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Peace Post: Max Richter, Herbie Hancock and Today’s World

Like many others, I feel at a loss to shape words into coherent phrases expressing outrage, sorrow, compassion and balanced thinking in the midst of our current flood of events in today’s world.

In light of this, as always, my medium of choice is music…and music as protest/social statement has a long history. Yes indeed I, myself, did the singer-songwriter scene in my early adulthood.  Coming of age in the midst of another time of social unrest – I still embrace that genre.

Life goes on and in today’s world, my own current brand of compositional expression tends towards instrumental music. Personally, I feel it allows for individual interpretation, un-dictated by lyrical suggestion.

Which leads me to Max Richter, a favorite contemporary composer of mine.

Some time ago I stumbled upon an interview-article with Max published on Fifteen Questions. This on-line journal engages “production experts, performers, journalists, scientists and composers to discuss what music means, how it’s made, where its limits lie, and why it affects us all so differently and yet remains universal” rather than discussing the private lives of artists or their latest releases.

Here are a few of his thoughts to which I relate and are relevant to the subject of this blog post. I encourage those of you interested in musical composition and the driving forces behind it to read the full interview.

Max Richter – interview excerpts and short musical clip

Recomposed: Vivaldi’s Four Seasons (Spring)

What do you usually start with when composing?

Music for me is storytelling, so I usually start with an intention or something I want to say. From there I kind of struggle around in the dark, trying to find ways to say that. Sometimes it’s a linear thing where I have an idea and then go about trying to find ways to express it. Other times I will discover things along the way and the idea ends up turning into something else altogether. It’s a mixture between intention and chance.

I think the reason I write music is because I’m trying to say things that I find difficult to encapsulate verbally. Music is its own kind of language and it’s very good at saying things that words struggle with, so that’s often the impulse for me.

The role of the composer has always been subject to change. What’s your view on the (e.g. political/social/creative) tasks of composers today and how do you try to meet these goals in your work?

Music is a social art, kind of like talking, but in a way, music as a vehicle for political critique has evaporated in the last 20 years and that’s disappointing.

I think if we’re talking about something in music, we should be talking about the big things that are worth talking about and those things are: the state of the world; how we live and how we spend our time. That’s something that really drives me. For example, the track The Shadow Journal on Blue Notebooks, for me, is a protest song. It was composed and recorded the week after the first big anti-Iraq war march in London. And even though Czeslaw Milosz’s words are actually describing the Second World War, the imagery he used resonated with me at that particular moment in time and so social comment was most definitely the primary motivation behind this piece of music.

Generally speaking though, people are not thinking about music in those terms anymore, not if you compare it to the counter-culture movement of the sixties, when social commentary was one the absolute driving forces of music. It’s a shame and a lost opportunity in many ways.

Herbie (and the Headhunters) Hancock – interview excerpts and musical clip

And then there’s Herbie. Rummaging through some of my paper files a few weeks ago, I came across a Music and Musicians (June 2010) article I kept on hand entitled, “Herbie Hancock: Imagining the future with a plan, a piano and a vision of peace.”

I first heard of him as Herbie and the Headhunters in 1973 during my second year of college (University of Colorado at Boulder, 1972-1977). I fell in love with his ‘new’ funk sound while listening to his Chameleon on the then ‘underground’ Denver radio station KLZ FM.

Give the piece a listen as you continue reading excerpts from that article.

What did you set out to do with this (The Imagine Project) record?

I wanted to make a global record. Although I’ve recorded with artists from other countries at various times, this truly was about emphasizing global collaboration as a path toward peace. I started thinking about America basically being an immigrant country.

Most of us have ancestors who were not from these shores. So we have these issues that are happening now about immigration and closing the borders and locking things down. I understand the motivation – the fear from 9/11 and terrorists. If you couple that with the insecurity that has come about because of the economic downturn, it’s drawing people into a state of chaos.

They’re trying to find ways to blame something, to put it on somebody. I think it’s time to stop looking outside for who to blame…now is the time to proactively begin the process of creating the kind of future we want for our children and for our children’s children.

How did you translate those ideals into music?

The first thing you have to do is be willing to be open and to embrace cultures outside of our own. The second thing is respecting the cultures and the people of those cultures. What other ways can we show our respect for other cultures? One of them is through language. It’s why I decided that if I truly wanted a global record, the record couldn’t just be in English…

Today’s World – in conclusion

Max and Herbie’s comments reveal the motivation behind much of an (he)artist’s work.

Communication – whether of a personal social statement or expression of some inner emotional response to life’s experiences – is often the result of a composer’s work; intentional or not.

For most musicians, even if performing non-original pieces, interpretational nuances shape one’s own message to be received by the audience as a gift from the heart.

For myself, my Swimming with Swans project is one such work…to give voice to the fact that those of us who have experienced or are currently in the midst of a period of displacement in a living situation or even state of mind, are not defined by that but live day-by-day and create works of beauty regardless.  And share it with all who will listen.

That’s just who we are and what we do – we count, we matter and we make a difference.

“I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
John 16:33 NIV

The (Unwanted) Power of Three: Roland, Leonard and Leon

Whether superstition, or relative to some innate programming within the natural world, death often occurs in multiples of three. My own family has recently experienced two losses close together and I hold out hope that the power of three will not prevail in our case.

However, in the musical world, I have a tally of three personal favorites who have passed within weeks of each other. Like my taste, each one is different from the other in genre, temperament and level of public awareness.

The first to begin this trio was Roland Dyens. Continue reading

My Son – The Sharp Dressed Man

please, enjoy the music while you read the following, I promise it is related to the main thrust of this blog post…and since there are several guitar solos, well, you don’t really need to watch the lyrics up on the screen

Okay, so I’ve been starting and stopping in the writing of several blog posts.

I need to feed the blog, yes, but I gotta say my focus has been a bit wonky since returning from my five weeks visiting Dad.  I started to write about that in a post entitled “Spider Webs, Jacob’s Ladder and Losing the Strand” but could only get so far when I’d lose the strand…(to be finished and posted at a later date).

Then on to a relatively easy Shoutout about the great Maestro Ricardo (and my friend) receiving a prestigious award at the annual GFA Convention in Denver, held just one week after I left. I wanted to attend, but those plans got trumped (don’t know if I like that term anymore…) with the Dad-card. No regrets at all, but it does leave the “Shoutout: In Honor of the Maestro Ricardo” in the queue to be sent sometime whenever I can do a final edit on it…again, the focus thing is the limiting factor here. It may never get finished and sent out since it’s more (out)dated news.

I discovered early on that I didn’t have the energy required to return to my current Swimming with Swans projects. This of course lead to frustration because I needed something to do in the realm of creating while navigating this new pattern of four weeks here and two weeks there; along with the emotional stuff that goes along with end-of-life and long distance elder care.

So I picked up the needle…that phrase is loaded, eh? I first mentioned this phrase in my post “The Rusty Quilter” that describes my history and re-introduction to quilting and fiber art.

Whole-cloth quilt top basted and ready for straight stitch machine-quilting

Whole-cloth quilt top basted and ready for straight stitch machine-quilting

That said, I began in earnest my new ‘now’ project totally unrelated to anything other than as a pleasurable creative outlet: the whole-cloth quilted throw; which will be discussed in greater depth in yet another WIP blog post, as yet unnamed.

During today’s immersion in some straight line machine quilting, I listened to an Amazon Prime Classic Rock Song List.

When ZZ Tops’ tune, The Sharped Dressed Man came on full blast in my earphones and into my brain, I remembered my Jo-Jo and his new obsession with dressing snappy for work.

Joe Lilly is the Sharp Dressed Man

Joe Lilly is the Sharp Dressed Man

Here’s Joe in his Tuesday morning duds, posing in the dining room of my folks’ house, with the telltale cleaning supplies and messiness in the background. One of the fantastic things I got to do while visiting Dad was to make dinner for our kids. Some of Ma’s cooking stuff is still in the kitchen and so I was able to throw together some makeshift family favorites.

Since Joe still lives in the Denver area, he purposely carved out time to stop by after work and/or pick me up for doing fun stuff together during ‘down times’.

One such outing was going to his gig at the Oriental Theatre. Actually, my sorella-amica Lisa and I went to see our sons* at this wonderful venue. Like most musicians, he’s in several bands/ensembles. This one, Heavy Medicine**, added a horn section recently, of which Joe is their main sax-guy.

The Sharp Dressed Man with his Heavy Medicine Bandmates playing the Oriental Theatre, Denver, CO 6/2016

The Sharp Dressed Man with his Heavy Medicine Bandmates playing the Oriental Theatre, Denver, CO 6/2016

Me and my son - the sharp dressed man

Me and my son – the sharp dressed man

Lots more of this mother-son stuff is in the future with each trip back to visit Dad.

Oh and on the marquee behind us is the name Leon Russell, significant in that another blog post in the queue needing to be finished is called, “The Buena Vista Social Club, Leon Russell and Dad”.

Just sayin’.

 

‘Tis a blessing to be loved…

 

 

*Lisa’s son, Ted, is fourth from the left
**The track ‘Dangerous’ includes horns
acknowledgement note: last two photos taken by Lisa K.

Mother’s Day mp3 Greeting

Have you ever tried to sing along to a Led Zeppelin song?

Not the easiest thing in the world to do.

But that didn’t deter my kiddos from sending me an mp3 of their Mother’s Day wishes and gift in a verse composed by my Michelle and sung together with my Joe to the tune of Zep’s “Going to California”.

Let me put this in context for you: Joe is in Colorado, Michelle (and hubby David) are in Michigan; they did a speaker phone call to sing this into a little thumb drive recorder attached to Michelle’s computer that she uses for research interviews.

So, it’s the non-musician in the family who orchestrated this fun Mother’s Day greeting…(transcript follows) Continue reading

The Buena Vista Social Club, More Cowbell and Cinco de Mayo

I was digging through the More Cowbell Cult Playlist I compiled about 2 years ago looking for the song by The Buena Vista Social Club that featured cowbell. I thought maybe since it’s close to Cinco de Mayo, I’d feature it in a blog post and revive the call to contribute to the expansion of this fun playlist.

I know, I know, Cinco de Mayo isn’t a Cuban holiday…heck, it isn’t an American holiday either, so?

I confess to liking any festival that encompasses dancing, food, family, music, art and community involvement regardless of ethnic origin.

viva la raza

my former fiance was deeply involved in the early days of La Raza

I was first introduced to Cinco de Mayo in the early 1970’s, long before it mainstreamed into American culture.  At the time, I was engaged to a young man who was Chicano*.  We were both students at the University of Colorado, Boulder – then and now a hotbed of education, social activism and well yes, partying…Along with the normal Vietnam protests, we spent a lot of time not buying or eating grapes from Safeway…. !Viva La Raza!

Continue reading

New Book Release: Home to Cedar Branch by Brenda Bevan Remmes

                                 Waiting for Brenda
Home-to-Cedar-Branch-Novel-by-Brenda-Remmes
Of course wouldn’t you know, the day’s dark grey skies decided to pour forth a drenching rain the moment I stepped out of the car. Brenda and I were meeting that morning at the FloTown Starbucks on Palmetto for a quasi-interview, so I wanted to get there a bit before the appointed time.
After my mad dash into the tiny building, I quickly scanned the area for an available table. As a veteran of numerous coffee shops, I know that claiming one’s territory is best done first.  I planted my book bag atop my find as evidence of ownership then proceeded to redeem my empty bean bag* for a free cup of coffee.
Returning to ‘our’ table with java in hand, I settled in to read a few pages of ‘Home to Cedar Branch’ while waiting for Brenda’s arrival…

Home to Cedar Branch is Brenda’s second novel in the ‘Quaker Café’ series.  While not intended to be a part of an actual series, this stand-alone book clamors to be part of something larger than itself. Writing has a way of making demands on its author and Brenda is accommodating those demands by crafting yet a third book in the ‘Quaker Café’ series as of this posting.

Both novels, along with an in-progress third, are centered around the fictional community of Cedar Branch.  I asked Brenda if she would like to live in Cedar Branch.  Surprisingly, she told me that she Continue reading

Celebrating a Singular Between-Time

 Today is bd Day.
A between-time of singular personal significance.
February 6th of any year is bd Day – Ma’s birthdeath Day.

February 5, 1929 Marylou Mawicke (married – Bruno) was born.
February 7, 2007 Ma passed away.

In those last two and a half years we had left living in our home in Colorado following her death, I spent countless days visiting her new cemetery home – talking to her, sitting against her head stone or laying down beside her. During those two years after losing her to COPD/emphysema I mostly sat cross-legged facing the grey-streaked white marble marker praying, crying, touching her name, cleaning the engraving, walking amongst her neighbors, sometimes bringing Dad along for his own face-to-face time(s)…always leaving gifts – tightly closed rosebuds from our climbing rose bush in the front of our home in Colorado or small rocks and Indian Paintbrush stems gathered from our family’s mountain property, or other tokens like ticket stubs to movies or concerts or Broncos stickers…Most of the more traditional offerings of floral bouquets consisted of blossoms cut from my own abundant garden(s) in our home in Colorado, especially when those Bruno Purple Giant Irises were in bloom that first Spring after her passing.

Once hubby and I sold our home in Colorado and began our between homes time, we’d return from time to time and I’d visit Ma, leaving bits of where we’d been – a perfectly flattened blue hued skipping rock from the shores of Lake Superior gathered in the Upper Peninsula my first birthday away from family and our home in Colorado; a sprinkling of white sand from the White Sands National Monument outside Las Cruces, NM gathered on respite outings after particularly hard days of elder-caring hubby’s mother; a half-opened milkweed pod found along a meadow path in North Webster, IN; a handful of Leggy Lady’s tail/mane hair from the grooming brush gathered during our time on the compound in the desert; a slice of Saguaro Cactus spine from Fountain Hills, AZ…

Each of the two Februarys we had left living in our home in Colorado, I spent February 6th as a Day for visiting her grave as a sort of ritualistic honoring of her life.

I distinctly remember the first of these two bd Days. 

That day in 2008 was unusually grey with a stiff wind signaling an impending snow storm. It didn’t deter me from my mission, though.  I needed to share something with Ma, alone, without family members who’d be gathering the next day marking the first anniversary of her death.

Driving through the Fort Logan National Cemetery on my way to her gravesite, I rehearsed what I had to say and how I was going to do what I needed to do. Coming upon the curb area closest to her headstone, I parked, opened the door wide and pressed play on the car’s cd player.  Walking towards my destination, I heard the beginnings of the music blasting forth from a few feet away…

“Ma, this is what I wanted to play for you the day before you passed away; I wanted you to be the first to hear it – finally finished and ready to record – I wanted you to know – to feel me there with you, to be a part of your leaving us. Me.

But I was too afraid…It’s taken me this long to understand why.  Somehow deep inside I thought if I could play it for you, it would work its musical magic and you’d awaken – and be back with all of us. I couldn’t face you awakening somewhere else, someplace I couldn’t go along with you.”

Poetry Shoutout: “Heading North” by Andrew James Murray

Heading North book coverAndrew James Murray“I am a northern guy. I have lived the whole of my life in the north west of England. I feel northern. It is in my accent. It is in my attitude. It is in my preferences: my favorite season is winter…”

Thus begins Andrew James Murray in the Forward of his new collection of poems, Heading North.

 

This idea of ‘northern-ness’ in a non-American context intrigued me.

A mere 35 miles west of Manchester where Andrew resides lies the infamous town of Liverpool. I never thought of The Beatles as being ‘northern’.

And yet, thinking on this further, it begins to fall into place – this marriage of blue-collar work ethic to the arts and education; a gritty, earthy element evident in both (he)artists’ life-work.

Damp, dark mists surround day-to-day living in the North, where cold light slants in mysterious angles. This is where Andrew draws inspiration. Continue reading

Alice Fulton Quote, Beethoven and My Music

Alice Fulton Quote

‘It will be new whether you make it new or not’ – Alice Fulton, Poetry, October 2013

I have to admit that when I first saw this quote, I didn’t fully comprehend its meaning. While the artwork makes for a beautiful visual, it didn’t aid in my understanding of the written text. But something subliminal captured the attention of my subconscious brain, prompting a silent rumination over the course of several months.

Bits and pieces of enlightenment would come to the forefront of my consciousness, until at last I had a mini-Aha! moment:

Beethoven and my first encounter with his 9th Symphony.

When I was a teenager, I dug out my parents’ old 78s from the shelves in their walk-in cedar closet.  Sorting through the stacks, I recognized most of the tunes and placed them in their respective piles – Ma’s stuff, Dad’s stuff and corny stuff.  My baby brother and I grew up dancing in the living room listening to all of it, including the ever present live gig-prep practicing of Dad’s – From Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci (Ma’s stuff) to Charlie Parker’s Yardbird Suite (Dad’s stuff) to Jimmy Durante’s Bill Bailey (corny stuff).

Scattered among those records were some 33s pressed on yellow-vinyl. Intrigued, I noticed they were mostly classical (by genre, not era) recordings. Beethoven’s Symphonies were recorded in a huge boxed set of 33s. I decided to listen to all of them, going from last to first.

That 9th symphony – composed in 1824 – was new to my 1971 ears.

“It will be new whether you make it new or not”

I listened to it over and over alongside some of my favorite records at the time: The White Album, and Jesus Christ Superstar.

Beethoven, the Beatles and Andrew Lloyd Webber. A motley crew, all strangely powerful and new to me.

Now, I am no Beethoven, but that mini-Aha! moment became more of a major-Aha! moment for me recently.

Since last May, sales of music from my cd, unexpected, increased significantly. Why? This recording was released in 2007.  In terms of musical output, it represents old stuff. I use it now more as a demo of sorts; an example of the breadth and quality of my playing for marketing, colleague introductions, resume point of reference and so on.

There have been many projects, performances and pieces learned since then till now. Immersed as I’ve been in my Swimming with Swans: the music project, striving to put out this new material, I’d forgotten that to those who’d never heard my stuff before:

“It will be new whether I (you) make it new or not”

Below is the single off of unexpected with the most digital listens since its release in 2007, Hatikvah.

 I wish you peace.