Saturday, December 4, 2010

Essay: I Like to Be In America (Healing Power of "Westside Story" Soundtrack

Heal Me with a Latin-Jazz-Classical Vibe

You wouldn't think I'd find the soundtrack music of Westside Story healing with its jagged edges, slight dissonance portraying teenage angst, and sarcasm (both in the music and the text), but I do.  Similar to Beethoven's Fifth Symphony, the music from this Broadway musical and feature film, works through anger, frustration, and then ultimately triumphs.  The love songs in both the text and music (with its vaulting melodies), possess a sense of destiny and toy with metaphysical elements. 

The text revolves around the theme of belonging somewhere, to someone, and to a community.  The melodies too combine ethnicity such as American jazz of the 1950s, mixed with Puerto Rican elements, and even European classical elements, after all, Leonard Bernstein composed this famous music.  The song, America for instance provides a poignant contrasts between immigrants who assimilate into a new culture, and those who defiantly hold out, "No, it was better back home on the island."  This proves healing to anyone experiencing alienation or feeling homesick, but especially pertinent to the immigrant experience.

Fight scenes with built up tension and musical dissonance (reminds me of Prokofiev's ballet music for Romeo and Juliet), alternate with soaring love songs sung by Tony and Maria. And when I mentioned metaphysics and destiny earlier, I was referring to the song Something's Coming, haven't we all felt that tinge of intuition when something wonderful is about to come into our lives? Unfortunately for Tony, that something was short lived.

The healing elements I find in this soundtrack include, tension and release of tension (in staccato passages), soaring melodies (legato) with uplifting lyrics (some of the most beautiful love songs ever written as far as I'm concerned), a sense of spiritual connectedness in the love songs, Tonight, Maria, and Something's Coming.  Songs that can assist in releasing anger and frustration include, The Jets Song, the introduction, the music at the high school dance, and America. (I don't have the CD at the moment so I'm unable to look up titles).

The best way to use this soundtrack for healing purposes is to listen to it without any distractions.  Use headphones if that helps, but keep the volume low. If you need to uplift your moods, but feel tense and angry, listen to one of the more dissonant tracks first, and then follow up with the love songs.  Or you could listen to the love song towards the end of the soundtrack which features multiple singers performing vocal polyphony (three or four different vocal lines occuring at one time).  End your listening with Tonight since this song closes with consonance.  You can also end your session with the love song, Maria.

When you complete your listening session sit in silence for at least 30 minutes.  Allow the music to absorb into your cells and digest it.  You can take this time to reflect on the lyrics, the melodies, Latin-jazz rhythms, instrumental solos or motifs.  Then check in with your physical and emotional reactions.  Write them down in a journal.  You'll find that each session brings up different emotions or physical sensations.  You might find that you can only listen to this soundtrack at a certain time of day or when you're in a specific mood or environment. Just make a note of those things.

I recommend the original soundtrack of Westside Story with the original Broadway cast.  This recording is readily available and most likely you can pick it up at your local library. And if you're a theatrical performer, vocalists or musician, you can experience the ultimate healing experience by appearing in the theatrical production.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Top 10 World Music Recordings for 2010

Top 10 for 2010 World-traditional-Folkloric

1. Lokua Kanza, Nkolo, World Village

2. Ana Moura, Leva-Me Aos Fados, World Village

3. Salif Keita, la difference, Universal Music

4. Rahim Alhaj, Little Earth, UR Music

5. Huun Huur Tu, Ancestors Call, World Village

6. Mayte Martin, Al Cantar A Manuel, World Village

7. Sierra Maestro, Sonando Ya, World Village

8. Susanna Owiyo, My Roots, Kirkelig Kulturverksted

9. V.M Bhatt and Matt Maley, Sleepless Nights, World Village

10. Sondre Bratland and Annborg Lien, Alle Vegne, Kirkelig Kulturverksted

Best Folkloric Album: Michèle Choinière, La Violette, independent release

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Essay: Swinging those Moods

Lifting Off (Employing Music to Relieve Melancholy)

I've felt my share of melancholy.  And I'm thankful for the gift of sadness because without experiencing it, I wouldn't have experimented with music to uplift my mood. And of course, I understand that the music that uplifts my mood, might not uplift someone else's.  Clinical depression and other mental illnesses are out of my domain so please read this essay with that in mind.

When I'm in a cranky or depressed mood, I back away from life for a short period to find my center.  I practice yoga and meditation during these times, and I catch my breath.  I've found that specific types of music uplift my moods and transform my thoughts from negative to positive.  I have a small stack of Brazilian bossa nova and Mozart CDs for this purpose.  But Bob Marley's greatest hits or Exodus work just as well in getting me back on track.

I don't suffer from seasonal affective disorder, however, living in the northern US where the fall and early winter days fall on the dark and gloomy side, I feel sleepy and lethargic on some days. I take 2,000+ mg of vitamin D3, get plenty of rest, eat a healthy diet, go for walks (when it's still light outside), and I listen to tropical music.  But on days when tropical music feels like a jolt to my system, I start with Scandinavian, American blues, jazz, and introspective music. Then I work my way to samba and bossa nova, then to Cuban son and other Latin music.

If you look at the "on rotation" posts on this blog, you'll find lists of songs specifically for setting and changing moods. The practice begins with tracking your physical and emotional responses to music.  Keep a journal.  And when a certain mood hits you, try out different types of music.  When you find what transmutes depression into peace of mind, stick with it. Create a music medicine chest so you have these recordings handy when you need them most.

There are times when you can ride out a mood and listen to it.  Emotions teach us about ourselves and point us in the right direction. If we feel low energy after hanging out with a person or group, then pay attention. If your energy flags halfway through the day, pay attention, and see a doctor for health concerns (get your thyroid hormone levels checked).  Music augments whatever healing practice or modality you already have in your life.  Never substitute music for medicine or other healing modalities without medical expert advice, unless you're a trained healer.

Music acts on many levels.  When we enjoy an activity such as listening to a specific type of music, we feel uplifted.  But even beyond that, some types of music empower us, slow us down, or give us a boost.  We shouldn't take the intangible powers of music for granted. Depending on its vibration, music either heals or harms us.  So keep this in mind as your journey deeper into music consciousness.

List of Melancholic Music:
(You might start where your emotions are at)

Cape Verdean music (some)
American blues
African blues
Torch songs (from Broadway musicals and jazz)
Romantic Era classical
French Impressionist
Erik Satie
Celtic ballads

Uplifting Music:

Brazilian samba and bossa nova
Cuban son and salsa
Bluegrass (swing)
Hot Jazz or gypsy swing
New Orleans jazz
Celtic reels and jigs
Quebecois music
Marching bands
Pow-wow songs
Putumayo  compilations
Mozart (some)

In review--Arrivals and Departures

Barrier Falls
5-String Productions

I don’t know how many Irish ballads I’ve heard with the title John Riley since I began covering world music, but a few. And since each ballad has its own distinct signature, I visualize Irish phonebooks containing pages of John Riley. The version that appears on Boston-based Celtic quintet Annalivia’s Barrier Falls, delights my ears. Lead vocalist/guitarist Liz Simmons possesses one of those voices, clear, immaculate, and chockfull of delicate emotions that does the Irish tradition proud.

Annalivia with its Celtic chamber sound comprised of banjo, dual fiddles, acoustic guitar, double-bass and vocal harmonies, hits the spot on this rainy Sunday afternoon. The band performs both melancholic love ballads and heartwarming jigs and reels, hailing from Cape Breton, the British Isles, and the US. The musicians polish each track, adding a few twists and 3-part vocal harmonies in the opening and closing tracks. I envision this band playing a double bill with The Wailin’ Jennys.

Overall, I find the album full of timeless and uplifting music. Traveling Case with Flynn Cohen on lead vocals, and The Times is Up with its gorgeous melody and warm guitar, stand out as my favorites thus far. The musicians grab their inspiration from Irish, Scottish, and American bluegrass and remind me of the Finnish-Norwegian band Frigg at times. When I listen to Barrier Falls, I hear a Celtic classic in the making. and