Saturday, February 18, 2012

The Practice: Satiating Musical Hunger

photo by Patricia Herlevi
Satiated by the right music at the right time

Often I compare music to food.  With my book Whole Music (Soul Food for the Mind, Body, Spirit), in progress, the food-music comparison occurs to me on a daily basis.  However, so many aspects factor into the right music for us at the right time.  First, planetary transits will play a key role especially the outer planets Pluto and Neptune, while Uranus will throw us some truly shocking musical moments.  Our state of health plays a role, as do our moods, stress levels and life circumstances.  This is why I have included essay on purposeful music and keeping a music diary on this blog.

I will give you an example from my life.  With Pluto transiting in the first house of my natal astrology chart, I feel blocked energy in my first three chakras. It doesn’t surprise me one bit that I am drawn to primal music with roots in Africa. Africans with their polyphonic rhythms, earthy lyrics, and vocals represent the first three chakras or at least their music does. If you want to heal first chakra issues for instance, you would not play Bach or Mozart that affect the higher chakras.  However, if your issues are more Neptunian, and if you find that you lean towards an ethereal state and your main concern are your heart and higher chakras then I would recommend Debussy and Ravel’s music.

Of course, ultimately you need to find the music for yourself that satiates your hunger.  You first need to develop an awareness of how different types of music affect you.  Subconsciously you have this awareness and you find yourself acting impulsively in choosing a specific music for a specific situation.  This morning I felt sluggish and blocked in my lower chakra, faced with survival issues (what’s new?) so I put Earth Wind & Fire’s Greatest Hits, Volume 1 in my player.  Those polyphonic beats and earthy vocals boosted my energy and the lyrics ignited my spirit.  After all, how can you listen to a song about singing a song to make you happy and not feel uplifted? And how would lyrics to Shining Star--“You’re a shining star, no matter who you are, shining bright to see...” not boost confidence? I needed to feel love coming at me from the Universe and this music did that for me.

Bach was not the right music for that moment.  However, Bach’s music is perfect for relaxing and for curing writer’s block.  European classical music has its place and so does African roots music.  All music like all whole foods (not junk food) has its place.  Sometimes we need comfort, sometimes we need to boost our self-worth, some times we need to boost our immune system and sometimes we need to relieve stress.  Determining which music fits the occasion leads us further into music consciousness.

Similar to a food diet, a music diet keeps us healthy, but not just our bodies, our minds and spirits too.  Some days you crave macaroni & cheese and other days you crave a healthy smoothie for a detox cleanse. On days when we need to clean our mental and emotional palette, try listening to new age music without a melody or drone music or try silence.  Many sound healing CDs will accomplish this task and I recommend you add one or two to your CD collection.  On days that you need stimuli, listen to music from Africa or American jazz or soul music. Duke Ellington comes to mind and so does Stevie Wonder. You can find both at your local library or watch YouTube videos featuring this music.

So feeling like the music you just listened to hasn’t left you satiated? Follow your gut instincts and don’t deny yourself the music you need at this time. You might even need to listen to children’s music, like old Disney movie tunes or maybe you feel nostalgic for Broadway show tunes or your favorite piece of classical music. Or maybe you need to chant along with an Indian kirtan song. One last caveat, do not mistake hunger for music for hunger for food.  Sometimes we think we are hungry for comfort foods that will just lead to weight gain, when comforting music will satisfy your hunger.  As you grow more conscious and aware, you will learn to avoid this pitfall.  Enjoy your musical meal.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

In review--Did someone say Shostakovich?

Piano Concertos
Alexander Melnikov
Mahler Chamber Orchestra
Harmonia Mundi

Russian composers came to my attention during the past decade, with the wild piano concertos of Rachmaninoff to the playful and provocative works by Prokofiev.  Now I am listening to early piano concertos by Dmitry Shostakovich as they appear on Shostakovich Piano Concertos and Sonata for Violin and Piano op. 134 as performed by Alexander Melnikov (piano), Isabelle Faust (violin), Jeroen Berwaerts (trumpet), and the Mahler Chamber Orchestra directed by Teodor Currentzis.  The music here runs the gamut from playful and spirited, to solemn to disturbing (Sonata for Violin and Piano).

The program on the recording contrasts the kinetic energy of a young Russian composer, Piano Concertos 1 & 2 with the dark and dissonant Sonata for Violin and Piano, op.134, which I just could not sit and listen to without feeling extremely tense. While I understand intellectually that the composer reacted to the sociopolitical conditions surrounding him at the time of Stalin’s iron fist, I listen to music to relax and enjoy myself. When referring to the sonata, even the liner notes cite, “This music is far from ‘easy listening’ as it gets.  On the other hand, the second movement of the Second Concerto is routinely included in ‘light classics’ compilations, broadcast by radio stations of dubious credibility, and played through headphones to airline passengers or CAT patients ‘to make them feel good’”.

True, the second movement of Piano Concerto, No. 2, possesses relaxing qualities with its slow passages, and slightly melancholic melody, that recalls the second movement of Maurice Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G major.  However, I much prefer Piano Concerto No. 1, which brings in trumpet as an additional solo instrument.  The first movement sounds familiar to my ears, and mainly because the Canadian folk band The Bills included the intro of the movement on one of their songs from their album All Day Every Day.  Prior to that, I know I heard this music as a soundtrack for cartoons growing up.

Music therapists and sound healers could use the second movement to relax their clients.  The elongated notes, and resonating low strings certainly feel relaxing to me, then halfway through the movement and solemn trumpet comes in with majestic clear tones.  The slow descending notes played on the piano further enhance these relaxing qualities.  Then the performers launch into the final movement in which you had better have a strong heart to keep up.  At least the composer adds a short interlude for a transition, (third movement).

Pianist Alexander Melnikov, Isabelle Faust, Jeroen Berwaerts and the Mahler Chamber Orchestra deliver solid performances that will blow your mind during certain moments and in other moments knock the wind out of you.  With the exception of the second movements from Piano Concertos 1 and 2, I would not recommend this album for listeners with heart problems or brain/nerve disorders. In addition do not play this music for your pets because it is too stimulating.  There is just too much energy here with notes flying at you.  Everyone else is in for an emotional roller coaster ride when listening to the entire recording, but at least ending on a playful note.  I prefer to listen to the piano concertos only.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

In review--Solo Oboe

Céline Moinet
J.S. Bach, Berio, Britten
Harmonia Mundi

The oboe has always fascinated me.  The instrument’s timbre falls somewhere between a cornet, English horn, and flute--so mysterious and alternately melancholy. If you asked me to single out the sound of the oboe in an orchestra, there’s a good chance that I’ll mistake the oboe for an English horn.  On Céline Moinet’s recording Oboe, the musician explores diverse territory ranging from the baroque architecture of J.S. Bach and then skipping ahead several hundred years to modern composers Elliott Carter, Luciano Berio and Benjamin Britten. By bringing compositions by those composers, we might end up thinking that J.S. Bach was ahead of his time as far as polyphonies played on a single instrument.

However, the Bach pieces that Moinet chose for this recording, (both father and son, CPE Bach's work), were originally composed for transverse flute. Still that doesn’t stop Moinet’s oboe from resembling a regal cornet, even on the modern pieces (though I will admit I don’t have ears for Berio's work).  Bach’s Partita in A minor (for solo flute) and Benjamin Britten’s Six Metamorphoses after Ovid resonate with me. World’s apart and separated by 300 years, Bach’s partitas feature staccato notes resting on elongated notes briefly and then flitting off, like a baroque dancer at a ball.  Britten’s short pieces reflecting on Greek tales of transformation, do just the opposite, they feature elongated notes with rapid passages briefly appearing.  Each tableau gives an impression of the Greek legendary figure through timbre, tone, and tempo.  For instance, Phaeton is represented by rapid playful arpeggios; Pan by elongated pastoral notes, and Niobe by slow passages and silence.

Moinet ends the recording with CPE Bach’s Sonata in A minor (originally for solo flute), echoing his father’s compositions which opened the recording.  While I don’t know why Moinet chose to end the recording with early music, it works, as listeners are shuttled through a music history lesson, and all this on a solo oboe with as much personality as a Steinway grand.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

In review--Jazz by moonlight

Ahmad Jamal
Blue Moon
Jazz Village (Harmonia Mundi)

The liner notes for American jazz pianist Ahmad Jamal’s Blue Moon, The New York Session, call the album a masterpiece and I would have to agree. Distilled in Jamal’s performance are decades of jazz exploration, improvisations, and a pioneering spirit that brings old standards such as Laura and Blue Moon vibrantly alive; and with original compositions, highlight Jamal’s ear for tone, texture, and polyrhythms. Jamal strings together exquisite musical pearls, from the Latin-ized Invitation, Blue Moon, supported by conga beats (Manolo Badrena) and Cuban piano motifs, as well as, mind-blowing syncopation that keeps listeners guessing.

While I enjoy hearing familiar songs tossed into unfamiliar terrain and witnessing Jamal’s imagination at work when he segues into blues motifs in the middle of Laura, or repeats a Latin piano motif in between Blue Moons famous melody, he and his quartet (Badrena, Reginald Veal, double bass, and Herlin Riley, drums), delivers excitement on the originals too.  A reviewer for UK’s The Guardian, referred to Jamal’s originals, Autumn Rain, I Remember Italy (my favorite on the recording), and Morning Mist as “impressionistic.” Who is going to argue when birdcalls, whistles, and splashes of cymbals appear during the opening phrases of Morning Mist? In addition, on Autumn Rain, the heaviness of the piano coupled with the drums, recall rain pounding the streets. The wandering melody in I Remember Italy offers a lyrical get-away.

I have seen Ahmad Jamal’s name for years in reference to American jazz and I’ve heard his work in passing, such as the theme to movie and television show, MASH and the soundtrack for The Bridges of Madison County, but this, and I’m sorry to say, is the first time I’m sitting down with a Jamal recording. Blue Moon offers a delightful listening experience with jazz history, and masterful performances leaving me to realize all that I have missed in my previous years listening to music--better late than never.