Saturday, May 24, 2008

In Review---Riding in Cars & Dogs

Joshua Leeds and Lisa Spector
Through A Dog's Ear

Music to Calm Your Dog in the Car
Sounds True

Concert pianist Lisa Spector has the good fortune of a dog named Sanchez who relaxes when he hears classical piano. So when Lisa takes Sanchez along in her car, playing a recording of classical piano music is similar to hitting Sanchez' snooze button. Sound unreasonable? Too good to be true?

For those folks with anxious dogs that pant excessively or bark in the car or won't get in the car to begin with, there is hope. The latest installment of the Through A Dog's Ear project, Music to Calm Your Dog in the Car is now available. Again, psycho-acoustic expert Joshua Leeds, pianist Lisa Spector have teamed up. The beauty of this recording is that it relaxes dogs without putting the driver to sleep.

Music by Chopin, Brahms, Bach, Beethoven, Scarlatti, Mozart, Gluck and Debussy flows generously off of this disc. While the music acts as a wonderful soundtrack for a drive in any setting, it also calms the canine. And that means drivers can keep their eyes on the road and not be overwhelmed by their dog's anxiety.

Of course, there is more to calming the canine than just popping a CD in the car stereo. Directions of prepping the dog, working with different levels of anxiety and other instructions appear in the CD booklet.

According to the press notes, 29 million Americans take their pets on vacation with them and 75% travel by car. However, not all dogs enjoy travelling at all and are filled with anxiety. Some dogs shake or pant excessively, others vomit, bark, whine, jump into the front seat of the car nearly causing the driver to crash the car (I had that happen to me), or just flat out refuse to get into the car at all (I also had that happen to me).

The beauty of this CD is that the music has already been researched on dogs and been proven to be effective. The music is also pleasurable for the driver and other passengers in the car and provides a calmer commute for both animals and their human companions. Even if your dog is not anxious while riding in a car, this recording can still be enjoyed by all.

*Note in the directions to prep the dog for a ride in car, it mentions idling the car for 15 or 20 minutes. Personally, I don't think this is a good practice for the environment and with the price of gas being what it is, you would get zero miles to the gallon.

soundstrue and ThroughADogsEar

In Review---Healing a Country Through Music

Singing for Life
Songs of Hope, Healing, and HIV/AIDS in Uganda
Smithsonian Folkways

Music has the power to heal. This we know and time and again this point garners further proof. A new Smithsonian Folkways recording, Singing for Life compiled and recorded by ethnomusicologist Gregory Barz, brings us another hopeful musical project from the heart of sub-Saharan Africa.

According to the ample liner notes, 38 million people worldwide are infected with HIV and roughly two thirds of those infected reside in Africa and 25.3 million live in sub-Saharan Africa. "Uganda is the single sub-Saharan African country that demonstrated remarkable, constant decline in overall infection rates. Many factors have contributed to this decline, and a critical one, Singing for Life, tries to show, is music."

In Uganda where music plays a crucial role in everyday life, acting as a vehicle for educational messages, rituals, ceremonies and other activity, various musical groups, healers, and NGO-workers have collaborated on awareness projects. Singing for Life introduces us to some of the key musicians and groups traveling around Uganda in hopes that their theatrical, educational and musical productions will curb the types of behavior that lead to HIV infection.

But the songs sung on this CD, with their lively call & response vocals, urgent messages and polyrhythms, are not funeral dirges. In fact, if you did not read the liner notes or lyric translations, you might mistake this collection of AIDS awareness songs as celebratory music. The vocals come across as passionate and sincere, as well as, hopeful. Traditional instruments play mostly in the background of the vocals, but even hearing those instruments proves to be a delightful experience.

One of the musicians sums it up best when he mentions that music has a much more powerful effect than educating people by writing on a chalkboard. The theatricality and musicality of this material is mainly aimed at youth who have not been infected yet, but it also speaks about those who have succumbed and perished from the virus and the symptoms one can expect if they live with the virus. Of course it is not unusual for African music in general to carry with it some social message, in the case of Singing for Life, the social message is AIDS prevention, awareness and compassion.

Some listeners will find this recording heart wrenching while others will find it hopeful, even as some of the women inflicted with the disease raise their voices in the choir and join in the dance. That in itself they say proves healing for them because they get their minds off of their illness and enjoy the music.

All royalties from the sale of this CD go to support the social service networks run by two agencies in Uganda that facilitated some of these recordings. For more information, go to

Also check out the recordings of Ugandan musician Samite

Sunday, May 18, 2008

In Review--Musical Delights from the Subcontinent

Shastriya Syndicate

Sense World Music

Mandala ensemble

Sense World Music

It was one of those gorgeous late spring Saturdays with every plant under the sun blooming, and nothing could go wrong. I received two new Sense World Music recordings, both ensembles that literally blew me away. First, Shastriya Syndicate which features some of India's masterful young talent including, sitarist Purbayan Chatterjee, Carnatic veena player Jayanthi Kumaresh, tabla player Subhankar Banerjee, sarangi player Murad Ali, bansuri flutist Rakesh Chaurasia, mridangam player Patri Satish Kumar and percussionist Pramath Kiran (from Carnatic and Hindustani traditions).

This fiery ensemble performs original compositions on their debut recording, Syndicated. The playing here, borders on 60s psychedelic--exploding with fantastic colors reminding me of Jimi Hendrix' saying, "are you experienced?" I am not sure why exactly, except that the experience of listening to this disc sends my mind soaring in the clouds and I am left with the question, "have you ever been syndicated?"

The music itself is almost indescribable. The sarangi resembles Hindustani vocals, the sitar resembles a guitar at times, and the flute playing can only be called out-of-this-world. The veena and the bansuri flute, part of the spiritual trilogy of Carnatic music along with the mridangam (drum), add a touch of grace. And while this music does not lend itself to meditation, because of its adrenaline speed, it leads the mind eventually to a place of stillness through its sheer power and beauty. A Journey Within which features sitar, flute, sarangi and percussion does slow down the pace, sending minds into revelry. It acts as a short respite.

All and all, I am enjoying this music immensely and I would not be surprised if this recording ends up on my favorite CD list at the end of 2008, if not for the entire decade. These musicians combine soulfulness with technical brilliance. They add color, warmth, dexterity and the youthful quest for adventure to this recording.

And just when I thought I wouldn't get enough of this beautiful music, I slipped Mandela into the CD player, featuring some of the same musicians, (Jayanthi on veena, Purbayan on sitar, Subhankar on tabla) along with Jayachandra Rao on mridangam. The jugalbandi here combines a musical marriage between India's southern and northern musical traditions. Mandala provides a vehicle for Jayanthi's veena and Purbayan's sitar playing, backed by those Indian beats performed on tabla and mridangam.

Both of these musicians, Purbayan and Jayanthi have already reached stellar heights, despite their young age. According to the liner notes, Jayanthi "is one of the foremost Veena players of India...recognized for her virtuosity, musical insight, rich tonal qualities and strict adherence to her tradition in performance." The liner notes also praise Purbayan, mentioning his numerous awards and achievements in not only the realm of traditional Indian music, but other musical forms such as jazz, blues, Spanish flamenco and African jazz. (I own several of his recordings and can attest to his musical brilliance).

As the title of the group and CD might imply, Mandala takes its listeners on a spiritual journey of the mind and heart. The shimmering sitar and throaty veena compliment each other over a backdrop of southern and northern drum beats. Again, we are welcomed by musical virtuosity and technical fireworks. Listeners can only feel exhilarated after listening to this refreshing music that comes straight from the souls of the musicians. Drummers and drum enthusiasts also will be delighted with a 17 minute drum duet that comes towards the end of the CD.

Once again, the folks at Sense World Music have delivered more than music recordings, they have delivered experiences, priceless and beyond any words this journalist can give them. Although I have written a lot here, I am feeling speechless at the moment. I just want to take the inward journey these recordings offer.

Sense World Music