Saturday, November 16, 2013

In review--Vernacular Brazil

Mario Adnet
Villa Lobos 

I had heard of Heitor Villa Lobos for many years while reviewing classical music, but I had not listened to any music by this Brazilian composer until the arrival of Mario Adnet’s Villa Lobos--a beautiful collection of vernacular classical and Brazilian popular songs performed by some of Brazil's finest musical talent.  While I’m not going to delve into history or give you biographical information of Villa Lobos, I encourage you to look up this fascinating early 20th century composer after listening to this stunning recording.

As an homage to Villa Lobos, Adnet teams up with a Brazilian orchestra (Orqestra de Cordas), Edu Lobo, Milton Nascimento, Mônica Salmaso, Muiza Adnet, Paula Santoro, Yamandu Costa and members of the Adnet family. The result is upbeat performances such as Mazurka Choro and the opening track, A Menina Das Nuvens as well as, dreamy pieces, Tristorosa (sung by Mario Adnet and Paula Santoro with lush orchestration set behind this duet), the melancholic Aria (Cantilena), and Ondulando (composed in 1914) with its pensive horn soaring over strings.

Canção Cristal provides us with Santoro’s wistful vocals framed by cascading notes of piano and harp, back by the orchestra.  If you’re looking for a luscious duet, Salmaso and Lobo provide this on Caicó Aria, which also features Teco Cardoso’s flute, Marcos Nimrichter’s piano, and woodwinds (clarinet) by Igor Carvalho, Joana Adnet and Pedro Paes.  Adnet closes the CD the effervescent piece Estrella é Lua Nova which features Yamandu Costa’s guitar and a large group of musicians and singers.  This festive piece gets our feet moving in the right direction and its warmth conjures images of Brazil’s beaches.

Monday, November 11, 2013

In Review--Bird Songs & Child's Play

Storybook with CD/Children’s Music 
Songs from A Journey with a Parrot
Lullabies & Nursery Rhymes from Brazil 
Collected by Magdeleine Lerasle 
The Secret Mountain

My journey with music consciousness has led me to explore children’s music on occasion.  Perhaps this is because when I was a child I listened to music written for children and this helped greatly with my development.  In the US especially, music programs have been cut out of many public schools which leaves it to parents to bring quality music into the home and expose children to music of varying genres.  The storybook and CD, Songs from A Journey with a Parrot offers parents that opportunity while also giving the parents sophisticated world music for their own listening pleasure.  I don’t have children and I’m enjoying this delightful project.

First off the book portion features colorful ethnic illustrations by Aurelia Fronty that pop off the pages.  The musical portion features traditional Brazilian and Portuguese instruments giving off a warm acoustic feeling.  Adults and children share the vocal portions often sung over delicious Afro-Brazilian polyrhythms or on the slower tempo songs accompanied by various lutes and accordion.  The publisher squeezed 30 songs onto a 44 minute disk so we only hear snippets of circle dances, lullabies and game songs that derived from love and work songs of another era.  I would love to hear fuller versions of a few of the songs.

While I’m unable to comment on all 30 tracks, for brevity sake, I selected a few to describe.  The titular track sports a jaunty melody over a lively bandolim (mandolin family).  The Water Seller (track 2), a work song, stands out with its swirly and whirling accordion and catchy melody.  The Little Window Closes rolls by at a slower tempo, but is a playful children’s game song.  My Lemon, My Lemon Tree, is another love song transformed into a children’s dance song--in this case a bossa nova performed on accordion, guitar, bass, maracas and a high-pitch percussion instrument, cuica that sounds like it's barking. Samba Samba Samba Lê Lê sports a catchy melody sung by children, wiggling their hips, no doubt since the rhythms are delicious. 

The circle dance I went to Itororò hails from medieval Iberia and here features the suave vocals of Gerson Leonardi.  The Neighbor’s Hen, a rhythmic counting song delights and Carolina’s Eyes brings us another love song turned into child’s play.  Dance Little Dance finds its roots in Spain and Arabia, here it is performed as a circle dance.  With the holidays coming up, Songs from a Journey with a Parrot makes a wonderful gift for children and adults too.

In review--Songs from the Native American Church

World/Native American 
Cheevers Toppah
A Good Day, A Better Tomorrow 
Songs of the Native American Church
Canyon Records

Sacred music poses a challenge for review purposes because reviewing music requires the analytical brain and sacred music works the other side of the brain, leading to enhanced spiritual experiences.  Sacred music also requires undivided attention as well as, a focus on the heart and body to gage reactions.  Songs of the Native American Church have the ability to knock me right out of my mental space and land me in my heart center and I don’t want to be anywhere near my computer when this takes place.

Kiowa/Navajo Vocalist Cheevers Toppah honors his ancestors by carrying on the Native American Church song tradition, also known as “peyote songs” on his latest CD, A Good Day, A Better Tomorrow.  The songs appear in 8 sets (the structure of a Native American Church song) and Toppah closes the recording with a harmonized version of “Happy Birthday”, sung a cappella with harmonized vocals that could make listeners weak in the knees from the sheer beauty that appears here.  I felt moved by this song, especially after listening to 4 of the 8 sets, which in itself felt like a deep prayer session.  Where was Toppah when I experienced my last birthday?

Toppah is among a generation of Native American vocalists who possess vocal strength, power, and grace.  His choral training only enhances his vocals. Usually my nerves feel jumpy around Native American waterdrum and shakers, but when I listened to the songs on this recording, I felt deeply relaxed.  Normally, this genre of Native American music is performed as prayers song as part of a Native American Church ritual involving the ingestion of the peyote mushroom and performed in a sacred space.  I listened to the songs in my apartment, with a busy street behind me and not exactly a grounding place.  However, these songs visited and honored my spirit and for that I am truly thankful.  I recommend any recording by Cheevers Toppah--this is quality music with heart and soul.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

21st Century Musical Healer--Harpist & Therapy Musician Lynda Kuckenbrod

A new member of my Linked In group, Musical Healers, Lynda Kuckenbrod, a Therapy Musician (sometimes known as bedside musician) reminds us that music heals us at every point in our lives.  Therapy musicians have brought healing sound vibrations to hospice and hospital patients, to nursing home residents, and in a variety of clinical settings.

Kuckenbrod, a lover of music, started her journey as a Therapy Musician after a vist to her mother in the hospital in which Kuckenbrod played her harp. You will find the full story on the Moon Shadow Harp website (link at the bottom of the page).  She also trains harpists.

WME: Since the terms music therapy and therapeutic musicians might confuse people, meaning they might think it is the same, please give a short description of the work you do as a therapeutic musician as opposed to the work of a music therapist (which is hands-on with a client).

Lynda Kuckenbrod: Music Therapists have at least a 4 year degree.  Often times they will actively engage their patient in the therapy.  For example, the MT will have their patient sing songs with them to help the patient re-learn speech and speaking skills.

Therapeutic Musicians usually complete at least a 2 year certification training program. TM’s do not require any interaction with their music at all.  In fact, the patient can be sleeping or comatose. Therapeutic musicians used frequencies, keys, modes and tempo to facilitate healing.  We will also used the use of familiar or non-familiar music.  The training is intensive requiring knowledge in medical terminology, psychoneuroimmunology, music theory as well as learning the specific musical techniques for various conditions.  There is an internship that must be completed as well.  But it should be kept in mind that you do not have to be an advanced musician to be a therapeutic musician.  This type of music is very simple and even beginners do well.  The only requirement is to be familiar with your instrument and have a passion to help others during, perhaps some of the most trying times of their lives.

WME: You mention that "Pachelbel’s Canon" is a favorite song among therapeutic musicians because of the key that it is in and its constant (soothing) rhythm and then you also mention "Amazing Grace" on the video on your website.

Why is the particular key in the canon so healing? Is this key universally healing?

LK: Many of the major keys are great for healing music in the Western World.  Frankly, I like to play the Canon in C.  it is a great ‘grounding’ key and does not evoke any emotion. (i.e. the key of A minor will produce a sad or melancholy emotion.)  “Amazing Grace” can be classified as familiar music (same as “Pachelbel’s Canon”) .  This song almost always helps to raise the voices of those in dementia units and will allow families to release emotions in hospice situations.  It must be clarified however that hymns are used only when appropriate.  Therapeutic musicians do not proselytize in any way – even in their choice of songs.

WME: Describe an experience where you play music for a patient at a bedside and improvise based on the energy you exchange with a patient.  How do you tune into this energy? Where is your focus as a musician and as a healer?

LK: What a great question!! It is hard to explain.  When we enter a patient’s room, we have no preconceived idea what we will be playing.  We do a full assessment from what we can glean from the patient and the room.  (Based upon the teachings in my course, Therapy Harp Training Program, LLC) we enter a room with positive intent and with the thoughts that we will do not harm.  That is the absolute basic energy.  As we enter this space, we use our assessment, our intent and our intuition.  Many times our initial assessment is not quite on target.  The beauty of live music at the bedside is that we can change it at a moments notice. 

An example, often times, is in hospice with a patient that is actively dying.  When you are allowed to be honored by that experience, you simply release any be conceived music and let your heart play the music. 
WME: Do you have a story working with an end-of-life patient at a hospice that you would like to share?

LK: Oh my, there are so many stories. Many times I might be the only one in the room with a patient passes, but one time I entered a room to find the entire family: the daughter and her husband, the granddaughters and sons – were all there.  It was obvious that they had been there more than a day.  There were blankets on the lounge chairs. There were newspapers from days before.  The grown granddaughter was curled up on a lounge chair wrapped in a blanket and was taking a nap.  

Grandmother was sleeping peacefully in bed. I walked in with a harp; a stranger to this intimate gathering.  After giving a quick explaination of therapeutic music, I sat and began to play.  Eventually, the room fell back into the activity and energy that was there prior to my arrival.  The son-in-law went back to reading his newspaper.  The granddaughter rearranged her blankets and sat up and chatted with her mother.  Every so often they would talk to grandmother and letting her know that it was ‘ok to go’.   I played.  They laughed.  I played.  They cried.  I played. There was silence. It was a perfect setting. 

All of a sudden there was a loud ‘THUD’.  We all stopped what we were doing and looked around.  Nothing was out of the ordinary.  The room returned into the quiet loving space once again.

A few minutes later: ‘THUD!!’.  This time the noise came from the window.  Sitting outside on the window ledge was a white dove. At that moment, grandmother passed.

WME: Finally, you have this quote on your website, "Music is Hope".  This quote seems obvious to me in that music gives us hope and healing which brings more hope.  However, what do these words mean to you personally?

LK: Personally?  Music is my life. It has been there when all else seemed to be falling apart.  It has been my love, my life and my soul.  In those quiet desperate times in our lives that we all face, music has been there like a long lost friend, a a soul mate, that will quietly pick me up, brush me off and help me take the next step.

Lynda Kuckenbrod, CHM, CCM, VAHTP, HSH
Clinical Harpist, Director, Therapy Harp Training Program, LLC