were hearing the spiritual voice of the earth? (Please elaborate on these experiences).

MM: Big yes here. I listened to the earth as a very small child. My maternal grandparents were Native American and I was given some direction toward listening carefully to the animals, to nature; to learn from all that I heard. When I was about 6 or 7 my father took us to a large company picnic near an area with thick woods. There were lots of people at the picnic. They played softball and had hula hoop contests for the kids. I hung out for awhile and then snuck away from the picnic to go into the woods. I knew I wasn’t supposed to go alone, but my urge to run into the woods and explore was strong. I was never afraid.

As I walked through the woods I heard a rattling sound, and found myself being pulled toward the sound. I looked down and there was a nest of baby rattle snakes. I was so thrilled with this incredible sound that I reached down and touched the rattles!!!!! I did this for awhile and then moved on to other places in the woods. I never told anyone, but as I got older I realized how incredible this was. The mother snake is never far from her young.

A Shaman told me later that this was a Shamanic experience for me. I went on some vision quests with the Huichol Shaman for several years and had many more experiences such as these. I had a great conversation with some dragon flies up in Alaska on vision quest, along with some eagles in Washington state. I think we are capable of hearing and seeing more than we know.

This is what horse whisperers do; they are open to hearing what the animal is saying.
Most humans don’t listen carefully or they are busy interpreting animals from their own perspective. It’s a two way conversation. They are many ways of listening and there are many ways of knowing.

WME: What I like most about your CD, is that you employ only acoustic instruments. Unlike other recordings of this genre, digital instruments are absent. Why did you choose to only play acoustic instruments?

MM: Thank you for this question Patricia. I felt a surge of creativity when I began this CD. I’ve been a musician for many years and the trend of the synthesizer has been both wonderful and detrimental to music. I wasn’t interested in pushing a key and having a whole motif come forth.

This is programmed by someone at Roland or Yamaha. Some of the music is artificially made and some is manipulated sampled sound. It just didn’t feel like the creativity would be coming from me; my own voice and interpretation of my experience hearing the earth. The synthesizers and samples are there for those who feel inclined to use them and that’s ok, it just isn’t for me. There is so much rich music in the subtleties of acoustic sound, and I felt inclined to go on this journey.

WME: I noticed that when I play this CD, flickers come into the yard and call out. Now, I hear flickers outside occasionally, but it is more than a coincidence that nearly every time I play your CD, the flickers call out.

Please tell readers of this site about your personal connection to flickers and how you addressed this music to them.

MM: I live in northern New Mexico. For the past four years there have been devastating diseases that have had a detrimental affect on our bird populations here. We lost 90-95% of our flickers, along with magpies and other large birds. I have a daily ritual that includes sounding the name of the animal or plant in trouble. I believe this kind of resonance is felt or heard by them. If we call on them, doesn’t that vibration connect to them? My answer is yes. There is such a tender connection between us, the earth inhabitants. It involves a deeper listening to hear them, but they are full of communication.

They tend to gather around my windows when I play this CD, and join in. This year I have seen more flickers than I have seen in years. It’s like seeing an old friend again.

WME: And this brings me to the next topic. Many people do not realize that non-human creatures enjoy music. After all, in our society we mention frog and bird songs. I would guess that the frogs are singing to other frogs and birds are singing to other birds, as a form of communication. But I think recently that scientists had discovered that birds also sing for pleasure. (I cannot recall the source of where I heard this).

In your own experiences as a musician and a sound healer, how would you describe a relationship between music and non-humans?

MM: It’s simple to me. When you listen to a bird singing, is that not music? Whether it’s meant to be communication or not, it’s music. Humans use music for communication. I remember hearing someone say that we sing in praise of our creator, in praise of our life. Some of my happiest moments in life are hearing a bird just singing away; some mournful, some so full of joy, not unlike us. Our vehicles of expression are our jewels.

WME: Sound healers seem aware of sound vibrations on the human body, whereas, it seems that only a handful of musicians, and those mainly working in music therapy or recording new age CDs seem to lack this awareness.

In your opinion, would you say that prolonged exposure to music with violent lyrics, or even violent beats, grinding guitar, and lack of music consciousness, can cause illness? (If some music can heal the body, can other music break down the immune system or cause emotional problems?)

MM: This is an important question and one that I have written about over the years and addressed in my sound healing classes. As sound healers, I believe we have a huge responsibility to address the adverse effects of sound. Much of the way music affects us is in the rhythm. We are rhythmic beings and you can imagine that listening to music that drives in a rhythm that is against the heartbeat that this can wear you down. Our body rhythms will unnaturally adjust to these rhythms, which can be responsible for interfering with heartbeat, pulse, circadian rhythm, etc. So you can understand how this can break down the immune or cause emotional problems.

And of course the loudness or the decibel range of music can cause irreversible damage to the very delicate workings of the ear. I also believe music is getting louder. I call it the
“Threshold of Noise Syndrome”. Music gets louder and louder to drown out all the noise and static in our environment. The absolute overnight popularity of the iPod is somewhat connected to tuning out as much as tuning in to music. I don’t own an iPod. I like the idea of it in some ways, but I have seen a lot of data to support that placing a speaker right next to your eardrum is causing a lot of hearing damage.

I read a recent report that addresses this phenomenon happening in alarming rates with very young teenagers. My Master Thesis in Music involved writing integrated Music/Science Curriculum for 5-6 graders addressing the implications of sound and illness. I talked about the iPod and also everyday exposure to sounds that are detrimental to our health.

*THANK YOU Patricia for this interview. I enjoyed it.

In The Key Of Earth can be purchased at Sounds True

Saturday, October 13, 2007

In Review--Kiran Ahluwalia

Kiran Ahluwalia (Canada/India)
Time Square Records
On her previous debut recording, Canadian-Indian vocalist Kiran Ahluwalia introduced the world to the sensuality of traditional ghazals. Wanderlust reveals the vocalists expanding upon the traditional form, with an eye for globetrotting. She marries the heartfelt fados of Portugal, to soulful ghazals of South Asia, while adding flourishes of African percussion.

On the track, Teray Darsan Kiran's lush vocals are backed by light blues guitar and exotic beats. Kiran and her producer Rez Abbasi add more elements than on the previous recording, without harming the rich tableau of stories, or the South Asian atmosphere. The djembe, talking drum, Portuguese guitar, accordion, Portuguese bass and electric guitar, all seem to make a nice home for themselves here, embellishing stories about wisdom gained through love won and love lost.
However, it is Kiran's strength as a vocalist that take center stage on this CD. The other instruments such as the sarangi, harmonium, and instruments already mentioned simply acts as a whimsical backdrop for Kiran's sweet renderings. And each song that appears on this CD can be called a gem, each with a different color, different shade, and uniqueness--setting themselves apart from each other, but also flowing into a narrative of love.
I certainly do not wish to play favorites, but take a listen to the duets with Toronto-based qawwali singer Shahid Ali Khan (Meray Mathay and Jaag Na Jaag). Wanderlust is the quintessential world music album which takes gorgeous elements from various traditions and threads them through a South Asian tapestry that causes one's heart to sing with joy. And whose heart would not sing along with Kiran's transcendental vocals?  

Saturday, October 6, 2007

In Conversation--Native American Musician Mary Youngblood

Feeding the Fire with Music
Conversation with Mary Youngblood

Native American all-around musician Mary Youngblood's third CD, Beneath the Raven Moon arrived on my doorstep on a warm September evening of 2002. The timing couldn't have been more perfect since I had just performed my music on stage in between sets of a musical group I greatly admire. And I hadn't performed music for anyone in 6 years. No one until now, will know how long and hard I worked to get my chops up to par and how difficult it was to sing my songs in Spanish instead of the usual English. Yet, I believe as a musicians we must stretch our talent and give our best to others who care to hear our songs.

When I read the press notes for Mary Youngblood's recording, especially about how she was developing confidence as a performer by including her poetry and singing on one of her albums for the first time, I could relate. I stayed up late that night listening to Mary play her flute and sing her songs. I could see the magical raven flying underneath the moon and the raven's magic transported me to Indian time and Indian dreaming.

In 2004, I received Mary's CD, Feed the Fire in which she sung about Autumn Years of our lives, loss of loved ones in 2 of her songs, one through a separation between lovers who grew as far as they could in their partnership, and another through the death of a beloved husband. She performed along side Joanne Shenandoah (Iroquois), Bill Miller (Mohawk), and Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull. The musicians performed alchemy within a set of songs that crisscrossed musical genres including jazz, blues, Native American and classical music.

Recently, I received Mary's latest offering, Dance with the Wind, her most mature work up to this point in which she plays piano, flute and sings her poetry. And as we pass through a year in which we learned to respect the power of Brother Wind, not to mention Sister Rain; as we hear the warnings of Mother Earth to honor what is below our feet and above our heads and all around us, Mary's CD comes as a reminder of the Creator's love for us.

While it might be somewhat of a cliché to call Mary's flute playing haunting, it certainly reaches to the depths of our souls. She reminds us to get out of our own way and let Spirit flow through us as musicians, as artists, as writers and as human beings. She shares her stories with women and men through her poetry and through her breath that flows through her cedar flutes.

The GRAMMY and NAMMY-award winner, Mary Youngblood shared her thoughts and insights about her music with us in this e-mail interview. It is my hope that you will take the time to enjoy and soak in Mary's words of wisdom. It is also my hope that you will listen to the wisdom of her music and soak that in as well. Accept her offering of music because it will lead you to a peaceful mind and a loving heart. What more can anyone desire?

Patricia Herlevi: Your birth mother is Aleut, (Alaska) and your birth father is Seminole, (Florida), how does this diverse heritage play into the music you compose?

Mary Youngblood: I was adopted at 7 months old, and unfortunately was not raised with much knowledge of my cultures until I found my birth mother in 1986, and started my journey as a native woman. I think that my music reflects this woman’s search for both her musical and tribal selves. I believe that my music is as diverse as I am- having come from two different nations on opposite ends of the country, and having the experience of walking in both worlds as a musician and a Native woman.

PH: Beneath the Raven Moon reminds me of Alaskan and Canadian Native Peoples and their stories about Raven stealing the Moon and the Sun. Is this album influenced by your birth mother's heritage and any stories or experiences she shared with you?

MY: Raven is important in many Pacific Northwest coast tribes. From our oral history to creation stories and myths. Influenced by cultural history more than stories passed down from my mother unfortunately… Mom was sent to Mt. Edgecomb government school in Sitka, (Alaska), where many things were taken away from her including time, her language and the memory of traditions. But I loved the idea of how much the raven was so much like ‘coyote’ in other tribes stories. Raven is like trickster and has always played a significant role in stories and oral teachings of the peoples of the Pacific Northwest.

PH: I am interested in your classical music training. When did you first encounter the Native American flute? And was The Offering on Silver Wave Records, your first Native American flute recording? Were you performing and recording classical and other genres of music prior to recording The Offering?

MY: I was in my 30s when I first picked up a Native American style flute. My classical training was instrumental (pun intended) in terms of skills I brought in from the classical flute. I was blessed and ahead of the game from the get go, and would practice for hours and hours. I purposefully didn’t listen to traditional flute music as not to be influenced by any particular style. Compositions came to me immediately and I was hopelessly in love with this newfound instrument and to this day I truly believe IT found me!!

When Silver Wave Records and I found each other, I hadn’t had much previous recording experience and was thrilled to be doing what I dreamed of doing someday, which was record an album. I had done a few projects on other people’s albums such as All Spirits Sing (Joanne Shenandoah) And I had done the sound for a documentary for the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe, and a PBS documentary, etc. Moaning Cavern, where I recorded Moaning Cavern is the largest one room Cavern in Northern CA, and is over 225 ft. deep. The natural reverb was so perfect for the solo flute!

PH: Each of your albums have received awards or nominations thus far, does this build your confidence as a songwriter? For instance, I notice that on each recording, you stretch further. On Beneath the Raven Moon you introduced your vocals and poetry, on Feed the Fire you brought in piano and worked with several musical guests. As a performer and songwriter myself, I know that working with musicians I admire and broadening by range of instruments on a recording, takes a great deal of courage. Can you comment on your musical journey and growth as a musician?

MY: I’m sure each success brings along with it, a little more confidence as well… but what I find cool about exploration with other artists, are the new and fresh ideas that particular player or co-writer brings to the table- the colour, texture and a certain spirit of the muse that delights me to no end! I’d like to think of myself as a musician's musician, a team player- so for me, the musical journey is so much more enjoyable to me when I can create something with other people... And as for Growth… Maturity and change is inevitable as we evolve as human beings and as artists. Growth is being that limb that reaches out for the sun in order to become tall and strong. To become a sanctuary that birds can land upon, shade from the sun and a safe canopy from the elements. With musicians, artists, and actors- we get the unique opportunity to take our audiences along with us on those sometime intimate journeys as we dance and sing our way through your souls… You get to see us morph and grow!

PH: Let's talk about your role as a songwriter. In the press notes, you articulated how many musicians feel in their relationship to The Creator in your statement, "I am only a vessel between Creator and this instrument." So how do songs reach you? Do you feel a certain energy and take that as a cue to sit down and compose? Do certain musical phrases appear in your thoughts or do you pray, meditate and compose in a state of reverence to The Creator or the flute?

MY: Many of my colleagues and peers feel the same way about their art. Whether you’re a sculptor or a composer, I’ve found that when we get out of the way, (i.e. ego) We are available and have opened ourselves up to Creator’s, or The Universe’s, or Grandmother’s energy. (or whatever you choose to call ‘it’) Some artist’s call it ‘being in the zone.’ Some say it’s like channeling energy through intention.

And yes, I usually always say a simple prayer before I play a song. “Bring joy, bring healing, bring goodness.” As a song writer, often musical phrases haunt me for weeks before the song finds an a middle, then an ending. Sometimes I’ve been blessed with a whole song all at one time…Zap!- it appears like a beautiful bouquet of wild flowers on your door step on May Day. A present, a gift. Other times I do hear a melody in my head and rush down to the music room to my piano and a cassette recorder. I notate key, rhythm, flute, and anything else I ‘hear’ to accompany it instrumentally. And of course songs come to me when I’m improvising with other musicians, again- it’s grab the recorder so I don’t let it slip away…

PH: The Native American flute has many roles. I have read that it is a courtship instrument, a healing instrument for instance. Could you talk about the roles of the Native American flute traditionally and the role it plays in your music and life?

MY: According to ‘Doc’ Payne (A N/A flute scholar and historian), the Native flute was rarely used in ‘traditional ceremonies’ per say, but was more of a social instrument. And yes- if you were a plains Indian or Southwest Indian, this instrument was used primarily by men, and used for courting. Now if you were to walk into a Cherokee Village 500 years ago, you might be greeted by a many flute players- men, women and children! So it really varied, tribe to tribe.

“The path of the flute player can be a challenging and lonely one…” Hawk Littlejohn use to say. Perhaps like the mythical character Kokopelli, we’re destined to roam the land playing our flute on this journey…For me, I prayed a little two word prayer a long time ago in regards to the gifts Creator had given me. "Use me. " And I have been so blessed along the way because of this beautiful and magical instrument.

PH: You are touted as the first Native American woman to professionally record the Native American flute. When you ventured on this path, I doubt you were thinking pioneering feminist thoughts, and I am guessing that you were moved by the beauty of the instrument and what you could do with it. Did you feel supported by the male professional Native American flute players? And have you encouraged other Native American women to also record Native American flute? Are there any budding women flute players among your students that we should keep an eye out for?

MY: I sure wasn’t thinking of any feminist thoughts at first no, but it didn’t take long to find out that some Native cultures don’t approve of women playing the flute. It was used primarily as a social instrument and used rarely in a ceremonial fashion. Although there are a few tribes, such as the Hopi, that used the flute in more serious ways... It has been an amazing journey. Not without challenge of course, and in some ways I have been a pioneer, although not always comfortable with that path, I have seen the purpose behind it all and I embrace being the one to forge a path through the brambles for my sisters! Because, like me, there will be others called by the Native American Flute!

PH: I listen to many Native American flute recordings by various players. I am touched by all those recordings, but I will admit that your recordings touch me on a deeper soul level because you are a woman. Because you speak about the cycles of a woman's life in your lyrics. Perhaps in this day and age it sounds a bit cliché to use the term "woman power," and yet, I get a sense of feminine empowerment when I listen to your recordings. Have any other women made similar comments to you?

MY: It’s more of a ‘woman validation’ theme. I’m going through what a lot of other women in the baby boomers age group are going through, and I have found that in the Indian community, many of us are choosing alternative and natural ways to deal with women’s issues that are based in tradition. We seem to adapt quickly, and move through this time in a positive and holistic, earth based way. Me- I plan to toss this out to my fans, my audience and joke about it being a ‘surviving’ life fan club- not a ‘Mary Youngblood’ fan club, although I do get to be the president! Heheh…

PH: Of course, your connections to the natural world and The Creator are something you share in common with Native American musicians of both sexes. I think the Native American flute is so popular among people of all races because it touches our souls and reminds us of the natural world. Do you wish to comment on this primal and ancient instrument, the flute?

MY: Man, I could go on for hours about stories about the amazing ways this instrument has touched peoples lives. And yes- it seems to take people back to the very depth of who they are, or at least finds it’s way to the deepest parts of the heart and soul. You betcha! Primal and beyond!

PH: On your newest release, Dance With The Wind, you meditate on the spirit of wind, trees, transformation and letting go of the old to embrace the new. How has this meditation on the spirit of trees and the wind assisted you with the necessary healing of letting go and allowing transformation to occur? What words of wisdom to you wish to tell your universal brothers and sisters also struggling with transformation? And also the healing powers of music and sharing the healing power with your listeners.

MY: Wow… such deep and personal questions. *laughing* I am totally NDN there, as sometimes I have a hard time sharing or showing my feelings, but I can somehow- through song. It’s certainly not uncommon, but if you listen closely, you can hear just how much this Aleut & Seminole woman wears her heart on her sleeve! So yes- a lot of raw emotions and feelings are affiliated with my music. I write about what I’m going through in my life and try to interpret it for you the listener, musically. And when I get out of the way, and let spirit come through, it can be healing. Music is always healing in the first place one way or another, but indeed I have found that just being on this fantabulous path has brought it’s own healing to me as well!

PH: Any final thoughts about your new recording that you wish us, the readers to take away with us?

MY: Live fully, love well and don’t forget to Feed the Fire whilst Dancing with the Wind! and  

This article originally appeared on Cranky Crow Whole Music and World Music Central

By Patricia Herlevi (May 2006)

This interview also appears in my book Whole Music