Tolerance

I feel less tolerant these days listening to the increasing reports of racism, bigotry, hate, injustice, political crimes, police violence, and the endless parade of infantile, ineffective, self-aggrandizing politicians. I am glad to see the lid being torn off the world and the ugliness revealed, but it is hard too see how much ugliness there is. It is so much easier to be blind to it. But to heal you need to face yourself, and the world is taking a healing step. I know that healing comes in waves, the intense challenging periods are interspersed with periods of reorganization and respite, then another wave of intense challenging healing. As the world heals so do we all, and it is hard to face our own ugliness.

Healing depends on an understanding of where our intolerances lie, and how appropriate they are for us to function in society.

We all must face our intolerance with those that are different, those that don’t live or think like us, with those that function in different ways than us. Especially, right now we must be tolerant of others, be supportive of all our differences, yet be ready to assist where needed for all people to heal. You cannot make someone heal, they only heal when they are ready, and then need support when they do.

At the same time, we ask for tolerance from those around us, to look at us, understand our differences, allow us the space to be us, and not demand we follow supposed “societal norms” that we challenge by simply being who we are. Our society must allow for greater differences, so all of us can be ourselves, while ensuring that no-one has the right to pressure others to conform to their view, be it religious, political, philosophy, or lifestyle.  Nor can we intrude on each other’s rights to peace, safety, or happiness.

Every day I must challenge my own intolerances, while I assert my right to be different. I am not you; you are not me. We all have a right to be who we are while we make space for those that are different from us.

 

Overcoming Racism

Many people work for years in multi-cultural communities and are thought of as non-racist, and then some situation comes along that they react to in a racist manner. Why?

Although the issue is very complex, part of the answer lies in an instinctual wariness of individuals outside of our pack, or group. In school it is easy to see kids alienate any other child that is “different” in any way: maybe their glasses are too thick, or their hair is different, or they have an accent, or a disability, or their clothes are different. Most families try to teach our children to see beyond this. As we age, most of us encounter more “differences” in life and learn to see beyond these differences and accept people as they are.

Yet sometimes we still feel uncomfortable when encountering someone who is substantially different than what we have encountered before, and we still may struggle to accept them. This needs to be anticipated, as we will always encounter something new. In my life I watched as people struggled to accept hippies, then punkers, then folks with piercings and then facial tattoos. I have watched my Vancouver community struggle with the arrival of Sikhs wearing turbans and Jamaicans with dreadlocks. Even though Vancouver is a presently a densely multiracial and interracial community where immigrants are embraced much faster, world events have stirred up racist actions targeting Chinese, even though Chinese immigrants were part of the fabric of Vancouver when it was being built, and many Chinese families have been Canadians far longer than those that are targeting them. There will always be some group that is “othered”, and we must work hard to overcome these times, and support those that are targeted.

Traveling the world, I have encountered racism everywhere. Sometimes just small things like I encountered when young children in Asia screaming in terror at seeing my white skin, or a large group of kids throwing rocks at me as I entered a remote village, because their parents told them that a white ghost would come to get them if they were bad. Often though racism can grind a person down, and is oppressive. I have friends that encounter racism every single day on the streets of Vancouver.

Accepting each other no matter our culture, race, language, or lifestyle takes an active effort. We must make the effort to learn to understand the person inside first, before the instinct to judge the outside takes hold. We must remind ourselves that we may look as different to others as they may to us. The differences between us are opportunities to learn new values, languages, lifestyles, food, and ways to love. Cultures are rich and encountering one that is different from ours for the first time is an opportunity to explore those riches. Our instinctual rejection of “difference” lessens the more we make the world around us, and our own life, full of people with different cultures, lifestyles, languages, or ways of thinking.

Celebrate our differences as a human family, and we all reap the rewards

Mathew Ngau Jau – sape master

In the mid 1990s I traveled throughout the Malaysian state of Sarawak in northern Borneo recording traditional music for what became the CD Sawaku, on Pan Records.

I went to Long San, a Kenyah longhouse up the Baram River in eastern SarawaMathew Ngau Jauk to attend the first traditional naming ceremony to take place in many years. I was hoping I might hear and be able to record some traditional music there.

I had arrived a couple of days early as a guest of the Wan Ullok family and was left to my own devices as the family became very busy with preparations. I asked around the longhouse for anyone knowing about traditional music and someone mentioned that a good place to look was at the next longhouse up the river. I heard of a longboat going up river so I hitched a ride. Arriving at the longhouse I was told that there were no traditional musicians left, so I caught the boat back to Long San. That was when a young man with a traditional haircut asked me what I was doing, and when I explained my search he said that he played sape (the traditional boat lute) and would be happy to play for me once we got back to Long San. We had a great conversation on the way down the river, but arrived too late to visit him, so I went over the next day.

This was the first time I heard Mathew Ngau Jau play the sape and the first time I had ever heard anyone sing with it. I was quite familiar with the sape as I had recorded Tusau Padan the most well know sape player in Borneo many years earlier, and Mathew knew the traditional repertoire well. However his passion was in his arrangements of traditional songs with the sape, and new pieces he had written within traditional styles. These were quite innovative and yet seemed natural extensions to the tradition.

Over the next couple of days Mathew and I became friends and he was very helpful in arranging for one of the elder women of the longhouse to sing and play a bamboo zither for me to record. I found out that he actually lived close to Kuching the capitol city of Sarawak, where I was staying. He was a full time teacher, but was obviously very connected to his culture. Very few men retained the traditional hairstyle as Mathew did, and those that did were either working in the tourist industry or were elders in longhouses far upriver. At that time having a traditional hairstyle could be result in ridicule or even harassment, and yet Mathew wore it with pride.

After a few days with Mathew I was very impressed with his dedication to his culture and music. After arriving back in Kuching I met with him a few more times and became even more impressed. I asked him if he was interested in performing more and possibly going on a couple of tours, and he said yes. I then talked about him to the Sarawak Tourist Board as I knew that Uchau Bilong, who they had been sending overseas, and whom I took to Marseilles, was getting to an age where travel was no longer easy. I put in a very strong recommendation for Mathew at the Tourist Board. Mathew also put effort into this radical lifestyle change, and although the wheels of government work slowly, eventually they hired Mathew as their representative musician and started to take him around the world on tourist promotions. This enabled Mathew to leave his school teaching and become a fulltime artist.

Mathew began to flourish. He started to build and paint sapes regularly, then revived that art of making and decorated traditional bark clothing. After that he revived traditional rock sculpture. Now Mathew has become the grand master holding the culture as Tusau and Uchau did before him. He has made a substantial contribution to his culture as well as educating the modern world of its value. His likeness is the logo for the Rainforest World Music Festival.

If you go to Sarawak, he has a B&B at his house and you will be treated to great music, great hospitality, great stories, and to meet a living legend. Mathew named as National Heritage

Houston and the World

Leaving Houston after a gig, I get a taxi to the airport from my hotel. In the cab after stating my destination, the cabbie and I start a light conversation…where you from, where you going….the usual things. I note that he has an African accent and ask where the accent is from. He tells me that he was born in Ethiopia, and I immediately ask him if he ever listens to krar or beganna music, two of my favourite but radical different forms of harp music. He explodes in delight and we start an intense conversation of music, travels, family, and life. He lived in Eastern Europe for 6 years before coming to the US. He loves Houston. He goes back to Ethiopia every year to see his family there and to take them money. I talk about my life and career. Back and forth, we talk the whole trip. At the airport, after paying him and getting my bags we both express our joy in meeting each other, and we shake hands, and we both naturally do the handshake I learned from my west African friends that ends with a finger snap. His delight with me rapidly and smoothly doing this handshake with him turned into a giant and deeply affectionate hug. Although we just met, this old longhaired white musician is hugging a middle age Ethiopian cab driver at the airport with joy. This is the world I live in. This is what the world can be.

This video is of my old friend Alemu Aga playing the beganna.

Willow

Willow
for vocal or instrumental choir

This was one of numerous graphic scores that I had originally planned to dispose of, but saved after meeting John Cage.

At the time, I had created a series of what I referred to as “image” scores, which resembled sparse paintings; this was the only one to have survived. These scores were often created with very clear methods of performance. The strokes in the upper left of the score were inspired by shakuhachi and Tibetan dungchen notation. These strokes were created first, and once in place over a few days I added the other elements as a contrast. I saw three directions of gestures, an oblique movement in the upper left, a subtle horizontal movement on the bottom left, and a crowd of horizontals and rising verticals on the lower right. These directions were important to the score at the time. Any additional layers of meaning as a result of viewing the score as a painting are welcome yet parallel to the work.

I have an interest in vocal and instrumental choirs and the way instruments of a similar timbre interact with each other, especially when they are not bound by melody or harmony.

Below are additional comments on my notes to the score.

The Notes to the Score:

  1. Written for any number of performers, this score can be performed in any manner the performer wishes, including aurally, visually. kinesthetically, synesthetically, interactively, literally, symbolically, or philosophically. 

This is a statement I included in many of my scores and is one that is fundamental to my philosophy of performing them. I consider the reaction a person may have in approaching my scores as a type of performance. How they then express such a reaction, or any long-term results of this reaction are continuations of the performance.

As a performer myself I engage many aspects of my being in playing music. Those mentioned above are just a few, and they often tend to function simultaneously. I am often amazed that this is not more commonly discussed as I find an awareness of how all these manners of expressing music combine is important, as is the balance between them.

A performer may wish to express the score in any manner including all those listed above, exclusively or inclusively. However the performance may also be more intimate and introspective. Many musicians hear scores upon encountering them, and I consider this an aural performance, and as some elements of this performance may never make it to a stage, it is unique and special. An aural performance may also include hearing wind in a willow’s leaves, or grass, upon encountering the score. It could also include hearing a suspension of sound, or a sustained silence simultaneous to the sound upon encountering the score, or at any time when recalling the score.

A visual performance is any reaction generated from observing the score, and both kinaesthetic and synesthetic performances function in the same manner. Any visual image, such as imagining the colour green or a willow tree is part of a performance. As is any movement or physical reaction such as a tingling, an emptiness, a sense of confusion, or a blankness are all performances.

Any reaction to the score could be construed as an interaction. I see that as a person reacts to a score, the score starts to transform. The score initially observed is no longer the same once it has been reacted to. As the score changes, the reactions of the observer again change, creating an interactive feedback chain. Any discussions of objectivity or subjectivity are further performances.

For some a literal performance is interpreting the written gestures as pitch low to high and duration left to right, with dynamics from soft to full. For others a literal performance is a sonic recreation of the image. I will leave symbolically and philosophically for those that are inclined to interpret.

  1. It can also be read from right to left or left to right, and pitch may or may not be interpreted vertically.

This may be construed as a restatement of one form of a literal performance. However, the term “read” can be taken quite literally and the score can be put into words or thoughts in either direction, with or without pitch.

  1. A deep understanding of willows may be helpful. 

Willow trees hold symbolic meaning in many cultures, and an understanding of these might be useful. Understanding the tree itself is also useful.

  1. The performer may wish to sit close to or under a willow, or give a willow branch to a parting friend.

An extended time sitting with a willow tree may provide a rich palette of subtle experiences, emotions and associations with which to perform this work. In sitting under or with a willow tree, the score is being performed.

The score was inspired by a traditional, but no longer practiced, Chinese custom of giving a willow branch to a departing friend. The willow signified the bonds of friendship and unwillingness to part ways. It also represented new life as the willow could be replanted anywhere forming new roots. The willow also provided protection against ghosts. The symbol of the willow therefore conveyed a melancholic sadness for a departed friend and the longing to see them again.

  1. A deep awareness of the performer’s surroundings and the soundscape is suggested.

I feel this is essential to all performances. This is an awareness, a sensing, of everything in the surrounds, and accepting them without judging if they are good or bad, wanted or unwanted. To be aware of all sounds and everything else in the surrounds equally, with each object holding the same importance – to simultaneously remain consciously aware of everything throughout the performance.

  1. This score can be performed in all manners simultaneously.

Windows of opportunity may be created to experience individual forms of performance as well.

  1. This score is performed by being regarded, and does not need to be performed to be performed.

You have been performing this score all this time. This score does not need any further action from you other than you encounter it. In fact it does not need you at all.

r3willow

Randy Raine-Reusch
15/09/91

The Linfield Cello Ensemble, a group of seven cellists led by Diane Chaplin, performed Willow on April 24th, 2016. The score was printed on the cover of the program and the notes included within. Diane wrote: “It turns out that in the lobby of the music building resides a large vase of long curly willow branches. We placed that vase on a stool near the performers, and added a good amount of recently-live willow branches. We did…three interpretations of Willow. The first was one where we all played the same image at the same time; in the 2nd one we chose our own order of images (and in that one I was inspired to get a willow branch and gently run down the cello strings – very evocative). For the 3rd interpretation, we were contemplative and didn’t play, just admired the willow…”

Resonance

Resonance
for any instrument
for Gayle Young

Each score has quite specific instructions, and if they are truly explored, the performance of the score is fairly clear. I suggest approaching these scores as any other score, in that they should be studied thoroughly, as well as studying the composer and their philosophy.

Resonance is a text score. The words and phrasing I use are intentional, and I use these terms with the multitude of meanings that they can imply. This score uses Zen paradoxes. The seeming dichotomies of be / be not, breathe / breathe not, sound / sound not may lead anyone encountering this score to suspend their assumptions of life and observe their existence from another perspective, or not. Then repeat these actions/non actions until finished. For some this may lead to questioning their whole life, for others it may be a validation of their life experience.

The Notes to the Score:

1. Each gesture should be delicately placed, either purposely or at random.

  • The term “each” suggests: every single one; all; defining one from the other; creating a boundary between the gestures yet treated as related; informing the other yet distinct unto itself; etc.
  • A “gesture” is any movement in sound, silence, space, time, existence…
  • The term “should” suggests: conformity; doing what we are expected to do; doing what we think we are expected to do; societal, cultural, moral pressures. Though it is also suggests a choice, which if not taken can give rise to the guilt of not doing what we think we are expected to do, disobedience, resistance, or nonconformity …
  • The term “placed” suggests: with purpose, with intent, with forethought, so that we had reasons and reasoning for its placement. Therefore judgment, values, ideals, habits, enculturation come into play.
  • The use of “delicately” suggests: with care, softly, with precision, not to disturb, not to alter, not to change, not to transform, with respect, a kind of honouring, like treating a baby or a kitten, like it is precious, like it is fragile, ….
  • Either / or: is a choice of a subset; one or the other; not both yet related; ying / yang; a duality; opposites that are bound together; two sides of a coin; essential to each other in their opposition; defining the boundaries of the other, ….
  • The terms “purposely” and “random” are treated as those above.

2. A deep awareness of the performer’s surroundings and the soundscape is suggested.

  • A deep awareness of the soundscape suggests to have sat listening to every sound, those internal to a body, those external to a body, those imagined, those suggested, those internal voices that sit behind every thought, those thoughts themselves. All these sounds are be heard and treated equally without judgement of being good, bad, wanted, unwanted, noisy, or pleasant. All these sounds are listened to simultaneously with a broad equal attention.
  • A deep awareness of the surroundings suggests that the detail achieved in listening can be achieved with every other sense.

3. This score includes both the shadows of sound and the shadows of silence.

  • Whether or not sound or silence is used in this score, their shadows are essential. Sound shadows can be what are cast behind an object that is in the path of sound waves. Sound shadows can be remnants of sound left long after the sound source has ceased producing sound, they can last for millennia. Sound shadows can be what are left in our experience long after the sound has left.

4. The resonance of being, breathing and sounding should be regarded, disregarded, neither or both.

  • This alludes to a Zen state of deep awareness without discernment or judgement. An expanded awareness of being and what surrounds us leads to experiencing a quantum / satori state where boundaries /space / time can start to dissolve. Space becomes indefinable and opposites combine. Our sense of dimension dissolves into a grand all encompassing nothingness while simultaneously fracturing into a vast myriad of other dimensions all intersecting.

Once all these “notes” are explored, playing or not playing the piece is effortless.

Randy Raine-Reusch
05/19/2013

r3Resonance

Noh 1

Noh1
for ichigenkin, Noh actor
or any other performer

The ichigenkin is a one string Japanese zither, which I have studied for many years. Ichigenkin philosophy reflects both those of Zen and Shinto. Noh is a form of Japanese drama.

The Japanese concept ma is an underlying element of this score, and both the practice of ichigenkin and Noh make extensive use of ma. Ma is emptiness that is full. It is the white space around a Japanese painting. It is the empty space in a flower arrangement. Ma is an extended pause in Japanese music that is full of tension or anticipation. Ma is the small recessed section of a traditional Japanese room used for hanging a scroll, or placing a plant.

The Notes to the Score:

1. Express one sound, one step, of any duration in one second, minute, hour, day, week, month, or year.

  • The score displays the number one written in traditional script. One is the second theme of this score and forms a paradox with ma. Ma needs two opposing elements, a duality: something and nothing, sound and silence, form and formlessness. One is singular. In Taoism and Zen, dualities form a pair linked in their opposition, and together become one. Hence there are two participants indicated and one action. There are further dualities in the suggested participants: one who sits – one who steps, one that is silent – one that creates sound, etc.
  • Time is of no consequence in this score, although it is an integral element. The suspension of time carries the ma in movement and music. Yet the duration of the ma is not specified and can in essence be held indefinitely.

2. No essence of being or the absence of being should be left unexplored.

  • The score incorporates everything, and nothing, combined.

3. No aspect of sound and silence, nor the absence of sound and silence should be left unrealized. 

  • The duality of sound and silence create a pair, in mathematics a set. If we can define a set, then there is an absence of the set that defines it. That absence can be full of ma.

4. One is exclusive, inclusive, both, and neither.

  • One is exclusive: there is only one. One is inclusive: all is one. They can integrate, or negate each other, or both.

5. Existence should be neither regarded nor disregarded.

  • This might be self-evident. Whether or not the score, participants, this discussion or this world exists or not is inconsequential. However keep an eye on it nonetheless.

Randy Raine-Reusch
02/13/2013

R3NOH1

Premiered Aug. 10, 2014
by Redshift Music, Vancouver, Canada
Colin MacDonald – Baritone sax

 

 

Writing Graphic Scores

My eyes don’t function normally even with thick glasses, which was a problem when I encountered staff notation upon starting my musical training in school. The staff lines would move; shifting up, down, or rolling like waves. The only way I could make it stop was by having the notation less than a foot in front of me, the closer the better. The constantly shifting staff lines made it impossible for me to sight-read or even follow a score in class, so I memorized all my music for school. But that still made playing difficult if complex changes were made to the music in class. It was not until high school, that the band teacher discovered my lack of reading skills, which he solved by kicking me out of class and making me promise to never return.

Thus it is not surprising that even in school I had started to gravitate towards improvisation, as it provided me the ability to play with ease while feeling free of my perceived impediment. It took me many years to gain the courage to make music my professional career. Yet, even with that step, the inability to easily read music was an enormous burden that continued to grow larger. When I did turn professional very few people realized that I was primarily an improviser, and frankly I was ashamed to tell them.

As part of my professional music career, I had been studying the history of notation around the world and found that staff notation was not the only method of notating music. In my need for writing down musical ideas I started to use a combination of tablature and graphic notation. I adapted or invented forms of tablature for the many non-western instruments I was using, and to these I later added forms of cypher notation in either roman numerals or Asian script. I often felt that the notation was not complete, as it just indicated what notes to play and when to play them, yet did not provide any information of what the music should be like, so I started to add graphic symbols I adapted from Japanese and Tibetan Buddhist music. These symbols slowly expanded to more complex images, both realistic and abstract. Unfortunately, at that time I did not yet realize how functional this system was, as I was still surrounded by the world of staff notation, and for more than a decade I destroyed all my notes and scores.

That changed in 1992 after I spent a good portion of a day with John Cage in his loft. His acceptance of my musical journey and expressions liberated me. That day he became my musical father. He passed two days later. Cage gave me the courage and insight to be me, to play and write what I wanted with no apologies. I stopped destroying my scores and started to show them to others. And thus began this part of my musical journey. I have learned over the years since, that not everyone knows how to approach these scores, so I started to provide notes, and now after a couple of decades I realize that is time to add yet another level of explanation.

I tend to write my scores for the people that “get them” upon encountering them. I write for the people that hear, feel, experience the music from the scores. Some of my scores “are the music, rather than a score to play the music,” as the visual elements in the scores stimulate a memory or a deep inexplicable feeling for many people that approach them. Most of these scores allow for all the senses to be engaged, and even our extended senses.

Most of my musical training has been in Asian traditional music. Further to that I realized that I was a Taoist since the age of fifteen, not one that prays in temples, but one that moves within the paradoxes of life. As such Taoism and Zen are second nature to me. My scores are riddled with both philosophies and for some this may make them incomprehensible, which is as it should be.

I have encountered opposition to – or dismissal of – my scores from musicians who are trained in, and rely primarily on, staff notation. In my extensive studies of the music of the world, I have found that western art music is but a small sliver of the mosaic of musical expression in our world. From my perspective Western art music’s importance was inflated as a tool of 19th C. western imperialism to non-western cultures, which were regarded as “other”. Outside of the narrow perspective of western art music there are a number of musical cultures where music is recorded, performed, perceived, valued, and functions in many different ways from the western perspective, sometimes radically. All are equally valid musical expressions. Although my music still retains the biases of my upbringing it is also informed by those musical cultures from around the world I have studied and have been exposed to.

My scores often challenge the composer – performer – audience hierarchy, and sometimes decontextualize or recontextualize the concepts of score and performance. My position as a “composer,” if it exists at all, ends at the moment I release the score onto paper, as does any relationship I have with the performer or audience. I am not interested in musical tools such as motifs that function as cultural codes designed to elicit a response from a listener. The experience of the performer and audience is their own; I have no control over their experience, nor wish to have. Frankly, it is none of my business.

That said my scores and notes are very specific in their wording and design. There is nothing flippant or clever in them. I craft each element to express something meaningful in me, and it sometimes takes a year or more to fully realize a score. I have been a poet since I was young and I use words as I do images, so it is often very difficult to find the path to express the specific perception and experience of the world I am sharing. These scores simply document my experience of the world. They certainly can be used as windows of opportunity for someone else to approach how I perceive the world, or at least for them to experience something else of themselves.

I am often quite fascinated at how people approach and express their experience of my scores, whether in performance, conversation, or through correspondence. Sometimes they even seem to get close to how I experience the score. Sometimes that amuses me. Sometimes I feel not so alone.

India and the Dalai Lama

My first and only trip to India was in 1999 and as India does for many people, it taught me how deep our assumptions and cultural differences are.

I was the leader of a band invited to perform at a festival for the Dalai Lama in Bangalore. The band consisted mostly of my former band ASZA with Nancy Fisher (now Mortifee) as a vocalist. Nancy was the catalyst for the invitation as she was a founder and Director of the now defunct Vancouver Sacred Music Festival.

Our first stop was at a prestigious club in Bombay called Jazz by the Bay. As a favourite haunt of Bollywood stars, I was surprised upon arrival how small it was for the reputation it had. As concert time approached it quickly filled up to slightly more than capacity with an appreciative crowd and we had a great show. After our performance the promoter, with great pride, introduced us to a number of prominent stars, none of whom we recognized or had any knowledge of their fame. It was an odd feeling to know that we were being honoured in meeting these stars, but having no clue who they were! But we all smiled nicely and looked impressed.

The next day started with a tour of a state-of-the-art multimedia centre and recording studios. They were extremely amazing and quite far ahead of anything we had seen back home. Yet as we were leaving, just a few steps outside the door, I witnessed a homeless person crawl out from under some boards in a back alley to drink out of a mud puddle after a recent rain. The contrast was shocking, and I didn’t really know how to handle it emotionally.

The following day we travelled to Bangalore and were well taken care of by the festival. Our hotel was quite modest, clean and comfortable except for the 4-inch wide crack running floor to ceiling down the wall of my room. I had heard on the news that many hotels in the region had collapsed due to poorly mixed concrete and this crack was very concerning. Somehow, I was already getting used to India so I wasn’t that worried as my bed was on the door side of the crack so I felt fairly comfortable with the possibility of waking to an open-air room.

Our group was assigned a young Tibetan handler by the name of Pema, who took care of all our needs and accompanied us everywhere. As the leader of the group I often needed his help in organizing schedules and technical requirements. Pema certainly made India easier to handle and over the next few days I spent a lot of time with him, and I felt we became good friends.

Pema met us each day with a driver to shuttle us to the gigs. We were very thankful for this as navigating traffic in India is an “art.” One particular amazing driver was taking us to the venue at the peak of congestion in a large bulky passenger van. Not far into the drive, we approached a bridge with two lanes in each direction. The two lanes on our side were totally clogged with three rows of bumper-to-bumper traffic. The oncoming traffic was stopped at a light on the other side of the bridge. So our driver casually drove into the oncoming lanes to get around the stopped cars. As I was the only person brave enough to sit in the front seat, I saw the light change and three buses side-by-side barreling towards us at full speed in the two oncoming lanes. There was absolutely no room in our lanes to get in and no room between the oncoming buses, so I sat back in resignation to see how this potentially life threatening event would unfold. Our driver continued to drive straight at the oncoming buses and politely asked me to pull in the passenger mirror, which I did quickly. At the last second he pushed into our lanes and everyone compressed to allow for him, with the buses also compressing a bit to just allow for seven vehicles to span the four lanes. In amazement I watched as the bus sped past my window with only an inch between our vehicles. Indian drivers are world class!

The festival had a large self-serve cafeteria that provided food to all the performers, volunteers, and monks, which made it a prime location for cultural clashes. Every meal there would be a giant line with a hodgepodge of nationalities wearing T-shirts and cutoffs interspersed with red-robed monks. The monks were obviously very used to close physical contact and pushing in line. One of our band members felt very uncomfortable when a monk behind him was slowly but constantly pushing with full body contact. Obviously, the monk had a very different concept of personal space. I handled the situation by standing sideways in the line and the monks were confused enough by this to give me space.

The highlight of the trip was an invitation to meet with the Dalai Lama. Sitting in the waiting room, one of the Dalai Lama’s staff came and told us to get ready, but that Pema would not come in with us. We discussed this between ourselves and decided that if Pema was not allowed in then we would not go in either. This caused quite a stir and our meeting was delayed, but finally a decision was made to allow Pema into the meeting as well.

We were not prepared however for Pema immediately prostrating himself on the floor in front of the Dalai Lama upon entering the meeting room. The Dalai Lama was also a bit taken aback and embarrassed, quickly encouraging Pema to stand. We were asked to sit on chairs arranged in a circle. Pema put his chair well back outside of the circle, but I quickly pulled him in line with us and said to him “Pema, you are one of us.”

The Dalai Lama was quite personable and spoke to each of us individually for a few minutes. He was everything you have seen him to be, warm, compassionate, extremely intelligent and well informed. It was clear that he was seeking out help in supporting his people’s cause. However I noticed that as he went around the circle to chat with us foreigners individually, he did not talk to Pema. I was a bit confused by his skipping Pema, thinking maybe Pema would be talked to last. So when the Dalai Lama started speaking to us as a group, I interjected “Excuse me your Holiness, it appears that you may have forgotten our good friend Pema.”

I was a bit taken back as the Dalai Lama gave me a hard stare followed by a stern challenging response: “Is he really your good friend?” It seems that I had overstepped my bounds and that the Dalai Lama was not used to being questioned. However, throughout my life I have progressively learned to dislike hierarchy, and I was no stranger to being challenged. So I replied mirroring exactly his tone and stare: “Yes, he is our very good friend.” At which point the Dalia Lama nodded and then spoke directly to Pema in Tibetan.

I was surprised at this scenario. The Dalai Lama knows the West well and also is aware that many people in the West are firm believers in equality. I would have thought that the fact that we insisted Pema enter with us would be a clear sign that we had accepted him as an equal. We were all well aware of the hierarchy within Tibetan Buddhist orders. However, as the Dalai Lama was asking for our help in supporting his people, his inclusion of Pema in the conversation without being asked would have been a powerful demonstration of his humility and love for his subjects. I guess I should not have been surprised though, as the Dalia Lama is the head of a very large order of monks and as the pinnacle of a hierarchy he is an authority figure used to wielding power. We usually don’t see this side of the Dalai Lama, as his most powerful public image is that of a humble man. Our insistence at having Pema join us inadvertently gave us a glimpse behind that image, as it is quite difficult to appear humble with someone prostrating before you. Yet the Dali Lama was a gracious host, and very well spoken, and we all felt it a privilege to spend personal time with him.

Upon leaving out meeting Pema rushed down the hall well ahead of us. I caught up with him at the elevators and found him wiping his tears. It was at that point I realized how deeply the meeting with the Dalai Lama affected him. He had just met his God.

Almost everything in India was a culture shock, and often the shock was so deep that it shattered some of my deeply held cultural biases. I can’t say I enjoyed India, and I can’t say I hated it, but I do think that everyone should spend time there. India tends to throw reality in your face, forcing you to confront everything: your emotions, your cultural biases, even your own mortality. Add to all that the overwhelming crush of humanity, India is so overwhelming that it is understandable why there is a deeply held belief in reincarnation there, because for many it is almost certainly too much to handle in one lifetime.

 

Tanso Afternoon

I sit playing my tanso, small thin hard hollow bamboo, with a small notch on the end to blow into. A clear sound is produced with care. With time an ephemeral complexity of small notes flit around the melody. At first it seems to have a light expression, but I sense something deep here. This is a modern instrument that has more holes to play more notes. Yet it awakens something ancient, timeless.

My breath must be precise as the notch is small; a miniscule change produces something unexpected. I strive to perceive the imperceptible, to embrace the microscopic in my expression.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The high tones cry, the lower tones sigh. A murmur appears. Another voice arises between notes. An inner landscape of peaks and valleys, irregular surfaces, twists and turns – all within a nuance. A pitch drops slightly with a forgotten despair, and then rises with a fragile hope.

My soul rises from my lips and fingers, as my mind is helpless but to just listen. So much pain, so much joy, so much life. Then a train in the distance answers, and my soul responds unhindered. A crow comments as the wind in the trees and my breath ebb in unison. My soul and the world around me interconnect in the music. My mind is quiet.

The notes disappear yet my lips and fingers continue to move. The sounds outside disappear yet nothing has changed. All that is left is a vast yet intimate connectedness…an infinite oneness. I am playing, listening, being and not being, all at the same time. This depth of being and not being is both peaceful yet unnerving. It is so powerful that I stop.

My mind returns, objects in the room reappear; the sounds outside have names again. I am holding my flute. I am still feeling the connectedness, but am now in the world again as well. The wind and crows are calling for me to return. I want to feel this world some more before I go back into infinite oneness. I make some tea.

Learning to Love

Self-loathing is one of the most difficult disorders resulting from childhood abuse to heal. Self-loathing constantly feeds itself, which makes it tricky to get a handle on. Its roots are very deep in the psyche, as it often is created well before the conscious self was formed, making it pervasive.

Imitation is our first way of learning. From a very young age children read their caretakers emotions and learn what gets a response. Usually a smile or laugh from one elicits the same from the other. If negative responses are all the child receives, which can be the case in an abusive household, the results are confusing. The child’s psyche struggles to find a positive result, and a large number of rejected responses can form the roots of self-loathing.

The abuse I received from my family taught me that I was not worth anything, that anything I did to please them was wrong, that my very existence was flawed, and that I did not deserve to be loved. Through my family’s actions, I learned not to trust any signs of love, as it could be followed by hatred or rage. I internalized this self-hatred within the deepest part of my being and it became part of my psyche, which is very hard to grow up with.

What is worse is that anytime I failed in life, anytime I was criticized, anytime I was rejected, it became a proof that I was worthless, and it hurt…very deep. This is how self-loathing feeds itself. So any success was quickly discounted. Success was fleeting, and failure was constant.

By the time I was school age, I was an emotionally crippled abused child with thick glasses. This made me a target for persistent bullying in school and the torment and rejection of my peers poured gasoline on the fires my self-loathing. I felt completely worthless and totally rejected from both my family and from society.

However this was normal for me. It was all I knew. I could not understand the happiness of others; I thought happiness was false; I thought that life was torturous for everyone. No matter how hard I tried to fit in or to imitate the “fake” happiness of others, I could not. So I thought I had even failed at being fake.

I did not learn social norms as a child, and my awkwardness with them further alienated me. To survive emotionally, I subconsciously learned to compensate through adopting unusual behaviours. One method was to isolate myself to avoid interactions that would potentially make me feel bad about myself. Another was to consider myself special.

I knew I was different from those around me, and as early as Grade 4, I realized I could entrance people with my voice. As written in earlier blogs, my eyes gave me more than one sight, my abilities to sense emotions in others gave me another type of vision. Combined with my growing intellect, these abilities formed the basis for my psyche to equate “different” with “special.” This then grew to an unconscious attitude that I was better than those that criticized or ostracized me. This was an important psychological system as it allowed me to grow; it was what kept me alive.

However, my “special” self and my self-loathing were in separate places in my psyche, and no mater how hard I tried they never combined until years later in therapy.

My self-loathing trapped me in a feedback loop. No matter what I did it somehow fueled these feelings. When I achieved something, I still felt “not good enough.” I could always find fault with it. I therefore became a perfectionist to try to control everything and everyone around me so it would not fuel my self-loathing. Yet, I also became very self destructive, in relationships and in life. Suicide was never far from my mind. I also had to deal with a very deep rage, which could be triggered the moment anyone stimulated my self-loathing with a single word or glance.

As I grew older, even though my self-loathing was creating an increasing amount of emotional pain, my “special” self increasingly compensated, fueled by my survival instincts. I would use my extended listening abilities to feed myself with the beauty of birdsong or raindrops to keep me alive. I expanded my “special” skills, reading voraciously, extending my senses, and watching people from the inside and out.

I eventually found a balance between my self-loathing and my “special’ self. I tried to spend as much time in the latter but the former never left me.

Finally, with an amazing therapist, I found relief from my self-loathing. He helped me to integrate the separate parts of my psyche to make it whole. First he helped me build a psychological safe place that only good feelings could enter and this isolated me from my self-loathing. Second he showed me how to break the feedback loop of self-loathing. He then helped me feel my accomplishments and not judge, diminish or discard them. Third he helped my re-parent. By emotionally divorcing my parents, I made new emotional parents who were composites of powerful, supportive, loving people/icons. I placed them in every memory of my life.

Over the years I have been gradually getting better. However, this is an ongoing process and even though I am now in my sixties there are still times I find another pocket of self-loathing. I have realized as well that my self-loathing was a habit, or an automatic system of behaviour. I had to realize that I could just accept a failure as a learning opportunity and move on without going into the pits of despair.

I am also now dismantling the false images of myself and the self-aggrandizing of my “special” self. I have to be honest and objective as to what are my actual accomplishments and what are constructs of my former damaged self. Some of these constructs have been with me a very long time so to dismantle them requires to remove a chunk of my psyche and to replace it with something new. This is like ripping out the walls to replace everything but the roof, and then once done you realize that you need to do sections again as the foundation was also rotten in places.

This is a lot of work, difficult work. In the meantime, it is rewarding. I find my relationship with my family and friends are getting better, and I feel emotionally cleaner. I still have work to do, and I am doing it.

To those that have remained my friends through all my struggles I thank you and honour you for being the wonderfully understanding beings that you are. Your understanding and friendship has been a big part of my survival.

Leaves Budding

Many years ago I met an amazing visual artist named En Burk, who at the time worked with leaves, branches and other natural objects. She patiently waited for them to fall from their respective trees or plants, and then fashioned them into stunningly beautiful sculptures, sometimes quickly shaping them before they dried and hardened. She knew the flora of the city as if it were her garden, and often went to visit a certain tree on a certain day, talking to it, as she harvested it’s gifts. She used her whole apartment as her gallery, and to enter it was like entering a temple devoted to life and nature. Visiting En was always the most peaceful and grounding experience.

Inspired by her art, one day I decided to take her a copy of my score Leaves (1) which I had written for the Japanese ichigenkin. We sat drinking tea as she quietly read the score. After reading it, she sat for a long time in silence, and then looked at me and asked, “How did you do this?” “How did I do what “, I replied. “I just heard this!” she exclaimed, “I’ve just heard leaves budding! And wilting! And … and I just heard shadows of leaves! I’ve always known what they look like, and felt like…. but now I know what they sound like!” “How did you do this?”

A year later, I showed the same score to a number of musicians at the prestigious if sometimes stuffy Banff Centre for Fine Arts, in Alberta, Canada. One of them asked mockingly, “How can you hear leaves budding?”

I replied “You could try listening slower, perhaps you listen too quickly.”

leaves

Listening Beyond Boundaries

I just finished playing my xiao again and am still listening.

Before I play my Chinese xiao, I stand and listen, I open myself wide, so that all sounds close and far away, inside of me and outside, obvious and barely perceived enter. I don’t try to label them as a car or a bird, I don’t try to categorize them, or sort them as good or bad. It becomes a strange sensation, as it is like I have to stretch part of myself out to as far as the sounds come from.

Yet there is a timelessness to this, as I listen, time stops, as past, present, and future blend. So the beginning and ending of a sound blur. Yet I am still aware of normal time. It feels like I am listening in more than one manner, or dimension at the same time. The sensation of listening is not just from my ears, it is from my whole body. As I expand my listening all my body feels like it extends, not just my skin but even deep inside of me. This sense of listening in another dimension is intensified by my body’s sensations, as is the timelessness of it. It is as if time and space no longer apply.

Then I play. This also is a strange practice, as I add the sound of my playing to the other sounds on an equal basis. I don’t try to play, to match the sounds, to choose a note or to guide my playing in any way. Instead I just let go. I somehow let the music out. Often a long sustained note happens first but sometimes it is a number of short notes. The structure of the sounds that come out is often very unlike the way I normally play, sometimes it is very orderly, sometimes not at all, long and short sounds, fast runs, and wild intervals. I can observe the interaction of what I play and what I hear, as I am both inside the music and yet outside at the same time. What I play melds with all the rest of the sounds that I sense as it all becomes music.

What happens is amazing to me, every time I do this. Everything works as if I composed all the sounds to be played together. black and blueThere is an order and even a harmony. I will play and stop just as a car door closes, and start to play on the same pitch as a car going by even changing tones to match the shifting Doppler effect unconsciously. The note I play will anticipate an environmental sound. I will play a note and the environment matches it or plays something that is in perfect harmony with it. I will play a rhythm the environment matches and then it shifts exactly as I shift. Somehow I sense what is going to happen, I can sense large and small patterns in the environment and start to play them even before they appear. Even a person walking by talking has been incorporated within the sounds my flute makes and is integrated. Nothing is out of place. Nothing is random.

The more I listen and play like this, the more the environment around me seems to start to work together with itself. Maybe this is my mind trying to find order in chaos, but it feels more like the chaos is not chaos but instead part of a much more expansive order that only very large wide extensive listening can perceive.

I find myself playing more in extremely noisy environments and still finding a harmony in them. This intrigues me. After playing I feel like I am still very big, like there is a large space within me, like I still have no time, like air is moving through my being, like my skin and cells are sparkling. Like I am many places at the same time, and all of them are connected and working together. These feelings sometimes well up in my daily life, while I am at the computer, or while at the store. They are beautiful yet, a bit unsettling as they are redefining what reality is. I am not sure if this is a real experience or a quirk of brain function, but either way I will explore it more.

Face of Alzheimer’s

My mother has Alzheimer’s. At writing this, she is a month short of her 91st birthday and is in relatively good health otherwise. She is in a full care facility and is comfortable there. Visiting her is both difficult and fascinating. Her mind is slowly failing, but the decline is in waves, as is common with this disease. At times she seems clear and interacts easily. However, the majority of the time, she doesn’t remember anyone except me. I can see that it takes her longer and longer to recognize me, and some days not at all. She responds to questions with answers that are not connected to the inquiry and usually with only a couple of words seldom speaking in sentences.

Although most of my mum’s memory is gone, music, especially that of her youth, is still very deep in her. She remembers the words to many songs, and can sing them at the mere mention of the song title. It seems that music is stored in another part of her brain, which the disease has not reached fully.

smileyaugust54Humour is similar. I always tell her jokes, so she can laugh. As my mum was born in Scotland, puns along with playfully insulting the English, the Irish and most often the Scottish, all said in a Scottish brogue are the best way to make her laugh. She can even follow a series of jokes on the same subject, even though the logic of puns is usually quite complex and divergent.

I find most interesting is how social behaviour seems to be deeply situated in her brain. My mum has always been reactionary, responding to a question with an answer that seems to fit, until you probe further. She has always saved face. When I was young, everyone outside of my house loved my parents. My parents were considered to be kind, funny and generous. They volunteered for a number of organizations and were well known in the community. At home was a different story. My parents battled constantly with all the rage, vitriol, hostility, and loathing that anyone could possibly manifest. Often it was thrown at my sister and myself as well. Their transition from Jekyll to Hyde was the most difficult, as it could happen in less time than it took to close a door. No one outside of the house knew who my parents truly were.

Having an outside face was important for my mother, although she was probably never consciously aware of it. Throughout her life she would greet someone with a big smile and a wonderful compliment, yet the moment their back was turned she would make a hate-filled remark about them. Still with her advancing Alzheimer’s, she will put on a front for people but scowl or grumble when they are gone.

Having this “face” is probably the deepest thing in her psyche. Somehow even in the depths of this disease her psyche constantly develops new face saving devices. Last year, when I asked my name, she would respond correctly. Six months ago she answered by jokingly saying three Scottish names: MacTavish, McNab, and McKay. Now she responds with “Same name as I have.” She has a number of these face saving phrases, and they come out immediately, whereas a full sentence is difficult in any other conversations.

Keeping her laughing
Keeping her laughing

There probably is good reason for all what I have observed in my mother’s daily life. As learning social behaviour and putting on a “face,” is one of the first things we do as a child. We make faces for our parents, and we mimic and respond to theirs. We respond to foolish things our parents do and our laugh always gets a warm response from our caregivers. Music is often used as a comfort for babies, and we often start to sing well before we use words. Social behaviour, humour and music were the first to be formed in our psyche and the last to go.

I will continue to tell my mum jokes and keep her laughing and when she can’t sing anymore, I will sing for her. Even though my mum terrorized me, and I still am in pain from my childhood. Coming home from visiting her, I am so extremely tired that I often sleep deeply for a couple of hours. It takes a toll. Yet, I have a deep sense of compassion. I will continue to take care of her until she passes. Is this me putting on a “face”?

Thanks to Kia Ull for this link:

© R. Raine-Reusch 2014

Bali Bamboo Music

When in Bali in 1984, I was walking home one night sometime past midnight. In the distant I heard a deep percussive sound that led me behind a few buildings to a covered performance area. It was a full performance of Jegog Bumbung, a dance drama where a cocky young man chased a single woman dancer. She coyly flirted with him until he caught her and then submitted to his charms. After an intermission there was a scream and the man flew out behind the screen in fear chased by his newly married wife who is now obviously in the dominant role. The music was performed by an orchestra of struck bamboo tubes open on one end with a large tongues carved on one side, suspended in frames. The largest of these instruments had pipes at least three metres long. They were accompanied by a number of sets of progressively smaller instruments playing the characteristic Balinese interlocking rhythms. This ensemble of instruments is called Gamelan Grantang. The sound of the big instruments was very round and deep and traveled well in the night air. This performance went on for hours and although I was the only non-Balinese there I sat listening and watching to almost dawn.

Tingklik
Tingklik

A few weeks later, I ran into another version of a bamboo gamelan in a small village close to where I had found a small cabin to rent on the beach (see Bali Night). One morning I again followed music in the air and came upon two men sitting on their porch playing a matched pair of bamboo instruments called tingklik, which looked identical to the smallest of the instruments played in the Gamelan Grantang. Although they played very fast interlocking parts, they didn’t seem to tire as they played for almost an hour.

The older man invited me to sit down, served me tea and they continued to play. After playing for a while, he asked me if I would like to try the instrument, and handed me the mallets. Although the tingklik is about a dozen hollow tuned bamboo tubes suspended from a small frame the technique for playing it is quite complex. The left hand plays a rather simple melody on the lower tubes, while the right hand plays the rapid intricate patterns following the melody while interlocking with the second instrument.

On just hearing the piece, I was only able to remember a few notes on the right hand before making a mistake at which point my impromptu teacher, took the mallets from my hand and played the piece again, all fifteen minutes of it! He then calmly handed the mallets back to me and asked me to try again. I only managed to play a few more notes correctly before running into problems, and again the mallets were politely taken from my hands, and the full fifteen-minute piece was played again. This process continued well into the afternoon, with my teacher patiently playing the full piece again and again as I muddled my way through it.

Obviously this was a normal for my teacher, and he seemed to have all the time and patience in the world. After many hours, I was exhausted and somewhat frustrated, and we sat for a while to talk and drink tea. While we talked his five year-old son picked up a mallet and slowly but accurately played the whole piece. I realized that I had the wrong teacher, as it would have been easier for me to learn from the five year-old! When I asked how long my teacher had been teaching his son, he replied “Oh I haven’t taught him anything, he has just heard me play so much, He knows all the pieces by heart.”

Our modern world doesn’t allow us to have the time or patience for this type of musical transmission, and I didn’t have the time to stay and study this amazing instrument, although I really wanted to. I imagine that growing up from birth hearing these sounds would implant the music far deeper in your psyche than any other form of learning. Maybe I was born in the wrong time.

I was so intrigued by these instrumental discoveries that I explored more and found that there were pockets of unique music and instruments everywhere in Bali. The two tingklik played together is often referred to as Gamelan Rindik, although a full Rindik often uses a suling, and there is also another large bamboo ensemble called Gamelan Jegog that uses a four-note scale. I have recently learned that there are versions in Java as well. (see: Aural Archipelago)

Mystery gamelan
Mystery gamelan

A month after my impromptu lesson, I traveled to a small village in northern Bali to discover a single bamboo xylophone that was quite different in shape than any other that I had seen on the island. It had bamboo slats of different sizes for keys and bamboo tube resonators. I asked some local people where the instrument was from. “From here,” they replied, “it’s native to our village.” “Do you know anybody who can play it?” I asked. “There is no-one left who knows how to play it,” they replied, “the last person died a year ago.” “Are there any recordings or books on how to play it?” I asked. “No,” was the reply, “nothing at all. The music is lost.” Hearing this was a shock and it deeply saddened me. Since then I have given a good portion of my life to support and preserve traditional instruments and music wherever I could.

Jogeg Bambung with the  Gamelan Grantang:

Gamelan Rindik:

The four note scale Gamelan Jegog:

© R. Raine-Reusch 2014

Rubber Time in Java

Indonesia was my first experience immersing myself in a new culture, and it opened my mind to a world of thousands of different musical perspectives. This is where my musical education kicked into high gear.java rebab

I arrived in Java in time to attend a performance of an ancient court gamelan at the old palace in Jogjakarta on Eid, the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. The courtyard was filled with big crowd eating and socializing. I was not surprised by the casualness of the event, as I had attended other events in Bali that were also a combination of ritual ceremony, formal concert, and casual social gathering.

This balance of formal and casual was also present in the music. Gamelans are performed in interlocking parts at a slow to moderate speed in Java and at a lightening speed in Bali. Yet, that day I heard an old piece that was far slower than I had ever heard before. So slow in fact that there was a repeating section where a number of musicians that in theory should hit a note at the same time, but in practices they all hit the note at a slightly different time, creating a sort of haphazard staggered effect. This was a shock to my organized western mind and I initially thought they were a bit sloppy. But as they continued to play, I began to hear the beauty in this effect as it sounded very much like rainfall.

The gamelan orchestra was split into two parts on either side of the courtyard, and would play sometimes separately and sometimes together. After going back and forth between them for a while I decided to just sit on one side and listen. I sat in the shade very close to the gong player, and had a good view of the orchestra. In some pieces the gong is played quite often, while in others the gong cycle is very long and the gong is seldom heard. I was watching the gong player during one of the latter pieces, where the time between gong strikes was almost ten minutes. The player struck the gong, and then casually turned around to his friend behind him and started a conversation, he then lit a cigarette, talked for a while longer and then got up and walked off. I saw him occasionally walking through the crowd stopping to talk for a while and then disappearing again. Hearing the gong cycle coming to an end I noticed him casually return and sit down, but with his back turned to the gong. He started talking passionately to his friends while pulling out his lunch and beginning to eat. He seemed to be oblivious to his rapidly approaching cue, as he became further involved with his conversation and meal. I became quite anxious at his apparent lack of concern and wondered if he knew how close his cue was, and there it was, and he hadn’t heard it! I was surprised no-one called to him to quickly hit the gong when he stuffed some food in his mouth to empty his hand, reached for the mallet, and casually leaned over and hit the gong over his shoulder at the exact “right” late moment. The mother gong is often played after the end of the rhythmic cycle, which in the west we would consider late. Sometimes in Indonesian music such a musical marker might be far later than a western musical mind would ever expect, and in this piece it was even later still.

There is an expression in Indonesia called “rubber time” as time is a very relative concept there, stretching like rubber, and this certainly applies to music there. That day I realized that the strict adherence to time so important in the western world was not always necessary for music.

© R. Raine-Reusch 2014

Gamelan Stream – Environment in Bali

My first trip overseas to research music in 1984 included two months on the Indonesian island of Bali, and then another month in Java. At the time Bali was a cultural goldmine. From the very first day, I was surrounded by an array of amazing styles of traditional music. I heard gamelan classes at the nearby gamelan school during the day and gamelan performances at every night, punctuated by street processions, and impromptu performances even in the middle of the night. Throughout the island there were regular ketchak monkey chants, dance dramas, and local ceremonies. In fact at times there was so many performances of traditional music that it was hard to escape it.

bali log drumOn one very hot day, I decided to get away from the heat of Ubud and followed a small stream up into the trees a few kilometres from the town. I eventually came to a few small pools of water situated by a small temple. It was such a picturesque spot that I spent most of the day lounging by these pools. I was pleased to finally get away from the insistent sounds of the Ubud gamelans. Sporadically throughout the day I thought I heard a short melody of a popular gamelan piece being repeated over and over again in the distance. Thinking it strange that someone would be practicing gamelan so far from town, I decided to investigate. I walked all around the area trying to find where the sound was coming from, but music was elusive, it would fade in and out. If I thought I had traced it in one direction, then it would seem to come from another. Finally after about an hour of searching I found the source. It was not a gamelan; it was the stream! The water falling over small rocks sounded exactly like the short gamelan melody I had been hearing, and in combination with the rhythmic chorus of afternoon insects mimicked a full small ensemble!

Back in Ubud I started to listen to the local sounds in a new way. I found that the rhythms and melodies in the music often mirrored the sounds of the environment, especially the insects. This became even more obvious in Java, where I found different insect sounds and local traditional music again structurally reflected aspects of the environmental sounds. I thought this was fascinating. I also found that the sounds of Bali and Java are similar but different. An example is the small lizards found in almost every Indonesian house climbing the walls eating insects are called geckos in Bali, and named for the sound they make “ge-ko.” In Java they are called tokay, for their call “to-kay.”

Another new sound in Bali I encountered when I was talking with a friend. I heard a loud buzzing sound approaching. I turned and saw a very large fist-sized beetle slowly flying through the air. Its body was too large for it’s inefficient wings, so once it is airborne, it cannot turn quickly. If you are in its way, it will hit you. Fortunately it makes so much noise with its efforts to fly that anyone in its path is startled by its approaching roar, and has plenty of time to gauge its flight path and step out of the way. In fact the beetle flies so slowly that it is easy to observe it in detail, if you could stand the noise enough to get close to it!

Walking along the beach one day I came upon long bamboo poles holding up fishnets, each pole had a small section shaved to create a small rectangular hole with sharp edges that acted like reeds. When the wind blew the poles produced a flute-like timbre, beautiful but also somewhat eerie. Longer versions of these poles with red banners were placed around graveyards to keep away spirits. Yet when the wind blew through the poles sounding more like the voices of the spirits themselves.

This awakening to sound in Indonesia was exciting. I found that the environment, sound, music and culture there were quite different from anything else I had experienced before.

© R. Raine-Reusch 2014

Studying With Intangible Cultural Asset #23 Park Gui Hee 박귀희

In 1987 I had the great fortune to be a student with Park Gui Hee 박귀희, the first person to hold ​the position as Important Intangible Cultural Property No. 23 for kayageum sanjo and byeongchang. Kayageum is a long zither with twelve silk strings and movable bridges. Traditionally, the instrument is plucked with the fingers of the right hand while the sound is manipulated by pressing the strings to the left of the bridges with the left hand. Sanjo is a solo improvisational form, while byeongchang is a vocal form accompanied by kayageum.

As I explained in my previous blog on Korean shijo, Kim Duk Soo, the leader of Samul Nori introduced me to Park Gui Hee while I was in Korea between concerts on an Asian tour. I was already playing the Chinese zheng, the parent of the Asian long zithers, so Duk Soo thought this would be a good fit.

Park Gui HeeThe daily routine at Park Gui Hee’s studio was for the students to start practicing well before she arrived. Once there she would spend one on one time with selected students working on the details of the piece they were learning. This was the traditional method of aural/oral transmission, there was no written music used. The teacher played, the students copied and memorized. Learning a piece with this method takes time. Rather than just learning what note to play, every aspect of each note is learned all at once, including its timbre, timing, expression, dynamic, and inner motivation. The students have to listen with every aspect of their being to understand the depth and meaning of the music, and to fully commit to its expression. This was very challenging.

On my first day as a junior student I was introduced to Park Gui Hee, and then explained who I was and what I wanted to achieve. After some discussion I was introduced to a senior student who was to teach me the fundamentals. I was shown the basic right hand picking techniques, which were not that different from what I knew on the zheng. Next came the most idiosyncratic right hand technique for the kayageum. The index finger plucks a note and then the same string is flicked with the nail of the middle finger and index finger in rapid succession. This is accomplished by tucking the index finger behind the thumb as if to flick a piece of dust, and then the middle tucked behind the index in the same manner. Performed properly this technique creates a roll or type of tremolo that can vary in speed and dynamic.

My instructor demonstrated this technique to me and then went through it slowly so I understood it. It was very challenging, as I had never used my fingers in that way before. I fumbled terribly. After a while of my struggle to get a handle on this technique, my instructor stopped me and said, “This is an essential technique for the kayageum and it takes well over a year to learn. Without it, we cannot teach you more. So I will teach you a basic piece for the rest of today, but your lessons are finished. You are welcome to return to listen at any time.” That was on a Friday.

I decided that I didn’t want my lessons to end, so I spent every waking moment of the weekend practicing this essential right hand technique. That meant I ate with my left hand while practicing the technique, a somewhat messy affair at first that got better. I practiced while reading; I practiced while taking buses, grocery shopping, and even visiting friends, pretended I had some kind of nervous tick. Gradually, I began to conquer the technique and by Sunday night could perform it on the kayageum. Monday morning I arrived back at the studio and sat down in front of my student teacher. She looked at me questioningly and I put a kayageum in my lap and demonstrated my newly mastered technique. Her jaw dropped and she screamed! All the other students came rushing over and saw my doing the technique and were as equally shocked, “That’s not possible!” they remarked. “How did you do that? It took me two years to learn that.” I explained that I was a professional musician and practiced non-stop.

Hearing of this Park Gui Hee reconvened my lessons, and I was then taken through the left hand techniques. Korean music utilizes a wide variety of vibrato, many of which are not mere ornamentation but fundamental notes in constant motion. Korean folk music uses a modal structure called tori, which designates the five main tones of the scale. Often one or two of these is always played with a moderate or very deep vibrato. Then another note in the mode will be a falling note that descends from the original pitch, and is always played as such. These moving pitches all have an emotional characteristic that is must be expressed properly and is often the subject of work with the teacher.

I met with Park Gui Hee once a week to demonstrate my progress and she would correct some things and then give my student teacher detailed instructions in what to do for my next lessons. The learning curve was very high and the schedule grueling. I remember Park Gui Hee working with one student for a number of hours on just two lyrics of a piece, both of which were “sarang,” meaning love. The first rose slightly expressing the joy of love, while the second descended with a complex convoluted vibrato, voicing the pain of lost love. The student could easily reproduce the first lyric, but the second the teacher was very fussy about, with the student copying the teacher’s example repeatedly for hours on end. This student worked only on these two sung words for months, which was the level of commitment to detail demanded in the studio.

Park Gui Hee lived close to the studio in an old Korean courtyard Manor. She lived in a large multi-storied house in the middle of the square courtyard surrounded by a wall on all four sides, with a large gate on the southeast corner. The inside of the walls were lined with small sleeping rooms on three sides, and the kitchen and bathing rooms on the south end. Except for the house, the rest of the compound was turned into a yogwan, a Korean traditional style B&B. I lived in one of the rooms. The rooms lining the wall varied in size, but the majority of rooms were only large enough for two people to sleep on the multi-layered varnished paper floor. Each had sliding paper doors with a small entrance way. There were no chairs only cushions on the floor, the bedding was laid out at night and rolled up in the morning. The rooms were breezy, which was a good thing as they were heated with coal fired hot water heaters in the floor, and many people died each year from coal gas seeping into the rooms. Although the grounds were totally surrounded by city buildings the walls blocked a large amount of city sounds, and so the yogwan was a very peaceful place to stay.

Park Gui Hee gave private lessons in her house so every evening the courtyard was filled with the sounds of kayageum byeongchang. I spent from six to eight hours a day taking lessons and practicing in the studio, then came back to my small room to practice a few more hours, while listening to the lessons coming through the walls every evening. This constant exposure felt like a total immersion in the genre, cementing the music deep into my soul. Listening constantly to soaring voices sitting on the razor’s edge between a cry of pain and a cry of joy, performed with such commitment and passion, was an education unlike any I had ever experienced before. It was like being in a constant state of ecstasy, so much so that I often had to improvise quietly along with the lessons next door to give voice to my own ecstatic expression.

I felt like I was in two worlds. I would walk out the gate into the modern chaos of Seoul. This was the time a student unrest, so there was often a lot of tear gas in the air, and I learned to avoid approaching student riots by ducking into a subway station and taking the train back behind the riot, to find shopkeepers opening their shops and sweeping bricks and stones away from their doors. I would return to my yogwan and enter old Korea again, sit on the floor of my room listening to the lesson next door while eating an evening meal of rice, vegetable and kimchi, and a few hours of practice before sleep.

My time in Korea was too short, as I would have needed years to live and study all that I wanted to on the kayageum, and life didn’t take me in that direction. However, what I did learn was profound. Korean music is a balance of opposites and extremes: heaven and earth, male and female, joy and pain, tradition and innovation, silence and sound, Confucianism and shamanism, composition and improvisation, order and chaos. Park Gui Hee’s lessons pushed me deeper into my musical soul, freeing me to create with all of my being at every moment. As I continued to study Korean music I have found a deeper balance within myself, allowing me to express my wildest passions while maintaining a calm still centre.

Korean traditional music is in my opinion one of the world’s richest musical treasures, and essential study for anyone forging new directions in creative music and self-expression. I highly recommend it. It can change your life.

© R. Raine-Reusch 2014

Waikiki, Ichigenkin and Yamada-sensei

In 1992, I studied ichigenkin with Chie Yamada, who had achieved a master status in a number of Japanese traditional music styles, and was not only an adept musician, but a masterful teacher. I had first taken some lessons with her a few years earlier, but this was the first time I could spend an extended period in Hawaii just to study ichigenkin. On my arrival her husband was not supportive of my lessons, as Yamada-sensei (sensei means professor/instructor in Japanese) was in therapy for cancer and some days the medicine made her quite ill. However, Yamada-sensei insisted I come every day to study, and her husband acquiesced.

Yamada-sensei playing ichigenkinThe ichigenkin is a rare one-string Japanese zither that some believe may have come from the Chinese seven-string qin. Both instruments were played by philosopher-musicians who would sit in front of their instruments without striking a string, believing that if a musician and an instrument are in the same room, then music is also present, no action is necessary to produce the music. “The music can be heard,” they would say, “if you know how to listen.” Before beginning my lessons, Yamada-sensei described this philosophy to me and added, “Sometimes I just look at an instrument and I hear it play, the music is instantly born inside me.”

This strong sense of philosophy is inherent in the ichigenkin, and Yamada-sensei would often explain: “The ichigenkin must be part of your body. It has only one string and no place for the sound to resonate; it cannot produce a strong sound by itself. The sound must resonate from your body.”

“You can not hide the sound with other notes,” she would say, “the ichigenkin has a pure sound. It can only be played as part of you, and the music should come as naturally as any movement.”

Studying daily with Yamada-sensei was challenging and rewarding. I worked hard to understand and apply the philosophy of the ichigenkin while I developed my finger and picking techniques and memorized each piece. It was only through listening and feeling her play and trying to copy it as well as I could that I made any progress. This was not music that you could learn from reading notes off a piece of paper; this was music you had to experience. She often remarked, “You can either read music or play it. You can’t do both at the same time.”

One day after I played a piece, Yamada-sensei sat quietly for a minute and then nodded saying “With the ichigenkin, every note must come from deep inside you. You must play from your center, deep in your body, because this is where the real sound is. But when you play you must also bring the sound out of your body into the air. Today I can feel the music come from you, this is the sign of a good player.” She then would regularly tell me if my focus on my centre (hara) was too high, too low, too forward or too back. She knew the instant it was not correct.

In the last days of my lessons Yamada-sensei would often look at me and scowl, “You are so relaxed on the instrument that it resonates inside you. You play like you are Japanese, yet you are not. You must have Japanese blood.” Then she would shake her head and in a sad voice ask “Why aren’t you Japanese…you should be Japanese?!”

On the day of my last lesson her husband thanked me for studying with her and being very patient with the occasional repetition of lessons (the medicine made her forgetful). He said that I had given her a lot of energy and made her days meaningful. He said that I was her best student and gave me the contacts for the Ichigenkin school in Tokyo, asking me to be in touch with them.

I was Chie Yamada’s last ichigenkin student. She died of stomach cancer a few months later. Her husband gave me the instrument that she taught me on. yamada1

She was the best teacher that I had ever had. She could see things that were inside of me and guide me to use them, sensing things about me that no other teacher ever had. I could sense hundreds of years of knowledge being passed to me; lessons that she had learned from her teacher before her, and likewise for centuries. When she taught, every note sang, as she would place it deep inside of me. I was taught to play each note as if it contained the whole piece of music. The piece should be as complete playing only one note as it was playing all of the notes. She taught me to feel the rightness of every note, to give each note time to exist and resonate in my body. She somehow had a deep understanding of the music that I always had felt inside of me, but never knew how to release. She nurtured my internal music, gave it life, and brought the deepest parts of me alive with it.

While I studied with Yamada-sensei, I stayed in a dorm room with 6 people, so to practice I would go and sit on a bench at Waikiki beach for hours every night. This was actually quite dangerous because the beach was where drug dealers, pimps and other underworld folks did business at night. They each had their spot, and any intruders were not welcome. However they fully accepted me. I had a spot I could practice, and many times a bunch of very scary looking people would come and listen. They asked me questions about the music, and myself, and we developed quite a personal relationship. They were totally fascinated with the ichigenkin and its philosophy, sometimes sat for hours just staring at the dark ocean and listening to me play. The only time somebody started to be aggressive to me, a number of big guys came up and told him that I was their friend and anyone wanting to mess with me had to mess with them first.

© R. Raine-Reusch 2014

Park Kiok 박기옥 Shijo in Korea, Kim Duk Soo of Samul Nori

In 1986, I became good friends with Kim Duk Soo 김덕수 the leader of the famous Korean percussion group Samul Nori. The group spent quite a bit of time in Vancouver at Expo 86, at which I was very active as a composer, performer and producer.

In 1987, I was invited to perform in Korea and the Philippines, but had almost two months of down time between the performances. I asked Kim Duk Soo if he could set up some lessons in traditional Korean music for me. He arranged lessons on kayageum with the Intangible Cultural Asset Park Gui Hee 박귀희, which I will talk of in another post. Duk Soo also arranged for me to study with the shijo, ancient sung poetry, teacher Park Kiok 박기옥 that had a studio in the same building as Samul Nori in Seoul.

Duksoo
Kim Duk Soo at Chan Centre, Vancouver

Kim Duk Soo thought that through shijo I would learn the foundation for Korean music, notably the moving tones, or pitches in constant motion. In western terms this is like a highly expressive vibrato that changes in depth of tonal variance, speed, and intensity. Rather than ornamentation this is an essential and defining element of Korean music. Some pitches in a mode are always performed in motion and are never static.

My teacher was in his seventies and spoke no English whatsoever, and I knew only tourist Korean. Everyday we would sit on mats on the floor facing each other for the lesson. This is not so unusual in Korea while studying music, except that he was always impeccably dressed in a three-piece suit! For the first few weeks, our lessons went very well, although this was the first time that I had taken any kind of formal voice lessons. After a while I noticed that my teacher was disturbed by something. He kept repeating the meaning of the piece to me and even brought in someone to translate the piece so I understood it fully. Still somehow I was missing something in the lessons and he was struggling with how to tell me. I tried to become as diligent a student as possible thinking I was missing an important detail.

Normally when I study with a teacher I imitate them exactly to the point of copying the way they sit move breath, and every detail of their playing technique. This I did with renewed diligence, trying to find what I was missing, I mimicked my teacher almost exactly. Yet, he became increasingly frustrated and on numerous occasions he would crawl around on the floor in his business suit miming the story in an effort to try to get me to realize something about it. Soon after we were at an impasse, both quite frustrated at what I did not understand.

The time was approaching that I had to leave Korea, and even though I had not understood this vital part of his teaching, he asked me to come and perform at a gathering of the shijo teachers at his house. I arrived on the appointed day a bit late, as there was a meal involved, and as I was a vegetarian, I didn’t want to embarrass my teacher by not being able to eat anything. My teacher lived up five flights of stairs, and although I was quite winded from climbing them, as soon as I arrived my teacher asked me to sit down and sing for everyone right away. There were about eighty teachers there from all around Korea and including the Intangible Cultural Asset. They split up into two circles, one for the junior teachers and one for the senior teachers, which I was told to join.

Shijo teach on left
Shijo teacher Park Kiok on left

We started by me singing the piece I had learned and although I was winded and didn’t sing it very well, they were all very supportive of my effort. My teacher then said something to them that I didn’t understand, which sparked some discussion and then it seemed a decision was reached. One by one they each sang a piece. This took hours, as some of the pieces were long, but the time went quickly as I was totally fascinated by the range and depth of expression in the music. This was the first time I had ever heard anyone other than my teacher sing, and there were as many different styles and approaches to the music as there were singers. Many times I heard the song I sang repeated, but each time it sounded so different that at times it was almost unrecognizable. The last two people to sing were sitting beside me in the circle. The first was the Intangible Cultural Asset, whom I was told was 101 years old at the time, or so they thought. His voice was so quiet we had to strain to hear. He sang the same song that I had, but it was remarkably different, with a much deeper range of expression and moving tone than all the others. The person next to me again sang another variation of the song I had learned.

I realized that I was going to have to sing it again, and that this was the final master lesson. I was to interpret the song, not to mimic my teacher’s version but to express it in my way, to put the emotion within the song that the story expressed. I took some time to process all the all the techniques I had just heard and let my subconscious choose the appropriate technique for the emotion of the song. I let go of worrying solely about technique. I sang the song again, this time using the depth of my emotion to freely choose from the techniques that I had just heard.

Everyone roared their approval as I finished the piece, some leaping to their feet. However, for me the only person that mattered was my teacher, I looked at him kind of timidly, wondering what his reaction to my reckless version of the piece would be. He looked at me directly, his face totally expressionless, then he nodded once emitting a very sharp loud grunt of approval, turned and started talking to his peers. That was all I got from him in praise, but I knew I had finally understood that important point, I had to feel the music and sing it from my soul, and not just imitate. I felt glad that I finally understood while also honouring him by doing a good job in front of his peers.

Shijo taught me that playing the notes perfectly every time is not where music lies. Music is found in one’s soul. Techniques are a means to craft sound, and the more acquired, the more shapes the music can have. However, the perfect performance is not how well the technique is used, but how freely the deep inner voices of the musician can choose and utilize techniques to gain total freedom.

© R. Raine-Reusch 2014

Gagaku and Sho in Japan

Visiting Kyushu, the southern island of Japan in 1989, I was hoping to find a place to study Gagaku, Japanese court music. I was interested in playing the sho, a bamboo mouth organ used in this genre. Fortunately, I discovered that a new Gagaku-do (a place to perform or practice Gagaku) had just been built at the Shogyoji temple in Kasugayama just south of Fukuoka. This was a spectacular new hall that had a permanent stage for Gagaku and Bugaku (the accompanying dance). They were also setting up a school to teach Gagaku and were very excited to accept me as a student.

I began my studies with a very patient young teacher who taught in the traditional, slow but methodical way. After a month of playing only one chord, I was honoured to be invited to take part in a special weekend workshop being led by Ono Tada Aki, the National Treasure for sho. Attending the workshop, I was surprised to find Ono-sensei (sensei is an honourific term for teacher) taking an interest in my playing. I guess he sensed my familiarity with mouth organs as I had already played the Thai mouth organ (khaen) for over ten years. After he found out that I could only stay and study for a short period of time, Ono-sensei focused a lot of the lessons towards me and I was shown all the traditional finger and breathing techniques and my teachers were instructed that I should leave Japan with all there was to know about the sho. Ono-sensei went on to personally show me how to maintain and repair the reeds, something few sho players do themselves these days.

With my two teachers, senior on left
With my two teachers, senior on left

After Ono-sensei’s departure, I was given a new teacher, the top sho player in the school. This was quite an honour for a new student, however he had just been in a severe car accident. He would leave the hospital specifically to give me a lesson, and then return directly to the hospital. It was difficult for me to see my teacher sitting across from me in great pain, and I pleaded with him to postpone my lesson until he felt better, but he just thanked me for my concern and continued the lessons. I tried to do everything as quickly as possible, and play as best as I could, so we could finish the lessons early, but no matter how much I did, he kept teaching until the full time was up. He continued to leave the hospital to teach for the next few weeks, and never once would give in to my pleas to postpone or at least shorten the lessons. During this time I worked harder than I ever had before. I wanted every minute of his pain to be worthwhile. I progressed quickly, but still felt that I had barely scratched the surface of understanding Gagaku.

All too quickly my departure time grew near. I was due to leave on January 4th, and was invited to attend the first New Years Festival to be held at this Gagaku-do as a kind of going away party. The New Years Festival is a very big event in Japan and is the time of year when Gagaku musicians are in the greatest demand. This was an especially important event as it was also the inaugural New Year’s concert for this new hall. However, many of the Gagaku performers were doing concerts around the island of Kyushu, and would not be at that evenings performance. I was therefore asked to come early to the celebrations so I could say goodbye to everyone before they went off to their performances. Upon arriving a number of my teachers carefully inspected the new sho that I bought, and asked many questions about my future plans for using the instrument, and when I would return to Japan. One by one they said there goodbyes, and I was finally left alone with my teacher. He turned to me and asked if I planned to stay for the evening celebrations. When I said yes, he said that I didn’t have much time, and I must hurry to change.

Raine-Reusch playing Japanese shoI was taken upstairs to find a set of traditional performance clothes waiting for me. The Gagaku-do had searched all over Japan for clothes that would be big enough to fit me, and hadn’t wanted to invite me to perform in case they couldn’t find them. I was dressed by teacher and a friend, and then taken downstairs and seated on stage between my teacher and my initial junior teacher. I was told to warm up my instrument over the appropriately provided coal heater. This process, which takes from twenty minutes to half an hour, ensures the longevity of both the reeds and the instrument. Meanwhile my teacher put a book of scores in front of me and turned to a piece that I was unfamiliar with. I looked at him and whispered “Sensei, I don’t know this piece”. “Don’t worry” he said “You know all these fingerings and the rhythm is four beats and we repeat each section twice. You enter here and exit here”. This was important information needed to play the piece, as is not written in the score. I practiced the fingering of the piece while I finished warming my instrument, and felt fairly confident by the beginning of the performance. I played the piece fairly well not making any noticeable errors, and at the end sat back to listen to rest of the performance which thankfully didn’t include my instrument. Just before the last piece, my teacher leaned over, turned to another page in the scorebook and tapped the page. I looked at my teacher in horror. The performance was still going on. I couldn’t ask him about the details of the piece!

Listening carefully as the music started I watched my teacher diligently out of the corner of my eye. Fortunately he didn’t start playing right away, which gave me time to try to hear some of the details of the piece. Then after a few minutes he slowly raised his sho to play and I started to do the same, but quickly noticed that the player on my other side of me hadn’t raised his instrument at all, so I pulled my instrument back. This was the first time that I had heard a piece where one sho started before the others. I went back to heating my sho, and now watched the other player out of the corner of my eye as I continued to listen to the details of the piece. Before long he pulled his instrument back, which I copied thinking he was going to start, but he only scratched his arm and then went back to heating his instrument. I was now fully aware of how the piece went and after the player beside me pulled his instrument back three or four times, to scratch or adjust his robe, me copying him every time, we finally raised our instruments and joined the piece. I was feeling fairly comfortable as I played except that I didn’t know how or where to end. In my limited experience, pieces usually ended somewhere on the second repeat of the last row in the notation. Thus it was a shock to find that just before I started to play a chord still in the first repeat, everyone else had stopped! I quickly pulled the sho away from my lips a millisecond before my breath started to vibrate the reeds. I slowly lowered it almost in unison with the other players hoping that no-one had noticed.

Raine-Reusch Gagaku KyushuShortly after, the whole program came to an end. My teacher looked at me smiled, and nodded. He said nothing. It was not my place to ask him why he hadn’t explained both pieces at the beginning, all that mattered was that I had played well, I had not made any obvious mistakes and I had not embarrassed the school or my teacher on this most prestigious event. Their honour was intact. Me? I was bathed in sweat, my shoulders were screaming in pain and I was an emotional wreck for days. But I did it.

It was a huge honour to be asked to perform at their inaugural New Years performance, as well as an immense amount of trust in me. Since that time I have performed often with the sho, mainly in my performances with creative improv artists such as Barry Guy, Robert Dick, Torsten Müller, Henry Kaiser, and Pauline Oliveros. I have performed Cage’s One9 for solo sho as well. I find it interesting that the trust shown to me in Japan is not extended in Canada when local presenters would prefer to fly a (Japanese) sho player in from Holland twice over hiring me to perform New Music. Yes, I know, I don’t look the part, I am not an “authentic” player, and sho is not my main instrument as I have been only playing it professionally for over 25 years… At least they decided, after discussion, to present one of my compositions for sho.

© R. Raine-Reusch 2014

Reaching In

When still quite young, I started to pay attention to what was different in my world from what most people acceptedRaine-Reusch very young as normal. I was surprised to find things everywhere, including in my own home. Regularly my mother would jump up from her chair and say, “company is coming, have to put the tea on” and then proceed to make tea, set the table, and put out sweets for a number of people. The moment she was finished putting the hot water in the teapot, there would be a knock on the door and the exact number of people that she made tea for would walk in the door. This would all take place without a phone call or any prearrangement, and our visitors would always say that they were just driving by and decided to stop in. I found that this kind of knowing to be quite common, although very few people questioned it or even paid it much thought. This made me pay more attention to what I was feeling and I started to focus on increasingly subtle sensations and become aware of what I had being sensing since birth.

One summer my family went to a lake where I spent the day scrambling amongst very large adult-sized rocks on the lakeshore. Somehow one shifted as I was moving between and my fingertip was crushed between two very large boulders. The skin was not broken but many interior blood vessels were broken. By the next day the finger has swollen to the size of a plum and had turned a deep blue colour, so we went to the doctor. The doctor said he had to relieve the pressure by drilling through my fingernail, but instead of giving me an anesthetic, he hypnotized me. I felt nothing as I watched him drill, and the fingered drained. The finger was fine, but I had discovered something fun and amazing. Copying his techniques, I started to explore self-hypnosis to poke pins through my skin and put my hands in flames without feeling anything, much to the horror and amusement of all my friends. I progressed to hypnotizing all my friends and poking needles through their skin, great fun for pre-adolescent boys. I understood from this experience that the mind was capable of much more than most people accepted.

My mother often told the story of not being able to take medications for my birth due to allergies, and that her Raine-Reusch at 8-9 yearsdoctor taught her a from of self-hypnosis instead. Most of her stories were a mixture of reality and fantasy, so her “facts” were never to be believed as relayed. However, in my preteen years she would often go into trance-like sleeps, how much control of these she had was hard to determine. The most memorable was when I was about 9 or 10, when at a dinner party she lay down and went to sleep to cure a headache. Wanting to go home early I tried to wake her, but she was totally unresponsive to my calls, prods or pinches. About an hour later she awoke without any awareness of my attempts to rouse her. I asked her to teach me her technique of deep sleep hypnosis, which I took to quickly from my previous experiences with hypnosis and this became the foundation for many of my deep meditations.

Later in my early teens, my mother had a psychotic break caused by a  of her alcoholism, menopause and the daily violent family arguments. Her condition worsened slowly over a few years until she would run around the house every evening screaming for hours, not able to recognize either my father or myself. Getting her to settle down and into bed was difficult. Somehow in the process I developed an interesting ability to get her to sleep. I would sit beside her head and “look” inside her brain. It was like looking down a long tunnel into a bright fog swirling around a vortex. I would see anger, rage, hurt, a lot of fragmentation, and the occasional bit of sanity swirling around. Through a strange combination of feeling/seeing/sensing I would reach in with my senses and grab her sane self and slowly pull it to the surface. Often it would slip away and I would have to go find it again. When I would eventually succeed in bringing it to the surface she would immediately become rational and totally cognizant of her surroundings again. Without my pulling her sanity to the surface, she would continue to rant for hours into the night. Although in the daylight hours she was somewhat connected, I had to pull my mother to reality every couple of nights for about two years before she was able to maintain a connection to reality for herself.

Being able to reach into brains became quite useful while growing up as a teenager in the sixties with people experimenting with drugs. I would be at parties where someone would start to have a “bad trip”, usually a frightening experience from taking too much LSD or similar drugs. I would again reach into their brains and contact their “sane self,” pull it to the surface and explain to them what was happening, and then assist them to maintain a connection to reality. Often I would then create an anchor to reality that I would attach to their psyche. After awhile I realized I could just anchor to reality those that I perceived were close to having a “bad trip” without their knowledge, while staying within proximity to maintain it. That way I would minimize anyone having a rough time while not attracting attention to what I was doing, in case anyone thought it strange.

© R. Raine-Reusch 2014

Multiple Worlds

My parents didn’t realize I had an eye problem when i was young, and assumed I was mentally slow. I would sit six inches from the TV set to watch cartoons, and I would be yelled at to move far back, yet a short while later I would be back nose to the screen, but that was not a clue for them. I recall being in a car when I was quite young and upon hearing a plane asked where it was. My parents pointed out the window and said, “Right there!” I couldn’t see it. “Where” I asked, and they again pointed to a spot in the sky I saw nothing i colouringn and said, “right there.” I asked again and again with them becoming exasperated to the point of yelling “right there!” I never saw it, although I heard it clearly. Not till I was 6 years of age did I get an eye exam at the suggestion of my schoolteacher. The exam showed that my eyes were very poor and I was prescribed very thick and heavy glasses that magnified my eyes. I was amazed when I put them on for the first time that my mother had freckles.

With glasses I began to see like other people did. I could feel myself being drawn into the visual world, becoming engaged in it and feeling part of daily events. The moment I took my glasses off, however, I was back in the world I had experienced from birth. Without glasses the world was removed from what most people relate to as “daily life.” It felt as if I was sitting back watching from a distance, with a much wider more inclusive perspective. I could see misty shapes fly through the air of various sizes and density. I was initially amazed that no one else could see them, but once I put my glasses on they were much harder to see. I would often remove my glasses to watch these misty shapes move around and through the large dense shapes I knew to be people. I later learned that the glow and colours around people were called auras, but I saw many more things move through the air. These were remarkably different from the emotions that I could discern move through people. It took me many years to learn to understand what these things were and as most people never saw them, never to talk about them. Whenever I did talk about that I saw it would make people feel either frightened or uncomfortable, while many just would dismiss me as being weird or delusional. I knew though that I was walking in two worlds: the daily visual world with my glasses, and another world of shapes and energies without my glasses.

Walking in two worlds made me a somewhat awkward child. I could see what most people saw, but reacted to things that they were not aware of. I could sense that many people came to the same conclusion as my parents that there was something mentally “off” with me. I didn’t fit in. I probably would have been an extremely alienated child except for the fact that the moment I was put in front of people to talk about anything, I was totally at home. Even at 7 or 8 years old, I would transform into a bold, precocious storyteller sitting on the teacher’s desk, launching into fantastic tales. I would “read” my audience, watch their inner selves react to my words and tailor my talk to their reactions. I learned that if I mentally projected my stories into the room, they were far more effective. Students and teachers would be all spellbound by whatever I was talking about, and I would always take much longer than other students, entrancing my audience before the teachers would gather their wits and bring my talk to a close. This was all automatic for me, being well trained in my dysfunctional family to choose the words that would garner safer emotions in my listeners.

I did not consciously realize how different the world I was living in was and the power of what I was doing to live in it. I was just a child trying to find a place in the social world of school.

© R. Raine-Reusch 2014

A Different Way of Seeing

I was born with very poor eyesight. The world for me was a collection of vague masses of ill-defined colours. I could see no clear borders, and I only could perceive details in sounds, smells, and other senses. I used my fingers, nose, ears, and even my tongue to navigate the world, and my senses became quite acute.

With such poor vision, the world outside the house was a big hazy place. I couldn’t see anything clearly, near or far. So it was very easy for me to get lost, and I often did. Over time I learned to memorize the layout and landmarks of places so I knew how to navigate, by creating quite complex spatial maps in my brain. Although I was very nervous about going to a place I hadn’t been before, if I had been there once I could get back easily. But I still got lost if my reference points were moved.

I couldn’t see anyone’s face so I couldn’t tell one person from another. Often, when I went out with my parents to a store, I would lose them, even if they were right beside me. So over time, I learned to recognize people from the way they walked, their body language, and from the sound of their voices. I became very good at this.

r3shortssept61My family was very dysfunctional. My father was an extremely critical rage-aholic. My mother would try to match his rage as much as possible. As my sister was seven years my elder, to survive she adopted the fighting skills of my parents. There were other problems. Over my childhood years, I suffered verbal, physical, sexual, psychological, and emotional abuse. Although, outside of the house my family was amazing, always helping people, smiling and laughing, with everybody loving them. inside the house was a battle zone and a very dangerous place.

With extremely poor eyesight, in my early years I could not see anyone’s face to tell if they were angry, or happy – a necessary tool in an abusive family. I needed an early warning system to be able to prepare myself to either be hugged or thrown at a wall across the room. Somehow, I became sensitive enough to track second by second the shifting tides of the multitude of emotions in those around me. I could tell at a distance if someone was safe or dangerous, about to explode in anger or about to smile. I could perceive not only what they were expressing at the moment but also what was beneath the surface, emotions that they had not even begun to feel yet. I learned that although their voice may be smiling and they were happy on the surface, they could be very close to rage just a level underneath. This allowed me to know if I should be on guard or relaxed.

I also learned to track the effects of my words and actions on people I talked with. I started to talk directly to the shifting emotions I saw inside of people, rather to their exterior self. This behaviour, although automatic when young, I had to learn to turn off and on as I became older. It often unnerved people and alienated me from most of my peers. People told me that they felt uneasy around me, and it seemed like I could see right through them. In a sense, they were right.

Over the years I have learned to use this way of seeing to help others to understand their emotions and deeper traumas. I used it in my clinical practice as well as with friends and those in need. However, i still feel an element of alienation, as I am observing the world in a way that I have seldom been able to openly share.

© R. Raine-Reusch 2014

Pauline Oliveros

Sometime in the 1980s, composer/performer Pauline Oliveros and I had overlapping residencies at Art Park, in upstate New York. Although mainly designed to assist and showcase visual artists and their work, Art Park also has a couple of small performance spaces and occasionally presents music as well.

Pauline’s stage was a small concrete platform at the end of a meandering path in the woods, and she was joined in her performance by a dancer as well as a visual artist drawing throughout the performance.

Pauline started the performance by simply lifting her accordion to her lap, tilting her head to her side and listening.

r3poAfter about five minutes she started to play one very high note, held it for a long time, and then slowly added another, then another. As the music progressed, Pauline began punctuating the these long tones by ever increasing short rapid passages of flurried notes.

Listening carefully, I was gently being lulled into the music, when suddenly something changed. It was as if someone had just focused my ears. Everything that I was hearing was interacting in a clearly organized manner. I don’t just mean Pauline’s music, but all the sounds: the wind in the trees, the birds, peoples voices in the distance, everything made musically sense! When the birds sang, they sang in perfect tune with Pauline, entering at exactly the right moment, and sometimes paralleling Pauline in long intricate passages. In the same manner, the wind in the trees would shift and rustle, dogs would bark, squirrels would chatter, all in perfect time to Pauline’s music!

I was shocked, I couldn’t believe it. Somehow whatever Pauline was doing had such a perfect foundation, that every other sound fit together with it as if finely orchestrated by a master composer. Even the cars passing by sounded like finely tuned instruments rather than their usual obnoxious clamor.

I was so stunned that I held my breath, fearing that this would be only a momentary occurrence, but it wasn’t. It lasted for the twenty or thirty minutes that Pauline played. I had plenty of time to revel in this amazing experience. I had of course philosophically believed that “all sounds are part of the symphony of life”, but this was the first time that I was actually experiencing it! Every time I started to doubt the experience another group of random sounds would occur in perfect order! It was like a dream come true, I was filled with a an overwhelming sense of the order of life.

As the piece came to a close, the sounds of the birds and wind progressively became more random again. I tried to hold on to the experience, to somehow keep this way of hearing, but the more I tried, the faster it slipped away. It was replaced instead by the excited sounds of the audience: “Did you hear that?”, “That was amazing!”, “Everything was in tune!”, “Was that real?”, “Amazing how everything was in synch, what do you want for lunch?”

Amazed and excited by this experience, I went up to the stage as Pauline was packing up to leave, and told her of my experience. She listened politely, smiled and then said “Good…it worked……that’s the way it should be”.

© R. Raine-Reusch 2014

Bali Night

In 1984 I was in Bali, Indonesia researching traditional musical instruments, I decided to briefly study the suling, an end-blown bamboo ring flute. I easily found a teacher in one of the villages and rented a small beach hut close by. The hut was owned by an old Balinese man who spoke no English or Indonesian, but only Balinese, a language I knew nothing of. To make arrangements for the rental we communicated through a young neighbourhood girl he had hired for just that reason. Other than making the initial arrangements, the owner had virtually no other contact with his guests, and I would only rarely see him briefly in the distance.

One evening after a particularly long week of lessons, I sat on the porch of my cabin facing the ocean to play my suling. Although I was really enjoying Bali, I was in a remote area away from tourists and there were few people to talk to. I was starting to feel a quite lonely and homesick. After briefly practicing what I had learned that day, I decided to comfort myself by playing for a while. I sat back, closed my eyes, listened for a while and then started to play. Soon I was engrossed in the music. I played the wind in the trees, the ocean waves, the sounds of the night; and I played my feelings of being alone, so far from home in a land full of adventure and wonder.

Hearing a sound beside me, I stopped and opened my eyes to find the cabin’s owner walking past. He nodded to me as he sat down on a rock a short distance in front of the cabin, and smiling, gestured for me to continue playing.

Although feeling surprised and a bit self-conscious, I nodded and smiled back, then closed my eyes and continued to play. I was soon so engrossed again in the music, that I completely forgot about my unexpected audience. After about an hour, I stopped playing and slowly opened my eyes to find the owner still sitting on the rock, with his head bowed and eyes closed. As I watched he slowly raised his head opened his eyes, turned, nodded to me, and then slowly got up and walked off into the night.

It was late and I was tired. I only briefly thought how nice it was that he stayed to listen to my music, and within minutes I was in bed and fast asleep.

The next morning, as I got up and opened the door to my cabin, I was surprised to find the owner sitting on my doorstep holding a giant basket of fruit. Smiling a big smile, he handed me a piece of fruit gestured for me to sit down, and started to talk rapidly in Balinese. Although I didn’t understand a word he was saying, by his gestures I understood that he was talking about his property. He talked about the trees, the birds, and everything that we could see or hear around us. Then he began to teach me the names for everything in Balinese and asked me its English equivalent.

I didn’t have much time to think about this instant friendship, as our conversation in gestures and bits of language was totally engaging and would rapidly jump from one subject to another. It felt as if my new friend was trying to make up for his weeks of silence all in one day. We talked for that whole day and well into the evening, and he was at my door again the next morning and for many mornings after!

During the rest of my stay we became good friends, spending most of our mornings together and learning more of each others language. We often helped each other with each others chores from laundry to yard work, always with a running commentary of gestures, and a lot of laughter. His warm friendship had made my loneliness and homesickness totally disappear, and every day I looked forward to our time together.

When it became time for me to leave, we exchanged gifts, smiles, good wishes, and even a few embarrassed tears. We parted as good friends, knowing that we may never see each other again, but that we would never forget each other.

It’s strange that with all the time we spent together and in all our conversations, never once did either of us mention that evening of music. I guess we didn’t need to.

Nukan Srichrangthin, Sombat Simla to Aerosmith

In 1984 I received a grant to study in Thailand. At that time the Canada Council for the Arts only funded study trips to Paris for classical musicians, so my request for funding to study in Thailand was refused. However, I was persistent and when on a cross-Canada tour, I stopped in at the offices to talk to the officer again. Once she saw the poster for my concert with a picture of the khaen, the instrument I wanted to study, she became interested in the instrument and project. As such I received the first Project grant given to a Canadian artist to study overseas in a non-classical genre, and opened the flood gates for Canadian artists to study around the world. I stretched the $2000 I received to last a full six months in Asia.

I had arranged to study at Srinakharinwirot University in Mahasarakham, in the north east of Thailand. , who had recently returned to Thailand after finishing grad school at the University of Washington, assisted me. I was there to study the khaen, a 16-reed bamboo mouth organ native to the region and that of Laos.

r3khaenI quickly found that I was following in the footsteps of Dr. Terry Miller who had recently been in the area a year or so before, researching his doctoral dissertation. My work was not academic, but just out of self-interest in the instrument and music. Parts of the northeast had not seen that many white people yet, and in some villages kids threw rocks at me, thinking I was a white ghost coming to eat them (a popular story parents told their children so they would behave).

Jarenchai had arranged for me to study with three top performers as teachers, one from each generation, but upon my arrival the oldest teacher was too ill, so I worked primarily with Nukan Srichrangthin and later with Sombat Sinla, the youngest.

My lessons with Nukan were intense; I studied 7 hours a day with him six days a week. Then I practiced four hours a night to make sure I was ready for the next lesson. I didn’t speak Thai and he didn’t speak English, so the first few lessons we had a translator. The translator said he couldn’t come for a few days and when he returned he was shocked, as I would ask Nukan a question in English and he would answer me in Thai seemingly understanding each other. That was the last day we used the translator.

Nukan Khaen Photo Raine-ReuschMy way of learning was to imitate Nukan precisely, every movement of his body, breath, fingers, to try and be an exact mirror copy of him. At first it was a struggle to understand what was happening, but after awhile it started to flow. The greatest difficulty was that the music had an improvisatory element to it, so every time Nukan played a piece it was different. So I had to learn to understand the patterns and underlying structure of the music and this took a lot of time.

sombat sinla copyright Randy Raine-ReuschOne day Sombat Simla showed up and took over my lessons. He was quite young and totally blind. He only spoke about ten words of English. When we first sat down he played the instrument slowly note by note. I responded by playing the same thing very quickly. He laughed and said, “OK.” He then played a simple piece, which I played back again a bit faster with embellishments, he laughed again, saying ‘OK.” Then he played an amazingly fast and complicated piece, after which I sat in total silence, and he laughed again saying, “OK, OK, OK!” And our lessons began. The music that Sombat played was basically the same as Nukan’s, but included his own voicings and approaches. It was great to experience the contrast between the two performers.

My host, Jarenchai, wanted to make use of my studying khaen to promote the instrument to Thai youth as much as he could so he arranged for me to give lectures at local universities, interviews and performances on local and national radio programs, and finally at the end of my stay he arranged for me to appear on National TV. I was to play khaen for a famous mawlum, a singer that the khaen usually accompanies. The mawlum sang in Lao and I would adjust my melody based on what she was going to sing. By the context of her lyrics I was to anticipate the tones of the words she was going to sing and then adjust my melody to match or at least not conflict with her tones and melodic line. As I had by this time only learned a small amount of Thai and didn’t speak Lao at all, my teacher stood off camera indicating if my melody should rise or fall with hand signals. The TV audience saw this white guy easily accompany an amazing singer, while in reality I had no clue as to what was coming next. I was technically good, but still was not inside the culture enough to fulfill the traditional function.

After studying khaen I went to Chiang Mai in Northern Thailand and undertook a short study of the naw, a 5-pipe bamboo mouth organ with a gourd resonator played by the Lahu and Lisu people. My lessons took place in a large building in a small village on the outskirts of town. I would sit down with my teacher while the women of the village would all come, set up their weaving and watch. It was quite a strange experience to have an audience for my lessons and it certainly added a new element of pressure. Most of the time they laughed at my mistakes and attempts to get the music, but once I got a piece they all applauded. While there I wrote a new piece for the instrument and taught it to my teacher. When I returned for the next lesson, he told me he had played my piece at a tourist event, expressing that the dumb tourists didn’t even know a Canadian piece when they heard one!

Unfortunately, at the time I was there, Thailand did not recognize the cultural treasures that they had in traditional village musicians. To be able to spend hours a day listening to each of these stunning performers play was amazing, and to be able to study with them was a huge honour. I often would wonder why I was the only person sitting there listening to this amazing master play, when people just outside the door would be listening to garbage music on the radio.

Nukan survived as a rice farmer, but was a superb performer. Although I was a poor musician in the west, I was rich compared to him, and never balked at giving him as much money for lessons as I could. Nukan, passed away a number of years ago, and I owe him a big thank you for all the time he spent with me. Sombat was an itinerant musician, traveling throughout the region, living off what people gave him to perform. He is still active and is now considered the top khaen player in Thailand.

Aerosmith_PumpFortunately there have been a small number of other folks that have gone to Thailand to study khaen and some have done much better at integrating into the culture than I did. My hat is off to them. The khaen became one of my main instruments, which I recorded with artists ranging from Pauline Oliveros to Aerosmith (I played the naw with Aerosmith as well). I often used to play for the Thai community in Vancouver at their special events, and it was always a treat when those from northeast Thailand got up and started dancing. I went back to Thailand a number of times to continue my studies and visit my teachers.

Dr. Jarenchai Chonpairot is the champion of these amazing northeast Thai performers, bringing foreign artists, researchers and the public to recognize their talents. He is still active in Thailand, and by some at least is recognized as a pivotal person for this music.

© R. Raine-Reusch 2014

Dulcimer Daze: Robert Force, Al d’Ossche, Neal Hellman, David Schnaufer

In the early 70’s there was a revival of the Appalachian mountain dulcimer, although the term renewal is more appropriate as the instrument became a vehicle for modern music and new composition. A lot of the dulcimer’s popularity came from Joni Mitchel playing it on her 1971 album Blue. However, I found my dulcimer in 1968, so the revival was already well under way by the time her playing hit the airwaves.

Neal Hellman teaching Robert Force & Albert d'Ossché Rick Scott's "Lotus Eater Blues," 1977. Photo by Bonnie Carol.
Neal Hellman teaching Robert Force & Albert d’Ossché
Rick Scott’s “Lotus Eater Blues,” 1977. Photo by Bonnie Carol.

There were a few names that transcended borders and led the way of this renewal. Robert Force and Al d’Ossche, a dulcimer duo playing guitar style, had written the most popular dulcimer howto book and were touring as a duo. I met them numerous times, on and off stages, up and down the west coast. They were very animated performers and always brought a smile to your face. Al has passed on now, but through YouTube you can still find Robert picking away throughout the US.

Another great dulcimer player making a name for himself back then was Neal Hellman whom I shared a stage with a couple of times. I always felt him a bit deeper a player, and was always impressed by his technique. His concerts always had a warmth and intimacy to them, and he is still out there and better than ever.

schnauferAnother great was David Schnaufer, who probably had more success than anyone and living in Nashville probably helped. He played with Emylou Harris, Johnny Cash and a host of other big names, although his popularity was a bit later than those above. He was quite amazing and we met and played only twice, our styles were different but there was a lot of mutual respect between us. He passed far too early, as he had a lot more to give.

Vancouver had a few good players as well and they still are active. Rick Scott, and Shari Ulrich both with Pied Pumpkin play guitar style dulcimer, although Shari’s main instrument was violin. Holly Arntzen is still an active environmental performer also playing guitar style. Rick and I taught a dulcimer workshop together as well, and had a real motley crew of inspired and warm-hearted students.

I used to travel on my dulcimer in those days, hitchhiking across the continent and being given food and housing for a few tunes on the dulcimer. I met amazing people, jammed with hundreds of great musicians, and even fell in love a few times through the instrument. The most attention I ever received as a dulcimer player was recording Dulcimer Stomp on Aerosmith’s Grammy award winning album Pump in 1989. For some reason it didn’t make me that popular in the dulcimer world, but I got a lot of attention from rock fans!

Randy Raine-Reusch and Rick Scott's Dulcimer Workshop
Randy Raine-Reusch and Rick Scott’s Dulcimer Workshop

My dulcimer is still with me, built in 1970 by the great Michael Dunn, and an amazing instrument. I have played it on concert stages around the world and on numerous recordings. I have tried literally a few thousand dulcimers over the years, and the only other dulcimers I ever liked were the ones played by Schnaufer. Wish I knew who his maker was.

Though most people prefer playing folk music on the instrument, I prefer to fully explore the modes and the plethora of alternate tunings. I play lap style, and definitely lean towards western ragas, as I often go off on long rambling improvisations. My explorations on the dulcimer are what led me to world music, and beyond. I would not have an instrument collection if I had not first explored other culture’s sounds and music on the dulcimer. So if you see or hear me somewhere playing something that you have never seen before from some remote village, you can blame it on my dulcimer.

© R. Raine-Reusch 2014

John Hammond, David Amram, Huun Huur Tu, Peter Gabriel, Bim

In 1980, I started to play at the major folk festivals across Canada. Although it was a joy to be playing for such an enthusiastic and informed audience, there was an equal joy to be in the company of a large number of amazing musicians. The practice in those days was to break up the bands and put individual musicians with similar interests on workshop stages in themed performances. Thus, I got to perform with a large variety of amazing performers, some of which were my musical idols. One year I found myself onstage with the incomparable picker Mike Marshall and fiddle player Daryl Anger, and there were so many notes flying around on stage it was mind-boggling. Another year I started to play a tune and this amazing bass kicked in and I turned to see Michael Manring sitting in. Yet another year blues musician Brownie McGee came to ask for my autograph as he collected everybody’s for his nephew, I was in shock as Brownie was one of my all time heroes. It should be noted that I think I was only asked for my autograph three or four times so far in my whole career!

One of the highlights for me was a concert I did at Edmonton Folk Festival in 1985 with fellow multi-instrumentalists Ken Bloom and David Amram. We each had brought a trunk full of instruments. We didn’t discuss at all what we were going to play, we just all sat on stage, opened the trunks at the same time, reached in without looking and started to play together with whatever we had in our hands. We played one piece that lasted the whole workshop switching instruments often. There must have been at least 100 instruments in total and we played all except one.

David Amram was around a lot in those days and after a fest he did a small club date and called about 20 of the top jazz, folk and world musicians in town to play with him. There was virtually no room on stage, and only one microphone was working so David put it on a boom stand and loosened the base so it could swing back and forth. He indicated two positions, one on each side of the mic stand. We started to play and David would point to a spot, and then one of us. We would stand on the spot, solo, and then swing the mic to the other spot for the next musician to solo. We played all night like that and it was amazing.

huun-huur-tuFestival musicians became like a family as we often toured from fest to fest across the country, seeing each other in another town a week later. For a number of years I held post festival parties at my house for all the world music musicians that were in staying in town for a few days before travelling to the next festival city. I would also invite world music musicians from around town. A typical party might include Tuvan throat singers, Vietnamese, Chinese, Russian, Italian, Brazilian, Spanish and African musicians, all jamming together. Twenty years later I was onstage with Huun Huur Tu, and the leader looked at me and said, “I know you, I was at a party at your house!” These parties were part of the genesis of the Vancouver World Music scene.

JhammondAt one fest I saw blues musician John Hammond eating at a table by himself. There were a lot of people at the other tables, so the emptiness of this table stood out. I went over and asked if I could join him and we started a long conversation. Hammond had a stutter still in those days, which unfortunately added to the reason no one talked to him. Anyone who has heard Hammond in concert knows that he has hundreds of amazing stories, and he told a few that day. We developed a “festival friendship” which meant we saw each other at other fests, be it a week or a few years in between. I saw Hammond again a few years later at a concert and his national steel guitar was broken by the airline. Hammond said a man came up after the show and asked to look at the instrument. After looking at the damage he told Hammond that he could fix it for him. Hammond declined as he had a trusted repairperson at home. And the man said, ‘Are you sure, because I made this instrument?” It was one of the Dopyera Brothers who invented the resonator guitar and started the National String Instrument Company!

One year I was flying home from a festival with Roy Forbes (a.k.a. Bim) and a few other prominent artists. We got to the ticket agent and were told we would get our seating assignments at the gate. When we got to the waiting room, it was full of crew from a big rock tour featuring the Rolling Stones, Peter Gabriel and The Tubes. As the flight was full, we were upgraded to first class, and watched as the rock tour folks walked past us to economy. A stewardess (now called a flight attendant) was standing across from us and was noticeably excited by the rockers. She was exclaiming, “Wow, so many Rolling Stones T-shirts.” Asking the Stones’ tech crew if any of them were in the band (the Stones had travelled earlier). Next she saw some guys with Peter Gabriel T-shirts, and asked one, “are you with Peter Gabriel?” The guy behind him said in a bit of a dismissive tome, ‘Ma’am, this IS peter Gabriel!” All this time Bim was getting more and more restless, and when there was a lull in the passing passengers, he looked at the stewardess, stretched out the Folk Festival T-shirt he was wearing and exclaimed loudly, “This is not a rock and roll T-shirt!” She looked at him in shock and almost screamed, ‘You’re Bim!” The stewardess gave us a bottle of Champagne, which we all had a bit of and then sent the rest back to Peter Gabriel, courtesy of the folk musicians in First class.

© R. Raine-Reusch 2014

John Handy and Ali Akbar Khan

My grade 11 high school teacher, the older sister of a good friend of mine, dated jazz saxophonist John Handy, famous at that time for his Live at Monterey album, which only featured two pieces, one on each side of the record. Through her I got to know Handy and met him whenever he came to Vancouver, which was surprisingly often. In the late 70s, I went to San Francisco to visit him and stayed at his house in the Mission District for a couple of days. Amidst the constant flow of visitors to his house we managed to talk a lot about music, and even played together a bit.

KArunaOne day Handy took me to the Ali Akbar College of Music. Ali Akbar Khan was the world’s foremost sarod player who had set up this school in 1965 and taught there every week except when he went on tour. We sat in on one of his vocal classes, and spent time talking with him after the class. The class was quite intense, but thoroughly fascinating. He was teaching the small divisions of a note and the associated ornamentations that are essential to Indian music. To be able to play an Indian instrument, a student needed to know all these nuances, and singing them was the best way to learn. I learned so much just in that one class that I really wanted to enroll in this school. Unfortunately I just couldn’t afford it, as money was extremely elusive for me in those days. However, meeting Ali Akbar Khan was amazing, as many people, including myself, consider Khan the world’s greatest musician at that time.

Handy came to Vancouver a few more time after that and I always went to say hi and hear him play. I often wondered why Rainbowmore people didn’t pay attention to him, as the sound of his horn was very special I thought. Karuna Supreme, the album that Handy and Ali Akbar Khan recorded together is still one of my favourites, because of the extreme beauty of Handy’s tone mixed with the sarod. Handy and Khan also recorded another album entitled Rainbow with Dr. L. Subramaniam in 1981.

© R. Raine-Reusch 2014

Creative Music Studio, Collin Walcott

In the fall of 1975, I saved just enough money to go to the Creative Music Studio in Mt. Tremper, New York, just out side of Woodstock. This was a school formed by Karl Berger that brought amazing creative musicians together to teach what became the world’s next group of amazing creative musicians. The list of those that taught and attended are a who’s who of contemporary Jazz and new music.

The school had just moved to a massive building with dorm rooms, a giant kitchen, a huge hall, and a number of smaller rooms good for classrooms. I had just enough money for food and didn’t know where I was going to live, so Karl said I could have free housing if I cleaned the whole building daily. This was a huge job, but he also gave me a small discount on my registration fee, so I agreed.

There were only just over 20 students in attendance, and literally 10 of them were kit drummers. One of our first lessons was either with Leroy Jenkins or Roscoe Mitchell (don’t remember which as they were both around). We did a group improv and the sax players went crazy screaming well over the 10 drummers. At the end of the improv the group was asked who had heard me. I was playing my acoustic mountain dulcimer, so of course no one heard me, including myself. We were told that listening was as important as playing and you always needed to hear everyone, including the quietest instrument. A great lesson, but this made me not very popular. The other students looked at me like I was crazy. Why was I at this school when I played a diatonic folk instrument? Even the guitar instructor treated me as an outsider and had nothing to do with me. Fortunately all the other teachers took me seriously. However, halfway through the course I went to New York City and bought a pickup and a couple of used pedals and soon was doing lightening speed duets with one of the guitarists, a la John McLaughlin. Attitudes towards me changed, and even the guitar instructor apologized.

walcottKarl asked me to play in his orchestra and gave me a chromatic score to play, which was a huge challenge for a diatonic fretted instrument. I spent the whole evening figuring out a tuning to play chromatically and to learn the part to play the next day. Everyone was pushed to go beyond all our biases, habits, and paradigms. But our instructors were amazing: Jack Dejohnette, Dave Holland, Fred Rzewski, members of the Chicago Art Ensemble, Stu Martin and a host of others. I spent a lot of time with Stu Martin, and got to know Jack Dejohnette and Dave Holland at a time when they were huge stars. But they were really personable and open; they would stop to talk and took an interest in who you were and what your music was.

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Ravi Shankar and Collin Walcott

This was common in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. This was an amazing time for music. There were a lot of folks breaking new ground musically. Artists like Oregon, Don Cherry, Glenn Velez, Nana Vasconcelos, Jon Hassell, and Steve Lacey came to town regularly, and were so approachable that many of the local musicians got to know all of them. Collin Walcott, the percussionist of Oregon, invited me to his studio in New York to look at instruments, and he barely knew me. We hung out and I got to play a bunch of his instrument including an amazing huge udu that was the size of an exercise ball and had the deepest sound I had ever heard. It had been made especially for him, but was far too big to take on tour, so I was one of the few folks that got to hear it, let alone play it. Collin was an amazing guy and it was a huge loss when he passed away on tour. Through Collin I got to know Ralph Towner also of Oregon, and we kept in touch for a few years.

As with Towner my friendships with these artists kept growing, and even though I was just beginning to perform at events they were headlining, they treated me as an equal. This was a time that artists were more concerned with moving music forward than they were about their careers. The feeling was that we were all in this together and all had something to contribute. I miss those days.

© R. Raine-Reusch 2014

John Fahey and Robbie Basho

Robbie BashoIn the mid 1970s I was a big fan of guitarist John Fahey and Robbie Basho. I had written to Basho and asked to visit him and we set a date. In those days hitchhiking down from Vancouver to Berkeley was pretty easy. He lived in a rather suburban part of Berkeley in a lovely old house full of Asian knick-knacks. We spent a day together talking about music and he sang and played for me. I can’t remember if I played for him, but probably did as I had my dulcimer with me. We had quite an intense deep conversation about music and the business of music. He was not happy that people didn’t accept his singing as much as he wanted. Yet, he was a delightful person, very warm and welcoming. The heart that is heard in his music was definitely a large part of him.

Both Fahey and Basho were leading proponents of the American guitar raga style, which later became to be known as American Primitivism. Leo Kottke and Sandy Bull were well known names of this style. Basho was perhaps the most influenced by Indian raga, whereas Fahey embraced more Old Timey and Bluegrass elements into his long rambling pieces.

Basho mentioned that Fahey was performing in a small theatre in a town close to San Francisco, so I decided to catch the show. I arrived at a funky theatre out in the middle of nowhere quite early and there was no one there, but a poster told me I was in the right place. I remember sitting in the sun eating a fresh avocado with fresh lemon on it, thinking how wonderful California was. I found a place to store my pack, but kept my dulcimer with me.

After awhile the audience started to arrive and the doors opened, I got my ticket in the front row and was pretty excited. The show was a bit delayed, and then a cartoon came on and then another and the crowd was getting a bit restless. I saw what I thought was the organizer in the wings in a panic. I went by the side of the stage and heard that Fahey had not arrived yet, that he had gone to the wrong airport and he wouldn’t arrive for another 50 minutes or so. So I went up to the organizer and asked if I could help as I had my instrument. He looked at me in surprise and said, “I don’t know who the hell you are or what the freak that instrument is, but get onstage now!”

So I opened for Fahey. I played for almost an hour and as my style on the dulcimer was not that different to what Fahey did on the guitar, the audience ate it up. I had a huge standing ovation. Coming off stage the organizer asked me what I wanted for saving his butt. I simply asked to meet Fahey. So after the show he took me up to the dressing room. Fahey was in the middle of a heated discussion with another guy, who was arguing that that Basho was playing American Indian modes. Fahey was saying that there were no such thing as proper modes in American Indian music, and asked me what I thought. Answering carefully, I told him that as far as I knew, American Indians didn’t play Greek Modes. Fahey interpreted that as confirmation of his argument, and we became instant friends. We talked for a while and he invited my down to stay at his house in Santa Monica a week later. I went down and we spent about three days mostly talking and eating.

John FaheyI kept in regular touch with Fahey and a few years later he came to Vancouver for a fundraiser, playing the Queen Elizabeth Theatre, the largest theatre in town. I went to meet him first at his hotel room and then to dinner at a Chinese Restaurant in Chinatown. The charity had provided a stretch limo for him, so we rode in style. Arriving at the restaurant, the owners looked at my long hair and Fahey’s ragged blue jeans and put us at a table away from the other customers. We ordered and they served us in the worst of the abrupt Chinese manner. But the food was good and we didn’t care. Because of the service we didn’t tip as we left and climbed back into our limo. As we were leaving I drew everyone’s attention to the window of the restaurant where the whole staff were lined up staring at us in obvious shock, probably horrified that they didn’t treat us well enough to get a big tip.

Arriving at the theatre, Fahey asked me to join him backstage, and watch the show from the wings. He pulled out his guitars and then cut the strings off with wire clippers, put new strings on and played for about an hour to warm up the strings. We talked very little, and I sat listening to the most amazing music I had ever heard him play. It was pure improvisation and he flew across the fretboard, just doing amazing things. I was in a state of bliss and awe by the time he was ready to walk on stage.. It was a good concert, but lacked to brilliance I had just heard, as he played all the pieces on his albums almost note for note.

After the show he complained about the audience, saying that they wouldn’t let him improvise, that all they wanted to hear were his hits. He said this was old music and he wanted to show them new material, but his audiences just weren’t open to that. In some shows he had started to curse and insult his audiences for shouting out names of old pieces, as he was deeply frustrated. Over the years he struggled with his audiences, his music, his relationship and with life in general. Yet, I knew a deeply passionate, warm-hearted man who bordered on genius and just wanted to be supported to fly.

© R. Raine-Reusch 2014

Bai Konte and John Jacob Niles

In the Mid 70s, I was finishing college in Toronto, and was wondering what to do with the approaching summer when I happened on an article in a 1968 National Geographic magazine on the American singer, composer and ballad collector John Jacob Niles. I had been playing Appalachian dulcimer for a number of years and when I saw a picture of Niles playing a dulcimer made from a cello body, I was fascinated. The article mentioned that he lived in Louisville Kentucky, not a far bus ride from Toronto. So I called Louisville directory assistance (for the young folks reading this, this was an operator that would find any number for you) and got his phone number. I promptly called him, and asked if I could come visit, as I was a dulcimer player. Surprisingly he said yes. Corresponding with his wife by mail we set up the date and time a few weeks after I finished my courses.

KonteAs school finished, I went to the Mariposa Folk Festival on Centre Island, which was featuring Pete Seeger, kora player Bai Konte, dulcimer legend Jean Ritchie, eclectic multi-instrumentalist Ken Bloom (whom I later played with on other festival stages). I spent most of one day just hanging out with Bai Konte. He played an early set and then simply walked off stage to a nice spot under the trees and continued to play his kora. I followed him and sat listening to him play and tell stories till dusk. Konte was the first kora player to tour the west and he already had a huge reputation, yet he was a very approachable man that had the time for anyone that had the time to sit with him.

The next day I quickly met Jean Ritchie and told her I was going to meet John Jacob and a young woman overheard our conversation and inquired when and how I was going to do that. It turned out she was a Doctor living in Louisville and had a big house and offered me a place to stay and a ride out to John Jacob’s farm as it was quite far out of town. A couple of weeks later I took a bus to Louisville and a cab to her house. I arrived a few days early and spent most of my time sitting on her beautiful covered porch playing my dulcimer and talking to people that stopped to listen. The weather was warm, the birds and insects sang with my music, and I could see myself sitting on this porch for the rest of my life without a care in the world.

I was glad for the ride on the day we went to see John Jacob, as his house was down a long twisted road past tobacco fields and stone fences. Life was slow there; we drove past an old man sitting on a fence on the way down and he was still there many hours later as we drove back.

NilesWe arrived at John Jacob’s and he welcomed us in and showed me his instruments, which were just astounding. You can see pictures of them here. He was very polite to me, but he clearly was more interested in my companion. He then spent about two hours singing song after song to her, and telling her stories of his life. I didn’t mind to be a fly on the wall, as his voice was beautiful and it was a magical moment. Unfortunately I found it somewhat tricky to play his dulcimers, as they were only fretted for the chords he played, and I was more of a melodic player. But to see and hold them was a great experience, as each was unique.

We left feeling pretty honoured to have a private concert. We decided to press our luck and also seek out Homer Ledford, a well-known dulcimer maker in the region, and after a bit of driving around found his farm, talked to him a bit and had him play for us, and I played for him. But John Jacob’s music was still in our ears.

Arriving back at my hosts home, she told me that as a modern professional woman she rejected the “Southern Gentleman’s” methods of treating women, which John Jacob embodied earlier that day, but as he was a senior and such a great singer, she suspended her judgment and enjoyed the experience.

I kept in touch with John Jacob by mail over the years, but was never able to return. I can hear him still.

A review of a book on Niles

© R. Raine-Reusch 2014

John Glenn – Astronaut

When I was about 8 both my mother and father were in the car business, but in different lots in Vancouver, Canada.  My mum worked mainly as a bookkeeper at an exclusive lot that specialized in the NSU Prinz and a couple of other rare cars.  The Prinz was a small German built car that had great gas mileage. They could float as well.

glennOne day an American came in to buy a car and all the salesmen were busy so my mum took care of him. He was interested in the Prinz, This was in 1959 or 60, my mother was perplexed why he wanted a small car when there were a lot of big cars on the market. She quickly found out that the man was Friendship 7 astronaut John Glenn, the first American to orbit the earth (1962), so he was quite used to small spaces.

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Betty Reusch driving an NSU Prinz

Glenn loved his Prinz, but he received a lot of verbal jabs from the other American muscle car driving astronauts. He became a family friend, and I remember meeting him a couple of times.

© R. Raine-Reusch 2014