Saturday, June 12, 2010

WME Tip--Music with Meals

If circumstances allow try adding selections of music to your meals.  Invigorating music with breakfast, baroque with the heaviest meal of the day (since baroque music helps with digestion) and relaxing music with your last meal of the day.

Personally, I prefer bossa nova, baroque, Parisian cafe, and jazz standards with my meals.

Friday, June 11, 2010

News--Naturally Acoustic article

My "Naturally Acoustic" article was published in my food coop newsletter. The article features interviews with Dan Storper of Putumayo World Music, Lisa Spector, Through A Dog's Ear series and sound healer/musician Marjorie de Muynck.

Here is the link to the newsletter page  click on the icon for June 2010.  I believe the article is on pages 6 and 13.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

WME Tip Calming Anxiety with Music

Use slow, low (tones) and simple music (preferably played on one instrument or voice) to calm anxiety in humans and dogs. 

Slow, low, warming, and simple music also works for balancing the Vata dosha of Ayurvedic medicine.  The low tones discharge the nervous system, the simple melody or music gives the brain a rest (it doesn't have to decipher a complex pattern or rhythms) and the slow tempo slows the heartbeat and pulse.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

WME Tip--Musical Digestion

When you listen to a piece of music or a song that you love, savor the song after it ends and let it resonate with your entire body.  Absorb the silence after the song ends and refrain from either listening to the song again right away or immediately listening to a new musical selection.

Your mind and body need time to digest the music.

In review--Fly the Friendly Gershwin Skies

Gershwin by Grofè
Lincoln Mayorga/Al Gallodoro/Harmony Ensemble
Conductor Steven Richman
Harmonia Mundi

The Pacific Northwest sky opens up and rain falls like shards of glass onto the deck outside my window while a small creek forms in the garden. As this is happening, I’m listening to George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue and the rain has decided to join the percussion section of the orchestra. And if I forget that summer is only two weeks away, this disc, Gershwin by Grofè also features Summertime, originally composed for Gershwin’s jazz opera, Porgy and Bess. But if you’re like me, you’ve heard many versions of this jazz classic.

Many people know George Gershwin’s music from watching classical Hollywood musicals, and in fact, I just watched the DVD of Funny Face featuring Gershwin’s Hollywood movie songs. But what some people don’t know is that Gershwin also composed classical music and built a bridge between the new African-American jazz of the turn-of-the-last century with European classical orchestral arrangements, ie: Rhapsody in Blue. However, the version that appears on Gershwin by Grofè features the jazz arrangement with the lead clarinet marrying a bit of Klezmer with early American blues.

While Gershwin was instrumental in marrying American jazz with European classical, he was joined by Paul Whitman and Ferde Grofè on this formidable task. The risky musical venture also took place during a time when African-American music was still not fully accepted by white America and jazz was most like not taken seriously by classical music composers (except for the French Impressionist composer Maurice Ravel, a fan of Gershwin). Gershwin also would have carried the extra baggage of a Hollywood movie composer, a relatively new medium at that time in history.

This is not the first jazz interpretation I’ve heard of Rhapsody in Blue. Caribbean-American composer and Latin-jazz pianist Michel Camilo partnered with the Barcelona Symphony Orchestra on his disc, Rhapsody in Blue (Telarc), which also fell on the bluesy side despite the full orchestra sound. And the liner notes on that disc also delve into the fascinating relationship between Whiteman, Grofè and Gershwin; their contributions to American music.

Gershwin by Grofè features the Hollywood songs such as I Got Rhythm, Sweet and Low-down, The Man I Love, and some of the songs can be heard as both archival recordings and as new versions performed by Harmonie Ensemble, Lincoln Mayorga (piano) and Al Gallodoro on reeds, conducted by Steven Richman, as mentioned earlier in the review.

The uplifting music kept me in a spirited mood despite the recent rainstorm and the liner notes educated me about music of the early 20th century.  This must have been an exciting time for American composers and any group of musicians forging a new musical identity without the knowledge that in the future, someone would be listening to their music on a CD while typing a review on a laptop computer which with a click of a button can be read by the entire world via the Internet. Still even with all this technology at my fingertips, I would love to travel back in time and hear Gershwin’s music live and experienced the emergence of all that new music.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

In review--Will the Real Brandenburg Stand Up?

J.S. Bach
Les Six Concerts Brandebourgeois
Le Concert des Nations/Jordi Savall
Aliavox Heritage/Harmonia Mundi

I’m certainly not a Bach scholar by any stretch, but I’ve been listening to J.S. Bach’s work during the past few years simply because I find the composer’s music healing. In my research, I have read many references to the perfect architecture of the baroque composer’s sacred and secular compositions. As a freelance music composer living during an era of patrons (church and aristocracy), much of the composer’s work was for hire. Virtuoso musicians, church officials, and members of the elite class would commission works, not just of Bach, but his contemporaries too.

It’s not as if we live in an era void of musicians-for-hire because musical works are still commissioned and composers still make a living off of commissioned work. However, most of us non-classical, (outside of theatrical and film soundtrack work), musicians have a difficult time conceiving of writing music on demand. That’s not to say that composers such as Bach didn’t compose personal music for their enjoyment and the enjoyment of their friends and family members (and JS Bach had a large family). I read in a few places that Bach did in fact compose music for his personal use. And I think even with his commissioned work he strove for intellectually and emotionally-stimulating music, as is definitely the case with the 6 Brandenburg Concertos. And it would be my guess that’s why we still listen to Bach’s repertoire in the 21st century because it is pleasing to the ear and the brain.

If you read the liner notes on Richard Egarr’s interpretation of Brandenburg Concertos and Jordi Savall’s Le Concert des Nations’ Brandenburg Concertos, you will notice a striking difference in reference to the concertos. According to the liner notes on the Egarr recording, the concertos were composed for the Margrave of Brandenburg, but the liner notes from Jordi Savall’s CD mention just the opposite and the origins of the concertos remain a mystery. And does anyone need to solve this mystery in order to find pleasure in the music? I certainly don’t, but I did catch myself comparing the 2 recordings. After almost giving myself a headache (what’s the point of that?), I reached the conclusion that the 2 interpretations are indeed different, but they complement each other.

Les Six Concerts Brandebourgeois features concertos that share little in common with the exception that all the concertos feature virtuoso players and set a mood of one kind or another. The first concerto opens with bright sounding horns and as mentioned in the liner notes and has a pastoral feel. It’s also the longest concerto of the six with four movements, instead of the usual three. The third concerto also departs from the three-part structure in that it features only two allegro movements, though on this recording, a 31 second Adagio has been sandwiched between the 2 Allegros. Did Bach like to break the rules?

The overall recording provides a lush and dense orchestral sound with bright horns and flutes punctuating the overall effect. As you would expect from Jordi Savall, the concertos are performed on period instruments which gives off an exotic appeal. The inclusion of Savall’s viol de gamba contributes a majestic quality. While the musicians and interpreters must have put a lot of thought into how the concertos would be performed, on which instruments and the tempo, the actual performing of the concertos is heartfelt.

As far as physical effects, I feel invigorated listening to this recording, especially the first disc with all of the horns and flutes. Disc two opens with courtly music that brings up visuals of a royal ball. The lively flutes and strings certainly possess invigorating and uplifting qualities, not to mention, that the music is absolutely stunning. The second movement, Andante, features the same instruments, but the feel is now dreamy and somber. In the third movement, Presto, the recorders stand out among the polyphonic arrangement and then the composer slipped in a violin solo into this rich tapestry.

Concerto Five is among my favorites of the concertos because it features a long and dreamy harpsichord solo, among flutes and persistent strings. Actually, the harpsichord solo will certainly stop you in your tracks with its incredible virtuosity. And I recognize the final movement of the sixth concerto as the theme song for National Public Radio’s Prairie Home Companion, even if the radio show only uses a small section of the movement.

The Brandenburg Concertos, whether or not they were composed for an elite man of Brandenburg, have captured my heart and put my mind at ease. I enjoy waking up to Jordi Savall’s invigorating interpretation and falling asleep to it too. There are few words in my vocabulary to describe such beautiful music so I’m not even going to try. However, even if you’re not a fan of Bach’s music, even if you associate Bach with church music or stuffy scholars pontificating about the scores, give the Brandenburg Concertos a careful listen. I think these concertos will change your mind about Bach and you might even become a Bach-aholic, if you’re not already. and

Sunday, June 6, 2010

In review--Dignity Matters

Salif Keita
La diffèrence

Imagine coming from a long lineage of West African aristocracy, but experiencing ostracism from parents, the community, teachers, and aristocracy. Imagine your father disowning you because you are different. And imagine if you had a musical talent handed down to you through your lineage that you are forbidden to express because of you are different, and then you would come close to describing Malian griot musician Salif Keita’s life story. Keita was born to 2 black Malian parents, but is white because Keita was born albino. Albinism is seen as an omen by Malians and albinos experience their share of prejudice and injustice based on the lack of pigmentation in their skin.

While albinism caused Keita to suffer through his childhood and beyond, his determination and passion for music lead him to a successful music career (which he pursued outside of Mali) and his pursuit of justice for albinos (so that they can acquire education and healthcare). The griot’s newest recording, La difference goes beyond speaking out for human justice, the musician also speaks out (like a true griot) for the environment too. Since we are not provided English translations for the songs, an uninformed listener might think they’re just hearing soaring griot vocals over a background of traditional Malian instruments and kora-like guitar. The musical arrangements with a touch of exotic Middle Eastern instruments (oud, percussion and Arabic strings), and the women backup vocals seem uplifting on many tracks which can lead a listener astray. Heavy sentiments appear on this album, which can definitely be heard on the final track, Papa with its bluesy backdrop and aching vocals sung on the chorus.

The celebrated musician dusts off some of his classics Folon, Seydou Bathily and Djèlè (which features the famed balafon master Keletigui Diabatè) and gives them new arrangements. Seydou features lush Arabic strings and Folon has been slowed down and the horn deleted. Gaffou features Keita’s passionate vocals framed by women backup singers and layered kora-like guitars. While Ekolo d’Amour might be mistaken for an upbeat love song, it is in fact pointing out environmental devastation in Mali. San Ka Na also falls into the ecological justice realm and speaks about government disregard for the Niger River where Keita played (on its banks) as a child.

Keita proves that beautifully arranged music and provocative social messages get on nicely. And in a way La Diffèrence celebrates diversity that calls out for justice, whether that includes the diversity of skin color or diversity of the earth. Keita represents a man who has experienced destruction in many forms and yet, he has taken his talent to the world and created a forum to help other albinos through his foundation (he founded in 2001) as well as, help the planet.

In his lyrics to the title track Keita cites, “Let everyone receive love and dignity. The world will be a more beautiful place.” Some people speak of rainbows that include all skin colors united and no matter a person’s difference (we’re all different in some way), celebrating differences also creates a beautiful place.

All proceeds from the sale of La Diffèrence will be funneled through Keita’s foundation, Salif Keita pour les Albinos. So if you want to support an excellent cause and acquire beautiful Malian music, then I urge you to purchase this album.

For information about Salif Keita’s North American tour dates in June, go to