Monday, September 17, 2012

Stories We Tell Among Friends

Music is about connecting; however, choosing what's relevant to connect to is a difficult task for any musician. In a world that is becoming increasingly global centric and increasing sensitive to the global ecosystem, music has the potential to spread awareness through a language that is familiar, about a variety of subjects previously gone unnoticed. In this sense, music can be used as a meditation device through which a world we are blind to becomes intense and meaningful as we become more and more aware. Minimalist composer Steve Reich spent several wartime years during his childhood traveling with his governess between his estranged parents, his mother in Los Angeles and his father in New York. "Exciting, romantic trips, full of adventure for the young Reich but many years later, it dawned on him that, had if he been in Germany during the ethnic cleansing by the Nazis, his Jewish background would have ensured that the trains he would have been riding on would have been very 'different trains.' He set about collecting recordings to effectively recreate and document the atmosphere of his travels to contrast with those of the unfortunate refugees." The piece, entitled Different Trains, landed Reich a Grammy in 1989 for Best Contemporary Composition. Through his poignant presentation of disturbing yet memorable primary source material from the Holocaust victims, Reich was able to connect with a broad audience on a deeply emotional level by creating a meditation for his audience on the experience of the Holocaust, a feat not easily accomplished by a musical medium but arguable impossible to accomplish with any other medium. "By combining the sound of train whistles, pistons and the scream of brakes with extracts of speech by porter Lawrence Davis, who took the same rides as Reich between the big apple and Los Angeles, governess Virginia and three holocaust survivors (Paul, Rachel and Rachella), Reich creates music of great intensity and feeling. The slow, middle section, Europe-During The War, finds the refugees in the midst of their nightmare, 'no more school' and being herded into the cattle wagons. 'They shaved us, They tattooed a number on our arm, Flames going up to the sky- it was smoking.' Sirens from the Kronos help to convey the despair and confusion of the Jewish plight. Reconciliation is achieved in part three, After The War, where Paul, Rachel and Rachella are transported to live in America. There is an incredibly poignant moment when Paul proclaims ' the war was over,' Rachella, in sheer, fragile disbelief, asks 'Are you sure?.' " Music has the power to add meaning to almost anything. It has the power to stop one in one's tracks, to take one out of oneself and put one somewhere else or in the position of someone else. Late last Spring, I was inspired by spiritual teacher Osho (born Chandra Mohan Jain), to write a piece. His teachings were recommended to me by a friend in the yoga community. It was very easy to find recordings and videos of talks that he has given on a huge variety of subjects including socialism, institutionalized religions and sex. I was particularly captured by one of his talks on love entitled, Being In Love. My intent was to find a way through music with which I could encourage the listener in such a way that he would find particular attachment to specific words, pause in the right places as to have enough time to fully absorb Osho's multiple layers of meaning. I knew that I would have to take great care not to distract the listener from Osho's actually voice and the clarity of his speech. There was something musical about his consonants; they were precise, deliberate, and carefully labored. I wanted to add another layer to his speech, not take anything away. Of course, I was aware that it would be impossible to compose such a piece without, in turn, commenting on his words in a subjective manner; and this was okay with me. In fact, there is no way to deny that Reich did the same thing with Different Trains. It is because of his subjectivity that the piece is personal and therefore has the potential to connect personally, like a conversation between friends. In regard to my composition, not only did I accept that I would leave a fingerprint on Osho's work but I embraced it and treated the responsibility with care. If experiences continue to be passed down in an idiom familiar to the current generation, those experiences will never loose their relevance.; they will continue to be profound and have impact. They will never be forgotten. My piece is still not finished. There is so much more I need to understand about the experience of love and the experience of Osho experiencing love, before I can conclusively comment on it. However, the process of composing this piece has has already enriched my appreciation of music and the potential that it holds to arrest the attention of audiences. The process has also humbled me because I have had the realization that if we have conviction in what we are saying, people will listen.

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