Thursday, January 12, 2012

The Practice: The Woods are Alive with the Sounds of Nature

photo by Patricia Herlevi
The Sound of Music opens with a nun Maria (Julia Andrews) roaming around an Austrian mountain singing, listening to church bells, and connecting with the natural world.  We would call her enchanted.  Another movie that provides an enchanting blend of nature and music comes to mind, Brother Sun, Sister Moon which chronicles the early life of Saint Francis of Assisi who used songs to connect to nature.  But do we need movies to remind us of the everyday musical sounds that surround us? And do we need these movies to remind us of our musical connection to the natural world?

Take a walk on a park or a street with little car traffic and listen intently to all the sounds that greet your ears.  How do these sounds make you feel? Do they remind you of a childhood event? Are you taken to a pleasant place or do you feel dissonance grinding away at your muscles? Take a walk in a wooded park, where most everyday sounds are drowned out and natural sounds greet you, like the sound of a brook or songbirds chirping. How do these sounds affect you? I'm guessing you feel relaxed, unless you have a phobia to hiking in the woods.

Now, let's take this step one step further, imagine that you are a traditional tribal person and that you perform rituals involving music with or for the natural world.  Imagine that this connection is crucial for safety and good fortune for your tribe, that your work has a shamanic component to it.  I'm thinking specifically of the Saami people at the moment who chant or yoik to a person, place, or thing, usually something natural.  With this yoik, the chanter creates an energy flow between him or herself and the subject of the yoik.  Some tribal rituals use drums to match the heartbeat of the earth and create a trance state for those hosting the ceremony.  In ancient times shepherds fashioned flutes out of eagle and vulture bones which were used to help with herding the sheep.  They also fashioned flutes out of reeds and cedar.

But have we lost touch with our connection to nature and the purposeful use of music that allows us to communicate with the natural world? Have we forgotten the sound of music in a natural setting? And how can we retrieve these practices? Start with hosting a drum circle in wooded park or a beach.  And don't forget to incorporate dance. Learn how to chant energy to animals and nature so that you can build a connection, a bridge.  Sing or play an instruments with birds or whales like David Rothenberg does or record animals, birds, insects and use their sounds in sound healing recordings similar to the late Marjorie de Muynck.  You don't need to be indigenous to combine music with nature.  You just need a willingness to take your life deeper into the realm of enchantment.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

In review--A Global Cuba

Elio Villafranca and Arturo Stable
Dos y Mas
Motema Records

I’m starting off the year with my first CD review of the delicious Dos y Mas by Cuban jazz pianist Elio Villafranca and Cuban percussionist Arturo Stable.  Certainly the songs on the recording feel inspired, passionate, and innovative, yet familiar.  Agua Marina takes flight with piano runs bursting forth and then alternating like gentle waves lapping a shore.   The opener 1529 features Arabic-Andalusian flavors, which isn’t surprising since the duo provides an expanded musical palette including music from Spain, the Middle East, African, and Cuba.

The elegiac Alla takes Cuban jazz to a higher level with Villafranca’s piano portraying melancholy not expected with Cuban music.  En La Colonia opens with Stable playing a kalimba (thumb piano) and off to Africa we head, soon exploring the Arabic side too.   With A Las Millas, the piano riff imprints on the brain in the same way as a melodic Coltrane song.   The counterpoint along with the warm percussion groove hits the spot.   Cuba Linda brings in the Yoruba rumba element  and closes the recording on an enticing note.  The closing track, Dos y Mas (Two and More), sums up the experience of this dazzling CD which proves more than the sum of its exotic parts.

The Practice: Breakfast Music

These days, I'm practicing what I preach about the healing power of music.  During winter days I have a difficult time waking up, but I like to greet the sunrise at least.  So today, (and I recommend this practice), I pulled out Michel Camillo and the Barcelona Symphony Orchestra's Rhapsody in Blue (a George Gershwin classic) and I listened to it while I watched the sun rise.

Of course you have a variety of morning music to choose from, such as Indian morning ragas, kirtans, Gregorian chants for specific times of day, the morning piece of Ferde Groffe's The Grand Canyon Suite, etc...  Basically you need a piece of music that last at least 10 minutes or if you have time up to 30 minutes then meditate on the sun rising as you listen to the music via headphones (if you don't want to wake others up).  You can also choose music for sun set too.

If you want to take an afternoon break, pull out Claude Debussy's Prelude to the Afternoon of the Faun or La Mer.  During a hot summer day you can sit out in the sun, listening to the delicate prelude while eating juicy grapes.  Why not use your imagination to take you on a trip backwards in time to a Greek Island?

The key is when you take a music break employ all your senses and allow your imagination to roam, just not to negative and defeating thoughts.  This is why you need to choose uplifting music with a strong resonance.  Enjoy your musical interlude.  BTW, the Debussy pieces connect you to nature via music.

Monday, January 9, 2012

The Practice: My Mendelssohn Moment

photo by Patricia Herlevi
My stress levels have shot through the roof lately.  I jumped into self-publishing a book with no idea the amount of hours I would need to put in or the learning curve that it takes to publish for new media.  Recently I gave advice to my writing colleagues to take breaks, even music breaks.  But I haven't been following my own advice.  So now after I complete my morning meditation, I listen to music for 30 minutes over headphones.

Today I gave myself a massage with essential oils sandalwood and geranium in coconut oil.  Then I listened to Bezuidenhout and Von der Goltz "Medelssohn Double Concerto for Violin and Piano," the first two movements.  Since the first movement is lively, usually the case with concertos, I focused on the quick tempo music instead of my racing thoughts.  The adagio movement calmed my mind and I almost fell back to sleep.  For that moment I truly felt relaxed.  But when I returned to my computer with projects and learning curves rearing their heads, the stress levels returned.

What I have learned with music breaks is that you need to focus your attention on the moment and on the music, just like in sitting meditation.  When the mind wanders, bring it gentle back and focus on the music.  Absorb the music into your cells, breathe deeply and follow your body's rhythms if this helps you focus better.  This takes patience and practice. 

If you feel frenzy and frantic, listen to music that starts out at that pace then work your way to music that is slower and more calming.  I'm the Vata-Pitta doshas in Ayurvedic medicine as are many people who find themselves drowning in stress and mood swings.  Therefore the slower tempo, softer music, and boosting the bass just a little will help bring on a calming mood.