Myra Melford: Mystic Manifestations

Franz A. Matzner By

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AAJ: Will you return?

MM: I sure hope so.

AAJ: Are there other places or areas of music that you would like to expand into?

MM: I absolutely am very interested in Middle Eastern music and African Music. I'd love to go there. But for some reason India really felt like the place I needed to go at that time in my life. But I would certainly love to travel to the Middle East, thought it doesn't feel like particularly the right time to do that. I also have an interest in African music and Latin American music. So I'm still hoping to do more of that kind of thing.

AAJ: Let's talk about your current release, Where the Two Worlds Touch. All the things we've been talking about clearly inform the album. Could you speak a little about how your studies influenced the album, and how that works with your dedication of the recording to Rumi, a Sufi mystic?

MM: I have to say, when I was applying for a Fulbright I debated trying to go to Pakistan to study Kawali or go to Northern India to study Hindustani music. So there was always an interest in Sufi music. I would say my interest was in musics in general from the Indian sub-continent. My meditation teacher is very fond of Rumi and other Sufi poets, and would often quote him. I would say my interest in Rumi came out of my interest in meditation and my spiritual pursuits, if that is the right way to put it.

AAJ: I'm very interested in the way—particularly in America—the mystical traditions have begun to blend and blur. So you can be studying Yoga and reading Rumi, and then someone will bring up Rinzai. Music seems to make an interesting crossroads.

MM: Exactly. We're living in a time when all of this information—whether recorded or written—is available to us. I think it's a time when a lot of us are making those things meaningful and personal. So it can involve—we have the opportunity to draw from a lot of different traditions and find what's common about them and also what's unique about them. But that's a little off the track.

Oh! The music! Most of this music was written before I went to India. The only thing that was written when I got back was "No News At All", which starts with a recording I made when I was walking around Calcutta one day, and the other piece I wrote post India is "Secrets to Tell You". The rest of them had been written before. Although—the other things I want to say—is my intention in going to India and studying that music was to become absorbed in it and imbibe as much as I could and then wait to see how it came into my own music in an organic way. It was never to become a professional classical player, or to try and imitate that music.

I would say that even though most of this music was written before, I can hear the difference in my playing on say, "Where the Two Worlds Touch", or the first piece, that a certain melodic style and flavor that comes from studying raga is already starting to come through. Certainly the influence of different types of modes and scales is coming through.

Most of the music I've now written since being there—I've just recorded it but it won't be released until later this year—I can feel a big difference in myself between what I did here on this record and what I'm doing now since I've had a chance to digest and assimilate my experience over there.

So, I guess I can already hear a difference in my playing, but not so much in the writing.

AAJ: On the inside album cover, you've quoted three poems by Rumi in full. Including one titled "Music". Clearly, music plays an integral part in Sufism and is deeply connected to expressions of mystical trance such as Sema and the ecstasies of the Whirling Dervishes. Do you have an opinion on what it is in the music that inspires that kind of mystical departure?

MM: I think now I would depart from technical musical discussion and talk more about the power of music to open people's hearts. Because that's what I think it's really about. Generally, music, when it comes from a certain intention in an artist or in a person, has the power to open someone's heart or touch someone's heart. It can be any kind of music that does that. Because of the state of the musician themselves and their intention, or simply their state when they are creating the music. Then there's other music like chanting like ecstatic dance music that primarily its goal is to do that.

AAJ: How literally are you influenced by written work?

MM: I've always had a fascination with how words can be like music. And you can take them either at the face value of how they sound, and then you can add to that what they mean, or possibly multiple meanings. I think because words are sound—when you verbalize them—there's always been a direct connection between the sound of the words and the rhythm of the words and music for me. Certain writers have a way of putting words together that will inspire me both on a musical level and because there's some sort of ambiguity or multiple meaning in the words. I think that becomes a metaphor for my own expression of music. I'm not trying to literally tell someone something, or give someone a particular kind of experience, but rather create a world or an environment in which they can have a meaningful experience, whatever it is that their heart is longing for.

AAJ: What's your most clearly defined childhood memory?

MM: For some reason I'm remembering my first recital. I wouldn't say that this is necessarily my most clearly defined, but it just happens to be on the top of the memory pile right now.

I was at my teacher's parents house and I had written a piece for my father and I got to perform that as well as I was playing a Back minuet. I really was complety at ease. I had no performance anxiety, and really just wanted to share this music that I loved so much. I think my teacher—after I had played the Bach—had forgotten I had this piece that I wanted to play for my dad. So I had to ask to be able to do that—or remind him. It was a very special moment for me. I went through all kinds of stuff after in which I did start to become very self-conscious and shy about playing, but I'm remembering that time when I just loved the music. That was the greatest thing that I could offer people. I felt like that was the best way I could express my love for people. That's still what it is all about.

Visit Myra Melford on the web at www.myramelford.com .

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