Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Practice: Healing with Holiday Music

Healing with Holiday Music; Practicing Cultural and Spiritual Diversity

Depending on your cultural and spiritual perceptions, holiday music can provide healing through nostalgia, relaxation, and joy. However, this includes a few caveats. An overdose of holiday music (heard in shopping malls, banks, and post offices), could lead to overkill and brainworms (a song hook repeating itself incessively).  Nostalgic elements work best with people who have happy memories of the holidays, but those individuals who lost love ones or suffered a tragedy during the holiday season won't find holiday music particularly healing.  They might avoid it entirely.

Don't make the mistake of thinking that everyone practices the same religious rituals as you do. Holidays from a variety of religious traditions, including Judaism (Hanukkah), Christianity (Christmas), South African (Kwanza), Islamic, and pagan (Solstice) are practiced by people among us.  Each of these traditions have their own ritualistic and celebratory music.  Yet, when we visit shopping centers or other public arenas during this season, we mainly hear Christian hymns, which in itself could leave people feeling uncomfortable, not to mention tense.

However, perhaps we could view all this music from a vibratory level.  All of this music was composed with love, compassion, and good intentions in mind.  All of this music provides healing power and potential, if we can move past religious connections and views of religions, other than our own.  Bridges can be built and cultural exchange can result by sharing diverse music. An open mind equals and open heart in my opinion.  I don't practice a religion, yet I enjoy music with spiritual inspiration.  Medieval and renaissance Christian music from the Catholic Church enchants and heals on a deep level, but so do folkloric holiday songs from these periods of history.

So how can we employ holiday music to bring peace and healing in our lives? First, keep an open mind.  This doesn't imply that you toss out your religious beliefs in favor of another, it just means that you feel open to diversity, peace, and brother/sisterhood.  Second, if the nostalgic element of certain holiday songs brings pain, sit with that pain or grief.  If you see a therapist, work with this music in therapy as a cathartic avenue.  Use it as music therapy and you could experience deep healing.

Third, if someone you know is a resident at a hospital or nursing home during the holidays, ask them if they would feel comfortable listening to holiday music during this time.  Ask them what type of holiday music they prefer and don't push your own taste or culture on them.  This could cause resentment on their part.  For hospice workers, consider holiday music to help with your patient's transition--again listening skills are crucial in selecting the appropriate music for the patient.  After all, this is their passage into the next realm, which they need to orchestrate.

For those of us who feel joy listening to holiday music and aren't reminded of a tragedy or painful event that happened during a holiday season in the past, use holiday music for relaxation purposes.  Perhaps you wish to chill out after a long day at work or warm your limbs after experiencing cold or stormy weather.  Curl up with a good book or good friend, with your favorite holiday music playing in the background--light a few candles.

If you work in retail and hear holiday music playing in the background to the point of ad nauseum, choose renaissance or classical pieces (classical guitar, harp, or a string quartet), or something obscure that you would never hear in a shopping mall type situation.  Try listening to one of the Putumayo holiday music from around the world recordings or some other world music recording featuring a diversity of holiday music.

Whatever your background, holiday music can lift your heart and create a warm environment for a holiday gathering.  Invite musicians to perform at an office party, hospital bedside, or go caroling in places where people receive little human contact. This holiday season may your heart fill with joyful music and may you find healing for yourself and your loved ones, and maybe a new friend.

By the way, Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker Suite and Handel's Messiah provide powerful and beautiful holiday music.  I didn't fully appreciate Tchaikovsky's ballet music until I researched it and learned the history behind it.  Yes, I agree too many companies have used music from Nutcracker Suite to sell products during the holiday season, but if you listen to the music for music sake, it will take your breath away.

I'll post a list of some of my holiday favorite recordings in the near future.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

In review--Sugar & Spice

Gregory Porter
Motema Music

As the flood waters recede in western Washington, debut jazz artist Gregory Porter’s Water plays in the background. Similar to the stormy weather alternating with the sun peeking through thick clouds, Porter’s recording, rides a wave of emotions too. From tender love ballads like the opener, Illusions and Pretty to the bombastic socio-political 1960 What? that recalls Martin Gaye’s What’s Going On, Porter covers all the bases here.

Porter composed and co-arranged the bulk of the recording and his lyrics cut straight through the heart. The arrangements with passionate horns, and saxophone anchored down with piano, bass, and drums, wed to Porter’s visual text. Porter’s vocals hit the spot too, again portraying a palette of emotions, outrage on 1960 What? and sensual on Pretty, when Porter sings, “Her hand strokes the drum. She plays so fast I can’t find the one…”

On Magic Cup the musicians introduce Latin jazz funk and Wisdom features a blend of jazz and gospel, and Porter ends the recording with an a cappella blues piece, Feeling Good. His vocals radiate throughout the recording. His passionate delivery of the classic Skylark promises to turn heads. As far as debut recordings go, this among the hottest I’ve come across in my 24 years of reviewing music—highly recommended.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Top 10 Recordings from the Americas for 2010

1. Jovino Santos Neto, See the Sound, Adventure Music

2. Mario Romano Quartet, Valentina, Alma Records

3. Catherine Russell, Inside this Heart of Mine, World Village

4. Benjamim Taubkin, Piano Masters, Vol. 1, Adventure Music

5. Roberto Occhipinti, A Bend in the River, Alma Records

6. Marcos Amorim Trio, Portraits, Adventure Music

7. Jon Manasse and Jon Nakamatsu, Bernstein, Gershwin, Novacek, and d’ Rivera, American Music for Clarinet, Harmonia Mundi

8. Ricardo Silveira, ‘Til Tomorrow, Adventure Music

9. Estun-Bah (Native American), From Where the Sun Rises, Canyon Records

10. Gregory Porter, Water, Motema

Best Folkloric Retrospective: Mike Marshall, An Adventure, 1999-2009, Adventure Music