Friday, March 6, 2009

Deep Musicality

I recently read Arne Naess' "Deep Ecology", an essay (and subsequent branch of philosophy) based on the idea that humans are intrinsically connected with ecology and vice-versa. For humans to flourish, everything else must flourish as well, and for the earth to flourish so must humans (although humans flourishing from a Deep Ecological standpoint may someday include not existing). The essay wasn't just about ecology and sustainability for me. It was about music.

Soul, raw humanity, earthiness, are all things I've been trying to get back to musically. Having finished the album, a work in most cases of my desire to showcase myself as best I could, I was told by a friend that I needed to rediscover what first drew me to live performance and translate that into my recording. I haven't performed in an embarrassingly long time.

I began thinking about what connects people to music. What makes music so human and humanity so musical. And so I began thinking about musicians who exemplify for me that humanity so essential to the very best raw live performances. The first that came to mind was Richie Havens' semi-improvised Woodstock performance of Freedom. Then I thought of John Martyn's May You Never. Both are wonderful examples of live performances which emanate humanity through some kind of raw connection that these performers have with what Music has to say.

The seminal example for me, however is this:
Background: Bach, in his time, was a rock star. He was cool. People, non-musicians, related to what he had to say. Today musicians study him, but his music isn't really palette-able to the general public anymore. I believe though, that because Bach had a real and deep connection to what Music had to say, that it is mostly a matter of the performance. Solo piano with no vocals is no longer palette-able to the general public.

Point: There is a way to make Bach cool. But it's not this. The use of electric guitar in classical music is replicated ad nauseum on youtube... and it hasn't stopped being annoying yet.
It's this
Bobby McFerrin has, through his connection to the practice of Deep Musicality, connected to an audience of 21st Century Americans through an improvisation on a Bach piece. And it's real. And it's beautiful.

Most people know Bobby McFerrin only through his single "Don't Worry, Be Happy," a song which is actually pretty cool considering it is still the only #1 Billboard Hit to be entirely a cappella, using only overdubs of his own vocals (take that Bjork). However, it's hardly his crowning achievement. He has taken the study of the voice to a transcendental level unheard of in modern music, and people connect to it. He possesses obvious virtuosity but it doesn't make his music inaccessible to the non-music-playing public. Because it's just plain awesome.

I'll post more about this later. Deep Musicality is something I plan to explore hopefully for the rest of my life. And the fact that I got through this whole thing without talking about live shows I've actually been to means this is definitely not over.


p.p.s. He's at Kingsbury tomorrow (Saturday March 7th, 2009). And I'm going.

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