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Musical DNA Goes Everywhere Today

February 25th, 2016

James Brown’s 1968 hit “Say it Out Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud” not only became a #1 R&B hit, the anthem for the Black Power movement, but also inspired new pride among countless Africans in newly-independent nations that had just become free of colonial power.  Hits like this were heard via the Voice of America radio, which broadcast from Gibraltar throughout Africa with the great Cameroonian host Georges Collinet, now @ Afropop Worldwide.

With social media and the internet, music travels around the world even faster.  Here are two examples of hit songs reaching artists and audiences far away:   a reggae cover of Adele’s “Hello” from the Solomon Islands:  never mind the bad lip synching:

An even better version is by this Korean student, for whom English is a second language,  but it’s weird that the guitarist isn’t showing.  Nevertheless, she really must have studied hard because she nails it:

Finally, a Peruvian teenager sings Michael Jackson’s “The Way You Make Me Feel” in the Quechua language of indigenous Peruvians:

Finally, an Arabic version of the Frank & Nancy Sinatra’s “Somethin’ Stupid, by two Lebanese artists, Jean Marie Riachi and Abir Nehme, who sings the lyrics).

Although some might consider such covers to be English-language musical hegemony, I feel that such covers help spread musical DNA all over, revealing some amazing young talent as well.

toms

Tom Schnabel, M.A.

Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres
Blogs for Rhythm Planet
Author & Music educator, UCLA, SCIARC, currently doing music salons
www.tomschnabel.com

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The Otherworldly Voice of Soeur Marie Keyrouz

July 09, 2015

Soeur Marie Keyrouz
Soeur Marie Keyrouz

You may remember Nuns Who Rock. I featured the big 1963 hit “Dominique,” sung by Soeur Sourire or ‘The Singing Nun,’ and then the Sicilian nun-rocker, Sister Cristina Scuccia.

Now I’d like to spotlight a nun of another order: Soeur (or Sister) Marie Keyrouz, who has recorded numerous albums over the years with her Ensemble de la Paix (Ensemble of Peace). Based now in Paris, she has yet to appear in Los Angeles, and I don’t know that she’s ever performed in the U.S. I tried to bring her group to Los Angeles back when I worked for the L.A. Philharmonic, thinking that the Walt Disney Concert Hall would be an ideal venue, but unfortunately, the cost of doing so was prohibitive.

Cantiques de l’Orient, 1996.
Cantiques de l’Orient, 1996.

Soeur Marie Keyrouz was born in 1963 in Deir el Ahmar, Lebanon. She relocated to Paris and received her doctorate from the Sorbonne in both musicology and anthropology. She belongs to the Congrégation des Soeurs Basiliennes Chouerites and is president of the National Institute of Sacred Music in Paris.

She sings hymns from the Lebanese Maronite Christian church, as well as sacred songs and chants from the Greek, Syriac, and Arabic liturgies. In her crystal clear soprano voice, Soeur Marie Keyrouz embellishes her song with exhortatory ululations and other Arabic touches. I find her music to be utterly mesmerizing, even levitational. The term, ‘otherworldly,’ would not be overstating it.

Start with Soeur Marie Keyrouz’s glorious Cantiques de l’Orient.

Hers is a version of “Ave Maria” unlike any you’ve ever heard before.

toms

Tom Schnabel, M.A.

Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres
Blogs for Rhythm Planet
Author & Music educator, UCLA, SCIARC, currently doing music salons
www.tomschnabel.com

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America’s Jazz Ambassadors

May 16, 2013

Louis Armstrong

During the cold war in the 1950s and 60s, when America was worried about Sputnik, ICBMs, and building bomb shelters, there was a quiet but determined cultural diplomacy going on behind the Iron Curtain. The U.S. State Department around the mid-1950s started sending American jazz musicians into Russia, newly-independent African nations (whom the USSR was wooing), Yugoslavia, Hungary, Pakistan, India, and other developing nations. The State Department first thought of sending a top US ballet company such as Martha Graham’s or the American Ballet Theater. The great U.S. Representative Adam Clayton Powell, who was the first African-American to be elected to the Congress (his district was Harlem), proposed a better idea: send top jazz musicians abroad to represent American democracy. After all, isn’t jazz the most democratic of artforms?

And so it was that Benny Goodman, Louis Armstrong, Dizzy Gillespie, Dave Brubeck Duke Ellington toured the world spreading the infectious musical joy of jazz to people in countries where jazz was either little known or forbidden.

A recent show at the UCLA Fowler Museum was dedicated to this wonderful chapter in musical diplomacy. I led a panel that included Quincy Jones, who was on the very first tour in 1955. There is a picture of him near the Sphinx , a country being courted by the Soviet Union because of the Suez Canal’s strategic location. Another pictures shows Q at the Acropolis, posing as Rodin’s sculpture The Thinker.

In one funny incident, perhaps apocryphal but I think not, Louis Armstrong was sent to Ghana. Upon his return to the States, he landed at Dulles Airport in Washington, D.C.. Vice President Richard Nixon was there to meet him, and was in the limousine that went out onto the tarmac to greet him.

Nixon asked Satchmo if there was anything he could do for him. Louis said yes, please can you carry my trumpet case through customs? Satchmo was a regular pot smoker and had some fine Ghanaian weed in his case. And the Vice President got it through customs without a hitch.

Jazz was certainly the great cultural ambassador of America back then. Hip hop has now joined and shared that distinction. The great LA band Ozomatli was dispatched to tour the Middle East, Burma, and other places recently.

Check out this video of Satchmo’s arrival in Ghana 1956: it’s great!

Tom Schnabel, M.A.
Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres
Host of music program on radio for KCRW Sundays noon-2 p.m.
Blogs for KCRW
Author & Music educator, UCLA, SCIARC, currently doing music salons
www.tomschnabel.com

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The Theater of Horror: From Aurora to Abadan

July 26, 2012

Cinema

On July 20, 2012, I woke up to news of the horrific shootings that took place at the movie theater in Aurora, CO. In the wake of this carnage, we are left with the question as to why this happened? What would possess a person to commit such a monstrous and cowardly act?

It immediately took me back to a heinous crime that occurred more than 30 years ago on August 19, 1978, at 8:21 p.m. inside a packed theater, not in the US, but in Iran. I was sixteen and spending the summer with my grandmother in Nishapur, in northeastern Iran. That evening, alongside hundreds of moviegoers, I was watching a film at our family-owned theater: Cinema Iran. My grandfather, an Armenian who had escaped the Russian Revolution of 1917 and made Iran his home, had built the town’s first Cinema, showing films from around the world, dubbed into Farsi. On that warm summer night, thousands of miles away in Abadan, a city in southwestern Iran, around 430 people were watching the controversial Iranian film Gavaznha (The Deer) at Cinema Rex. When I woke up the next day, it was to news of a devastating fire at Cinema Rex and learning that over four hundred people had perished.


Cinema Rex, Abadan, before the fire

That morning, shaken and distraught, we gathered in my grandmother’s living room and joined the rest of the country in mourning. The initial reports of the fire placed the blame on faulty electrical wiring and the air-conditioning system. Additional stories reported that the exit doors to the theater were locked, trapping everyone inside. Newspaper reports wrote of a Good Samaritan with a pick-up truck who had offered to break through the entrance door, but was stopped and turned away by the police. Firefighters arrived at the scene nearly half an hour after receiving the distress call, only to find little water in their tanks. In the end, everyone stood helplessly outside the theater while hundreds of innocent people, trapped inside, died.


Cinema Rex, Abadan, After the Fire

The circumstances surrounding the fire and the incompetence of the police and rescue workers did nothing but raise the public’s suspicions. Since no one trusted the Shah’s state-run media, Iranians spun their own theories and soon two camps of public opinion formed. One camp accused the Islamic fundamentalists (who opposed the Shah and his regime and all forms of entertainment, e.g. the cinema) and the other pointed the finger at the SAVAK, the Shah’s secret police, for having orchestrated the fire in order to blame the fundamentalists and paint them as heartless militants. Regardless of who was responsible, the Cinema Rex fire was by far the worst act of terrorism in modern history pre-9/11.

As a teenager, the news of the 70’s was of wars and revolutions, and terrorist acts carried out by the IRA, the PLO, the SLA, the PFLP, the Red Brigade, and a host of other groups who went about terrorizing the innocent with bombings, high-jacking planes, hostage crisis (Munich Olympics), kidnappings and murders of politicians (Aldo Moro, the Italian Premier), officials (45 members of the OPEC) and children (J Paul Getty Jr. and Patty Hearst) of the super wealthy. But an act of terrorism so close to home had me shaken to the core. What would stop those who had set Cinema Rex on fire from not doing the same to other movie houses in Iran? In the days and months before the Shah’s overthrow, supporters of the Ayatollah Khomeini marched the streets of Iran’s cities chanting angrily and blaming the country’s moral decline on the debauched lifestyles of people influenced by subversive art forms such as the cinema.

Fooled by the naïve optimism of my teenage years, I brushed aside my fears of doom and gloom, convinced that the fire at Cinema Rex was an aberration with little or no chance of replication. On Christmas Eve in December 1978, a mob chanting anti-Shah slogans set fire to Cinema Iran and my grandmother’s home. The fire destroyed the theater and our ancestral home. Fortunately, the attack on the Cinema occurred late into the night when the theater was closed and no one was inside. My grandmother was hundreds of miles away in Tehran with my parents and younger brother while I was in college in America when this happened. Soon after hearing that the Cinema had been burnt to the ground, my grandmother died of a heart attack.

The burning of cinemas in Iran became a symbol of the Islamic Revolution’s slash-and-burn war against the Shah’s regime, leading to its overthrow in January 1979 and ending Iran’s centuries’ old monarchical dynasties. Soon after installing the Ayatollah Khomeini as Iran’s Supreme Leader, the Islamic Republic waged its class warfare with merciless vengeance against anyone seen as a supporter or sympathizer of the Shah and the Western world. The new government, determined to blame the corrupt regime of its predecessor for the Cinema Rex fire, set about apprehending the arsonists. An army officer was arrested, accused of the crime and summarily executed. On hearing the news, the real perpetrator (one of four), an Islamic militant, came forward and turned him self in to the authorities.

It was as had been speculated earlier; the fire had been the work of four Islamic activists who had carried out the deadly mission as part of their allegiance to Khomeini and the Revolution. Only one of the arsonists had survived the fire. He had remained in hiding until he could stand his anonymity no more. He confessed to the crime because he could no longer sit and watch someone else getting the credit for what he saw as the ultimate act of sacrifice for the Revolution.

But the killing of four hundred innocent people, regardless of the zealot’s impassioned religious beliefs and loyalty to the Revolution, was something that the Iranian public was not willing to forgive and forget. In 1980, the Islamic Republic’s nascent regime (which had embraced other revolutionaries for rising against the Shah by seating them in positions of power and elevated those who had died for the cause as martyrs of the Revolution), under public pressure, condemned the lone surviving terrorist for the murder of over 400 people and ordered his execution.

In his recent Op-Ed in the NYT, David Brooks cites there were at least 11 spree killings in the 1990s, and at least 26 over the past decade. He writes: “When you investigate the minds of these killers, you find yourself deep in a world of delusion, untreated schizophrenia and ferociously injured pride.” We may never know what drove James H. Holmes on his shooting rampage at the movie theater in Aurora, CO. But like those who set fire to Cinema Rex in Abadan, thirty-four years ago, the shooter in Aurora may have been delusional and driven to commit the horrific act of violence for fame and recognition. And rampage killers set on a destructive path will use any means to get there, whether with an arsenal of weapons or a can of gasoline and a match.

But just as I was losing all hope in humanity, I came across an inspiring blog by Mark Morford that I encourage you to read here, “A deadly rampage of shocking kindness”. He writes of a tweet sent by a young woman, Helle Gannestad, after last year’s horrific massacre at the youth camp in Norway. She wrote: “If one man can cause so much pain, imagine how much love we can create together.” Her tweet has “become a bit of a national sentiment of Norway,” a sentiment Mark imagines “echoes all the way to Colorado, and beyond.” I know it is already resonating in my heart.

Jasmin S. Kuehnert
President & CEO ACEI
www.acei1.com
(Jasmin is currently writing her memoir “Cinema Iran,” a coming of age story set against the shadow of Iran’s Islamic Revolution.)

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Useless Literary Terms Come Alive

May 17 2012

Synedoche: figure of speech wherein part represents whole, e.g. “crown” stands for “king” or “queen”.

Objective Correlative: T.S. Eliot’s literary device, akin to metaphor, where an object or thing represents an emotion or feeling.

How do I know such obscure things? Rather than following my dad’s advice to pursue a more practical career as a doctor or lawyer, I studied literature, finally taking an M.A. at UCLA. Later I was in the Ph.d program, but when confronted by an obscure question about a lesser-known English poet named Charles Lamb in the part one written exams, I walked out of that UCLA classroom room and away from the Ph.d program. I left three months later for Paris with $400 in my pocket, a big smile, and no real plans. I had gone to school in Paris a few years before so the City of Light was no stranger.

When I returned to the States 2 years later, it was tough getting a decent teaching job, even though I had three teaching credentials and plenty of teaching experience. So I took an even more risky career detour into music. I would have been a terrible lawyer and could have never gone to med school to cut up a cadaver anyway.

But going back to seldom-used literary terms, occasionally they crop up in real-life situations. For synedoche (sin-ek-dough-kee), I pulled into the SMC parking lot last Sunday to do my show. I beheld the 1964 Chrysler New Yorker sedan, blue-green and in glorious original condition. It belongs to Jason Groman, who runs logistics for KCRW, and also handles the KCRW mail and fulfillment departments, both crucial links between KCRW and its members. The Chrysler harkens back to the era of great Amercian cars and embodies the taste and sensibility of its proud owner, who loves classic things, whether they be Paper Mate pens, Lawry’s Prime Rib, classic Magnavox hi fi consoles, and Sinatra ballads on the original vinyl. It made me happy to see Jason’s car and to know I would also soon be seeing him. Everybody at KCRW loves Jason Groman. He’s a great guy and a unique human being. The Chrysler New Yorker truly reflects him.

As for Eliot’s objective correlative: I used to think that Sinatra’s Only the Lonely was his best album of torch songs. Then I heard In The Wee Small Hours, and that trumped Only the Lonely. Then I discovered No One Cares, and realized that this was numero uno. On the cover of No One Cares, we see a photo of Sinatra in a club at the bar, alone, down and depressed, nursing a glass of whisky, smoking cigarettes while others gaily dance and romance in the background.

Then you look at some of the song titles: ”A Cottage for Sale” is about a failed marriage. ”Stormy Weather”, captures his tempestuous marriage and divorce from Ava Gardner. These two song titles capture the essence of the album. T.S. Eliot’s term, originally meant for aspiring poets, actually comes up a lot in music. These are just two examples.

So even though obscure literary terms do not have much use in daily life, occasionally they spring back to enliven the little things that make life more interesting. And you don’t need a Ph.D to appreciate them.

Tom Schnabel, M.A.
Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres
Host of music program on radio for KCRW Sundays noon-2 p.m.
Blogs for KCRW
Author & Music educator, UCLA, SCIARC, currently doing music salons
www.tomschnabel.com

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Repetition Plus Expression Equals Satisfaction

May 10 2012

On a week bookended by a beginning guitar class at McCabe’s Guitar Shop and a painting retreat in Encino, I was buffeted by a key challenge of the reinventing Boomer. The guitar classes were held in a room that does triple duty as concert hall, classroom, and showroom. All manner of stringed instruments ranging from ukulele to classic Fender electric guitars to handmade mandolins fill the walls. The classes are also packed with instruction on technique and practice drills. In contrast, at Master Rassouli’s painting retreat in Encino, the opposite approach is taken, no technique–nada, his approach is to inspire free expression. The empty, cavernous, multi-purpose, room fits this method perfectly.

Each class was a stretch for me. The guitar class pushed me beyond my capacities to absorb the chord changes, fingering, and timing of the guitar. I ended up getting more and more frustrated by the minute.  It came to a head when I just shut down and stared at the sheet music, unable to move my hands. At the painting retreat, prepared to paint another masterpiece with new canvas, new brushes, and ample acrylics, I spent the day bobbing around like a castaway’s bottle in the sea with no direction. Between these polar opposites is the sweet spot of growth/ learning in the creative arts. 

Skill development in the arts can be highly satisfying. Whether playing a musical instrument, learning to draw or paint, writing a novel, learning to dance, later in life people are often called to the arts as a way of expressing themselves. They can be a vehicle for growth and achievement as well as simply enjoy of life.  The big elephant in the room is that learning an artistic craft is often tedious, slow, and often difficult. When you have no natural talent for the field but always thought it would be cool to play piano (or draw or tango), it takes motivation and/ or passion to continue on past the unavoidable beginners’ stage.

Artistic pursuits are often seen to be outlets for self expression. Indeed, I have experienced great liberation from simple free painting.  I have done abstract paintings for years and enjoyed it immensely. I had an exhibit of my work a couple years ago called, Expression as Liberation. It was great. The rush from expressing oneself is liberating and fun, but it is also fleeting. Like an intoxication that wears off the next day (if you don’t have a hangover). To sustain the high or the liberation, one must keep taking more of the intoxicant, but in artistic pursuits the high fades overtime without craft, without skill. What is missing is the satisfaction of achievement.

In art, the ‘high’ of flow or engagement in the moment is exciting. To keep that high one must slog through the rough terrain of building skills through drills. Spoken word artist, Adwin David Brown says it this way, “repetition, repetition, repetition, and then flow.”. The bliss of spontaneous creativity comes after many hours on the free throw line at the gym, drilling forehands with a practice partner, and swinging in the batting cage. Miles Davis, the master improviser, said he practiced the scales every day. 

When we entered our first adulthood we were fresh canvases, open to learn new stuff and the long hours of repetition are not so daunting. Brain scientists have determined that the human brain is not fully formed until around 28. After we have filled in the spaces of our brain patterns (science reports that we do use most of our brain, contrary to pop psychology) learning is a bit more daunting.  At a mature age we have to retrain part of our minds to learn new skills. That takes effort. Deep satisfaction from achievement is possible with patience and a carefully designed plan for sustaining the growth. Art done for the quick high, is as ephemeral as last night’s drunk.  My personal mantra on climbing this mountain in the second adulthood is: Show up, be mindful and do it, (over and over and over again).


Ran Klarin
A lifelong L.A. resident, he is known for his relentless creative nature. Ran advocates seeking, finding, revealing, and sharing one’s uniqueness. After a long and notorious (often accused of being ‘innovative’) career in public education where he rose to become a high school principal, he leapt into a new life dedicated to creativity. So far, his career in the creative arts has produced, an exhibition of his paintings, Expression As Liberation, a book of poetry, Expression Is Liberation, and a book of essays, Creative, Collaborative, Cagebreakers. His regular blogs can be found at www.livingthedreamdeferred.blogspot.com. His handbook for Boomer ‘refirement’ Firebird: A Guide for Conscious and Free Retirement will be published in the Fall ‘2012. He asserts that the time has come for Boomers to live their youthful ideals for community, the environment, for freedom, for justice, and for fun. Ran has Masters degrees in School Administration & Mass Communications and an BA in Political Science from UC Berkeley.

ranklarin@verizon.net.

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Music and Art: Tools for Survival

January 26, 2012

Classical pianist Alexis Weissenberg recently died. He was considered one of the great virtuosos of the last century. He was a child prodigy in Bulgaria when he and his mother were taken prisoner by German soldiers in 1941. Weissenberg had a small accordion and could play excellent renditions of Schubert piano works and lieder. By chance there was a music-loving German guard nearby who was taken with the young boy’s virtuosity–it was obvious even on the accordion–and helped get him and his mother on a train and safety in Turkey. Weissenberg had his U.S. debut in 1947 playing Rachmaninov’s fiendishly difficult Piano Concerto #3. He lived for a time in Israel, and later made Paris his home. He died there on January 8th, 2012 at the age of 82.


Chance also spared Vann Nath‘s life, but he had a more extended and horrifying experience. He was born into a poor farming family in Battambang Province in Cambodia in 1946. He learned to be a sign and billboard painter. The brutal Khmer Rouge, during their reign of terror 1975-9, imprisoned him at the end of 1977, where he was shackled and tortured like scores of others in the notorious Tuol Sleng prison. It so happened that one of his jailers found out he could paint and assigned him the job of painting ennobling portraits of Pol Pot, the Khmer Rouge leader. Nath soon found out that eight or nine painters didn’t please Duch–nickname of the commandant at Tuol Sleng prison–and had been summarily executed. Nath once said that “every brush stroke you were hoping that they would like it and let you live”. He was liberated by the Vietnamese army in 1979.

Nath continued to paint the horrific things he had seen, and later became a key eyewitness in the trials of former Khmer Rouge leaders. He became a surviving representative of not only Tuol Sleng prison but of the two million Cambodians murdered by Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge. His 1998 memoir, A Cambodian Prison Portrait: One Year in the Khmer Rouge’s S-21 Prison, offers a unique and unsparing glimpse into the horrors he witnessed.

I once was in a Border’s Bookstore and saw photographs taken of Cambodian prisoners holding signs with their numbers on them. Some were shyly smiling, and I had the feeling that they had never been photographed before. They must have had an inkling on what would become of them. They all were so innocent. Before long I was in the corner sobbing and trying not to let anybody see me. The horror was overwhelming.

Vann Nath died in September, 2011, at the age of 65. Like Weissenberg, his life was spared by his artistic talents, but for him there was no friendly guard to help him escape. He never recovered by the horrors he had been witness to. His portraits of misery and death in Cambodia, however, serve as a timeless reminder of the cruelty and barbarity of the Khmer Rouge.

Tom Schnabel, M.A.
Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres
Host of music program on radio for KCRW Sundays noon-2 p.m.
Blogs for KCRW (rhythm planet / KCRW)
Author & Music educator, UCLA, SCIARC, currently doing music salons
www.tomschnabel.com

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