I just figured if I liked a song, it was mine.
Tuesday Evening Melody: Philip Glass “The Play of the Wrathful and Peaceful Deities”
by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
There’s no other composer quite like him. Philip Glass summons the inner strength — the power and majesty — and the vulnerable adult who is always a child inside. His music stirs something primal; he reminds of us of our vulnerability. His music compels us to remember how profound we all can be, even when we can’t feel or say one remarkable word.
I’ve been moved by “Mad Rush” on several occasions, but I had no idea of the back story until now. It was originally written for the organ, which I encourage you to listen to, but the reason it was written is just as interesting. Glass tells the story this way:
"In 1979, most of us didn’t really know very much about His Holiness the Dalai Lama. We weren’t sure exactly when he would arrive, though there was a time specified. I was asked to compose a piece of somewhat indefinite length. Not actually a problem for me. I played in the organ; I’ve become very comfortable with this as a piano piece.
It eventually acquired the name “Mad Rush,” which had nothing to do with its original purpose but… For those who are interested in the Tibetan iconography of Tibetan Buddhism, you might think of it as the play of the wrathful and peaceful deities.”
You can watch Glass’ performance of “Mad Rush” at the Garrison Institute on April 13, 2008 at the Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine in New York City.
(Hats off to findout for reminding me of this exquisite piece!)
Bobby McFerrin’s Daily Singing Exercise
by Nancy Rosenbaum, producer
The musician Bobby McFerrin describes the art and act of improvisation as “simply motion, just the courage to keep moving.” In the audio above (from this week’s show "Catching Song"), he offers a three-week challenge for building improvisational muscles and describes how it works. Here are the steps:
- Set a timer for 10 minutes.
- Open up your mouth and sing.
- Don’t stop for 10 minutes.
- Do this every day for three weeks.
Sounds pretty simple, right? McFerrin, however, warns that every inch, atom, and molecule of your being will want to bail. Self-judgment will creep in. But don’t falter. Keep going. McFerrin holds open the tantalizing promise that, in a few short weeks, you’ll see a change.
So, who’s up for the challenge?
Once you’ve tried McFerrin’s improvisational workout, we’d love to hear what it was like. What surprised you? Delighted you? Share your reflections here in the comments section. You can even record yourself and send in your improvisational vocal creations here at (612) 326-4044. If enough people participate, we’ll produce an audio montage and post it to the blog.
Are you in?
Tuesday Evening Melody: “North Dakota” by Chris Knight
by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
Yeah, I’m a day late — partly due to the Memorial Day holiday but more so for the fact that I’m back in North Dakota taking some sandbagging vacation days. This sorrow song from Chris Knight is my homage to the great prairie state and the Missouri River, which is reclaiming its banks and swallowing up homes and lands it hasn’t said hello to since the Big Muddy was dammed nearly 60 years ago.
The effort may be futile and nature may remind us that flood control is never foolproof. But to try to salvage what remains is noble, whether it mitigates disaster or not. And the way that catastrophe galvanizes a community is one positive I’ll take from these days in the sun with shovel in hand, and lower back in tow.
About the image: The Missouri River waters near Bismarck and Mandan can be seen spreading to areas rarely touched due to the increased releases from the Garrison Dam. (photo: Bill Prokopyk/North Dakota National Guard Public Affairs Office)
Mavis Staples and the Grandness of Musical History (video)
by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
Who doesn’t love the remarkable and enduring Mavis Staples? And teaming up with Jeff Tweedy? Well, the Grammy voters couldn’t resist her charm either, awarding her Best Americana Album for her latest work, You Are Not Alone. Which is a perfect opportunity to share these two videos of her and Wilco front man Tweedy performing acoustic versions of both songs he composed for the album: the title track “You Are Not Alone” (above) and “Only the Lord Knows” (below).
Her win also gives us a chance to remember her family’s legacy in the American civil rights movement. As Dr. Vincent Harding reminds us in an upcoming show, artists like The Staples Singers (“Respect Yourself” and “I’ll Take You There”) and Curtis Mayfield created a soundtrack of hope for the movement. In the liner notes of Mavis Staples’ 2007 album We’ll Never Turn Back, she wrote this personal letter reminding us of this history and the need for positive change going forward:
"When we started our family group, The Staple Singers, we started out mostly singing in churches in the South. Pops saw Dr. Martin Luther King speak in 1963 and from there we started to broaden our musical vision beyond just gospel songs. Pops told us, "I like this man. I like his message. And if he can preach it, we can sing it." So we started to write "freedom songs," like "Why Am I Treated So Bad," "When Will We Be Paid for the Work We’ve Done," "Long Walk to DC," and many others. Like many in the civil rights movement, we drew on the spirituality and the strength from the church to help gain social justice and to try to achieve equal rights.
We became a major voice for the civil rights movement and hopefully helped to make a difference in this country. It was a difficult and dangerous time (in 1965 we spent a night in jail in West Memphis, Arkansas and I wondered if we’d ever make it out alive) but we felt we needed to stand up and be heard.
So for us, and for many in the civil rights movement, we looked to the church for inner strength and to help make positive changes. And that seems to be missing today. Here it is, 2007, and there are still so many problems and social injustices in the world. Well, I tell you ¬ we need a change now more than ever, and I’m turning to the church again for strength.
With this record, I hope to get across the same feeling, the same spirit and the same message as we did with the Staple Singers — and to hopefully continue to make positive changes. We’ve got to keep pushing to make the world a better place. Things are better but we’re not where we need to be and we’ll never turn back. 99 and 1/2 just won’t do!”
A good way to kick off your Friday.
You’ll Never Hear Kumbaya the Same Way Again
by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
There are a few moments from behind the glass that stop me dead in my tracks — times during an interview when a wise voice creates a new opportunity to hear something differently. To challenge a conceit. To envelop the listener in the womb of silent storytelling and place one in a position of listening profundity. Vincent Harding did just that.
In the audio above, the theologian and speechwriter for Martin Luther King Jr. creates that vulnerable opening and ever so gently corrects, without admonishment, when the “Kumbaya” is referred to as a soft and squishy moment of song:
"Whenever somebody jokes about "Kumbaya," my mind goes back to the Mississippi summer experience where the movement folks in Mississippi were inviting co-workers to come from all over the country, especially student types to come and help in the process of voter registration and freedom school teaching and taking great risks on behalf of that state and of this nation. …
In group after group, people were singing:
‘Kumbaya. “Come by here my Lord. Somebody’s missing Lord. Come by here.”’
I could never laugh at kumbaya moments after that. Because I saw that almost no one went home from there. This whole group of people decided that they were going to continue on the path that they had committed themselves to and a great part of the reason why they were able to do that was because of the strength and the power and the commitment that had been gained through that experience of just singing together, Kumbaya.”
I know I’ve used this this reference to a “kumbaya moment” in a slightly pejorative way. This no longer holds true. I can no longer judge using this label. Let Vincent Harding’s story be a lesson for us all.
We’re producing the radio show now and it’ll be released on February 24th.
Atheists Don’t Have No Songs
by Shubha Bala, associate producer
Watch Steve Martin with the Steep Canyon Rangers sing a special song, since they say atheists don’t have any.
"A Minor American Miracle": Orrin Hatch’s Rockin’ Hanukkah Song
Trent Gilliss, online editor
A quick scan of this morning’s edition of the Tablet Daily Digest e-mail prompted me to read the lead article, "Hanukkah: A Guide for the Perplexed," which was fun and quite helpful. And then I moved on.
It wasn’t until I was checking my inbox this afternoon that I saw what should have been at the top of the page: a video by songwriter and senior senator from Utah, Orrin Hatch. How the song came into being is actually a rather heart-warming story, as Jeffrey Goldberg tells it. I had no idea the Sen. Hatch liked to write spirituals.
But, it is a wonderful testament to the spirit of the season that such things can happen so freely and spread a little joy during an afternoon at work. Also, the idea that an Arab singer backed by the vocals of a the Jewish magazine staff sings a song written by a Mormon politician who “possesses a heartfelt desire to reach out to Jews” gives one hope that year-end holidays can bring out the best in people — and a will to understand one’s own traditions and the rituals of others:
"I know a lot of Jewish people that don’t know what Hanukkah means," he [Hatch] said. Jewish people, he said, should "take a look at it and realize the miracle that’s being commemorated here. It’s more than a miracle; it’s the solidification of the Jewish people."
And, yes, I do consider this another one of my Friday “video snacks.” *grin*
The Right to Live in Peace (in song)
Mitch Hanley, Senior Producer
In looking for potential music for this program with Mercedes Doretti, we came across a rich collection of artists in both Argentina and Chile who’ve documented, in song, the dark times of Argentina’s “dirty war” and General Pinochet’s regime in Chile.
Some of the artists were exiled, as was the case for Mercedes Sosa, whose song, “Sera Posible el Sur?,” became an anthem for the people of Argentina. This song refers to the state-sponsored terrorism used in Argentina to “disappear” thousands of people and dismiss the mothers looking for their children as crazy. Here is a rough translation of the first stanza:
Will the South be possible?
will it be possible with so many stray bullets
to the heart of the village,
and so many mothers are deemed crazy
and all of the memory in a prison
"Sera Posible el Sur?" by Mercedes Sosa
Mercedes Sosa’s lullaby, “Pequena,” was used in the program and can be found on the SOF Playlist.
Victor Jara was an outspoken supporter of Salvador Allende’s populist politics and helped to get him elected president in 1970. Upon the coup of 1973 and General Augusto Pinochet’s grasp of power, Victor Jara was arrested, brought to the national stadium with thousands of others, and over three days was electrocuted, his hands broken, and finally shot to death on September 15, 1973. According to his wife, with broken hands he wrote his last poem on scraps of paper that were smuggled out of the stadium by survivors. The final words of which include:
"Silence and screams are the end of my song."
Although the Pinochet regime managed to destroy many of the master recordings of Jara’s works, here is a YouTube video of Jara performing, “El Derecho de Vivir en Paz (The Right to Live in Peace)”:
Many others have written homages to Victor Jara:
"The Hands of Victor Jara" by Chuck Brodsky
"Victor Jara’s Hands" by Calexico
"Washington Bullets" by The Clash
"Everything Will Be Alright"
» download the recording (mp3, 4:34)
Nancy Rosenbaum, Associate Producer
Last month, on a sub-zero Minnesota winter night, I drove to Minneapolis to record a live event in celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King Junior’s birthday. My spirit was a bit depleted with the raw, dry cold and a feeling of looming uncertainty about the future. I convinced myself that getting out and being around people (not to mention making a little extra cash) would do me some good.
I wasn’t wrong. That evening, the Minneapolis-based musical troupe Sounds of Blackness was booked to perform. I hadn’t ever heard them before, and boy was I in for a treat. I sat at the back of The Basilica of Saint Mary with my headphones on and let their sweet gospel melodies pour into my ears. One song in particular shook me out of my worried, wired monkey brain. I think the song is called "Everything Will Be Alright." What you’re listening to here is a really great recording of that live performance.
Recently Trent blogged about the music that helped him get through a hard time after being laid off from his dot com job when he was living in England. And Mitch conducted a lively phone interview with author Mary Doria Russell where we learn about the 1980s big hair bands that inspire her. What songs are inspiring or consoling you these days?