Saturday, June 20, 2015

Music for Healing

After hearing about the murderous attack in Charleston, South Carolina, in a house of worship, one that has served as a refuge (and much more) for the African American community of that area, music was the last thing on my mind for the past few days. Anger, sadness, disbelief, sorrow, and fear crowded out any other thoughts. As a teenager and young adult, I lived through the Vietnam era, through the Civil Rights movement, through the riots after the death of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, and more; I have seen the destruction we Americans can do to each other. And I have seen the good we can do as well, how we rush to help in times of crisis.

As someone who listens to music everyday for pleasure or work or teaching, there are certain pieces I turn to in times of sorrow. Works such as J.S. Bach's "Suites for Solo Cello", Miles Davis's "Kind of Blue", John Coltrane's "A Love Supreme", Maria Schneider's "Sky Blue" (especially the title track), certain solo piano pieces from Keith Jarrett, Erik Satie, and Ludwig van Beethoven, all these (and a several others) can help calm me down and raise my spirits.  Many of you would have chosen differently and some might avoid music altogether in hard times.

And, now there is a new recording to add to my list.

 "The Subliminal and The Sublime" (Inner Arts Initiative) is the second recording from vibraphonist and composer Chris Dingman.  Dingman, a graduate of Wesleyan University and the Monk Institute at the University of Southern California, has worked and/or recorded with saxophonist Steve Lehman, trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire, drummer/percussionist Harris Eisenstadt, and pianist Noah Baerman. His self-released debut CD, "Waking Dreams", came out in 2011 to great critical acclaim.

The major influence on his new album is nature and the composer's continuing study of how we, as humans and creative people, learn from nature and from its role in our everyday lives. The 5-part suite is often meditative and reflective; one would be wise to listen to the music in one sitting.  Not because the pieces don't "work" on their own but for how they flow into each other.  His cohorts on the recording include Fabian Almazan (piano), Loren Stillman (alto saxophone), Ryan Ferreira (guitar), Linda Oh (bass) and Justin Brown (drums). For them (and himself), Dingman has created music that illuminates their individual abilities and, especially, how well they work together as a unit.  While there are solos throughout the program, the suite is often about interlocking melodies, about quiet themes that take a good while to unwind.  The opening track, "Tectonic Plates", starts with sustained notes from the vibes, slowly adds guitar until the saxophone rises out of the center of the piece, surrounded by bowed bass, until the sustained notes drop away and a new melodic leads to the second track "Voices of the Ancient." The multi-sectioned piece moves in several fascinating directions, including a section where the piano and vibes solo together over a driving rhythm section.

Don't concentrate on or wait for the solos. Instead, pay attention to the intelligent arrangements of the instrumental voices. This music, more than anything, asks you to ruminate, to ponder, to take time to drop your expectations and follow the streams of music.  These pieces flow like the artwork of Shoko Tagaya that adorns the cover, the sounds undulating, coursing like the blood through our bodies, like the eddies at the mouth of a river or stream, like clouds drifting through an early morning sky. "The Subliminal and The Sublime" will lift your spirits, challenging yet reassuring, pulling you in and putting you under its spell. Give this piece a chance.

For more information, go to

Here's the opening track:

I always ask my students if music can "change the world."  Many answer in the affirmative, others are not so sure. I would like to believe the former and fear that it is the latter.  But music can and has changed my "world", changed it for the better.

If you wish to donate to the funds set up for the families of the victims shot inside Mother Emanuel Church in Charleston, go to

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