Saturday, March 20, 2010

In review--Heart Opener

Gentle Thunder
Opening the Gate
Gentle Thunder Productions, 2007

Grammy-nominated multi-instrumentalist and composer Gentle Thunder’s Opening the Gate provides an excellent outlet to celebrate the Spring Equinox. GT’s masterful and enchanting performances on Native American flute and hammered-dulcimer not only open a gate to the heart, but the contrast between the two instruments creates some interesting dynamics, though all of them gentle and peaceful.

GT, like Aleut-Seminole multi-instrumentalist and composer Mary Youngblood, also channels spirits, mainly of Grandmother Earth, though I’m picking up on Wolf Spirit too, not to mention bird spirits. Both musicians also provide a mother-like nurturing environment for their listeners. Acute sensitivity for their instruments and listeners comes through and it’s a real pleasure listening to recordings of this spiritual caliber. And it is always an honor to review music with healing power. I need to get out of the way, and let the review write itself.

I listened to Opening the Gate three times, once in the afternoon with the sun pouring through the windows on the last day of winter, last night before going to sleep and this morning upon awakening. All three times I felt an opening in my heart and I felt uplifted away from my usual heavy thoughts. GT’s flute clears out those upper chakras and the gentle rhythms she plays on the hammered-dulcimer bring a lively quality to my space. The music feels profoundly relaxing, more so than new age recordings I have listened to over the years. Her music reminds me of other authentic heart performers such as Will Clipman, William Eaton, Sharon Burch, Youngblood, Marjorie de Muynck, R. Carlos Nakai and Nawang Kechog. And I encourage anyone reading this to pick up Gentle Thunder’s recording. These days it’s crucial to lift your vibration and this recording will do just that.

I have listened to hundreds of recordings over the years, and as far as healing music recordings go, Gentle Thunder's Opening the Gate leaps to the top of the list.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

In Conversation--Milk Maids, Tweed-Makers and Song-Catchers

Interview with Julie Fowlis

The Whole Music Experience has two missions. One of those missions is promote the healing of mind-body-spirit through music. The other mission is to preserve language, culture and heritage through music.  Both missions provide much needed healing.

Scottish Gaelic songwriter, song catcher and language preserver Julie Fowlis has captured the hearts and minds of listeners in Great Britain, Europe, North America and beyond with her collection of Scottish Gaelic songs. You will find reviews of her recordings also on this blog.  I caught up with Julie via e-mail and I hope you enjoy the following conversation.

WME: How do the traditional songs from the Hebrides and the Scottish mainland differ besides the Scottish Gaelic dialect?

Julie Fowlis: Traditional Gaelic songs from the Hebrides in many ways would be similar in style to those sung on the mainland. However, there are differences. For example - the tradition of ‘waulking the tweed’ was very strong in the islands, and so the songs that accompanied this type of work would have been far more common among island singers. The subject matter of course would have differed greatly too between mainland and island singers – a great number of poets were moved to compose poetry about their own surroundings, and this would have been a common theme. The Gaels have always historically had a great connection with the physical environment that surrounded them, and this provided much inspiration for poetry and song.

WME: It’s interesting that in your liner notes and also in the press notes, you mention your connections with Brittany and Galicia. “They have minority languages which are struggling.” Besides the minority languages, did you discover many musical similarities between the songs from your island and the songs in Brittany and Galicia?

JF: There are many connections of course. Musically (and more specifically, melodically) the traditions remain very different and with their own clear identities. But we have great connections to our neighbors in Brittany and Galicia for example, to Brittany through the strong piping links particularly. There are similarities in the tradition of call and response singing also.

WME: I think it’s wonderful that you are preserving language through traditional songs, since song traditions and languages are going extinct all across the planet. It’s ironic that as the Internet brings the world communities closer together, English still dominates as the language of choice, but at least for people who listen to music traditions, they are exposed to probably hundreds of languages or dialects if they listen to field and other global music recordings on a regular basis. What are your thoughts on preserving and sharing the original language of the traditional songs during an era when the world appears to be shrinking, but many languages are also going extinct because of dominant cultural influences?

JF: It’s a critical time just now for many languages around the world isn’t it? In this modern age though, if we choose to, we now have the resources and knowledge to preserve languages in danger – and there are a frightening number of them on the brink of extinction now worldwide. It’s this rich diversity of language that allows different cultures and people around the world to express themselves, their history, identity and culture accurately and vividly. Losing a language means much more than losing a collection of words…

WME: I love this idea of work songs. I realize that work songs have a certain rhythm that goes with the work performed, but do the stories in the songs perform multiple purposes? (For instance, I noticed that tweed-making songs tell stories about lovers or love gone wrong, almost like a cautionary tale or perhaps a sort of gossip among the women). Are these songs also sung to prepare women for married life?

JF: Well this is true – many songs have dual purposes. Work songs, lullabies and love songs can all have another purpose, sometimes a dark side which tells another story…

The work songs most certainly often had a jovial role – the long hard hours of work were lightened by stories and tales and fun. The ladies did sing about men quite a lot too!

WME: This is the first recording that I heard a milking song. How old are these songs? And are they only song to calm the cow down for milking? Are there also songs for herding, for shearing the sheep? (I think songs connect the humans with animals in the process of milking the cows).

JF: There are songs for almost every type of our old work traditions – for example milking the cows, churning butter, rowing a boat etc. The songs date back hundreds of years and represent a rich part of our history through these cultural and social practices.

WME: You’re a woman with a mission to preserving and sharing culture and you’ve been honored with awards for your albums and recognition for your work. But how do you measure success for yourself? My feeling that the awards are wonderful for you, but perhaps success is being able to share something you are passionate about with the rest of the world.

JF: Well - the awards are lovely and I am very grateful for them, but I am under no illusions of grandeur! I just happen to spend a lot of time promoting the language where I can. It’s a huge part of my life and I am glad to play a very tiny part in bringing it to the attention of people around the world.

Monday, March 15, 2010

FYI--Mozart Knew about Healing with Music

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart joined the Freemasons in Vienna.  He dabbled in metaphysics and knew about the healing power of music.  So is it any wonder that we would be exploring the Mozart Effect in this century?

Check out this website:

In review--Flamenco Americana Rising

Chris Burton Jàcome
CBJ Music

Guitarist Chris Burton Jàcome proves that we don’t have to travel to Spain to hear authentic flamenco, at least not authentic American flamenco. CBJ was on the road to becoming a rock musician but a fateful song on the radio performed by flamenco guitarist Gerardo Nuñez changed the American musician’s fate. His latest recording Levanto (I Rise) though is a culmination of years of academic study and hands-on education with Spanish gypsy musicians. The studio recording chronicles a flamenco stage production of Calo Flamenco (an American flamenco dance troupe from Arizona).  And these musicians and dancers are caliente!

I haven’t seen the live performance, but according to the press notes, the production sold out in New York with people lining up around the block, hoping to get a taste of this hot music. The recording features the dancers, singers and CBJ’s guitar with bass guitar, percussion, violin and palmas (clapping) filling in the rest. To call the music fiery would almost sound like a cliché, except that the passionate music ignites and explodes in all the right places. The vocals alone burn through deeply felt emotions and one can feel the anguish of their ancestors if she’s not careful. But then this is flamenco, a cathartic musical experience in the same realm with old-timey American blues, Portuguese fado and Greek Rebeteka. Listeners had better feel something.

After what sounds like a ritualistic call, CBJ’s guitar arrives and then followed by Olivia Rojas’ vocals on the title track. Then when listeners barely whet their appetite, the dancers set into action. I try to imagine the live performance of this and other songs on the recording, and I see myself barely containing my excitement. At Dawn, a lament with haunting vocals follows and gives listeners a taste of the spectrum of emotions and music performed on the CD.  The musicians even throw in a flamenco rap, Ritmo Canix.   The following track, Conquistador resembles Argentine tango.

And you might think it’s just a CD; just a piece of plastic that you insert in your stereo, but flamenco acts more like an airline ticket that transports you across the ocean, to another time and place; to another tradition that will always sound exotic to our American ears. Powerful in some places and breath taking in others, Levanto certainly feels like an ascension process. And even though I’m listening to American flamenco, those sizzling gypsy roots are showing. Ole!