Category Archives: Creativity

Global Youth

August 18th, 2017

youth

Americans get a bad rap for speaking only English, of making no effort to learn the languages of other cultures. For the most part, this is true. Unlike Europe, where an hour drive might find you in a completely foreign land, the furthest the average American will make it as far as edge of the state. But that’s not all of us.

In Southern California, from where I hail, the proximity to Mexico makes it not only worth it to speak at least some basic Spanish, it’s almost compulsory. And we are not alone. Foreign languages are being taught at younger and younger ages and it bodes well for the future of our region and the country in whole. Another language connects one more deeply to a culture, the nature of our world as one people, and most importantly, makes you sound like a fancy pants.

So, when I see a fluently bilingual toddler I am not only impressed but often more jealous than is reasonable for an adult toward a 5-year old.

Of course, there are the rare drawbacks:

In line at the ATM one day there was a young dad and his little girl, maybe all of four years old.

The father stands with his daughter, entering in his PIN:

Beep.

“Nueve!” the girl yells confidently.

In a quiet voice he replies, “That’s very good sweetie but shhh please”

He presses another button.

“Quatro!”

“Yes Clara that’s right but please we have to be quiet right now.”

He focuses on the screen tries to hide the buttons with his hand, keeps an eye on his daughter all at once.

Beep.

“Dos!”

“Clara!”

Clara erupts into giggles.

“Clara please”

The father, perhaps regretting just a bit his daughter linguistic skills, tries to turn her away, making a modestly curious little girl an obsessed investigator.

In what must have felt like a moment of glorious looney tune ingenuity Clara’s father points off to the distance,

“Clara look it’s a mariposa!”

Beep. The last button is entered.

“A butterfly? Where!?”

“Oh, I guess it flew away, let’s go li’l one.”

Better luck next time Clara. Like the rest of you baby geniuses, you give me hope for the future, a good laugh and a healthy dose of envy.

AlexB

Alex Brenner – When he is not helping international students as ACEI’s Communications Officer, Alex puts his writing chops to work as a script doctor for Hollywood screenwriters and guest blogs for ACEI-Global. Alex has a BA in English from UCLA and has been fortunate to have travelled to many corners of the world as a child and an adult.

For further information on the international credential evaluations, visit our website at www.acei-global.org or contact ACEI at acei@acei-global.org.

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Qawwali Music: The Mystical, Peaceful Side of Islam

September 30th, 2016

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I first heard the Sufi devotional music called qawwali around 1982 on a WOMAD (World of Music and Dance) album. WOMAD was Peter Gabriel’s world music label and brainchild. This was right about the time when a bunch of Brit record executives coined the term “world music” as a category for retail sales purposes. The five-minute excerpt I heard was powerful, enthralling. I was transfixed. I contacted WOMAD and asked them how long the original was. The answer? Two hours.

The music was that of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, a Pakistani devotional singer who died in 1997. His musical journey started with a dream he had of singing in Pakistan’s most famous mosque, and it was something he was able to realize before his untimely death at 49.

The word qawwali means “utterance” in Urdu, and Nusrat was and is the most famousqawwal. I first saw him perform at a fundraiser at the LAX Hilton on behalf of a cancer hospital in Lahore. The speaker was Pakistan’s #1 cricketeer, Imran Khan. My table was besieged by men asking us to raise $5,000, the amount assigned per table. Me and a bunch of music fans and public radio types? No way could we come up with that. Nusrat had food poisoning and looked green onstage. It was not easy for him.

The second time I saw him involved driving to Buena Park for an all-Pakistani show. I recall hundreds of Mercedes in the parking lot but no BMWs. Fans were crumpling up $10-20 bills and throwing them on stage in tribute to the great singer. His next show took him to the former Universal Amphitheater (now Gibson). I didn’t make it to that one.

One time I was playing Nusrat’s music on air when KCRW’s then General Manager Ruth Seymour got a call from her mother, who was put on phone hold while the music was playing. When Ruth picked up the phone, her mom said the music sounded like somebody getting their toenails pulled out. It’s a good thing that not all people hear Nusrat that way. Though often intense, his is a music of peace and love.

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Nusrat would try anything musically, which is one reason he became the most famousqawwal. There was the Massive Attack remix of “Mustt Mustt,” and also the fun, crazyBally Sagoo remixes. Don’t be fooled, however. Nusrat also performed powerful, rich devotional music and love songs with his group, as you’ll hear on the first cut by him of this show.

Abida Parveen is the most famous female qawwali vocalist, adored by fans all over the world. I heard her once in Orange County years ago. She has a big voice, perfect pitch, and a powerful, ecstatic delivery.  She will occasionally visit the U.S., but you will likely not know about it unless you read the local Pakistani newspapers.

In a 2013 article in the UK paper The Guardian, Parveen said, “My culture–our culture–is rich in spirituality and love. Sufism is not a switch, the music isn’t a show–it’s of life, it is religion. If I want to recognized for anything, if we should be recognized for anything, it’s the journey of the voice. And that voice is God’s.” Qawwali, like gospel music in the U.S., is a communal experience, a joy meant to be shared.

I did not include another famous qawwali group, the Sabri Brothers, because their tracks are super long. Sadly, I recently wrote a post about one of their founding memberswho was murdered by an Islamic extremist. Sufi gospel is a way of getting closer to the divine, both for listeners and performers.  Dictatorships and Islamist hardliners don’t like music, don’t trust it either. We’ve seen that in the Soviet Union, Chile, Argentina, Iran, and other places.

For those who don’t know about this powerful and ecstatic music, let it be a reminder that its message of peace and harmony is an antidote to the turmoil in Pakistan that we hear in the news.

Here is a video shot in Pakistan in 1993 of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan:

Rhythm Planet Playlist for 9/2/16:

  1. Abida Parveen / “Choonghat Ohle Na Luk Sajna” / Baba Bulleh Shah / Oreade Music
  2. Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan / “Allah Hoo Allah Hoo” / Devotional Songs / Real World
  3. Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan / “Mustt Mustt” / Mustt Mustt / Real World
  4. Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan / “Kinna Sohna (Bally Sagoo Remix)” / Big Noise: A Mambo Inn Compilation / Hannibal

 

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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Sister Deborah and Ghana Jollof: Tasty Rice

This is a culinary tale–or rather competition–West African style.

Last Sunday morning, I heard a story and song on NPR’s Weekend Edition about a rice rivalry in West Africa, particularly Ghana vs. Nigeria, surrounding a ubiquitous rice dish in the region (Ghana, Nigeria, and Senegal) called Jollof. The tune’s nice grooves and rhymes caught my ear, as did the conversation between host Linda Wertheimer and Ofeibia Quist Arcton, the Ghanaian journalist and NPR reporter. (When in Senegal, Quist Arcton finishes her stories with a wonderful flourish: “Ofeibia Quist Arcton, Dahkaaaaaaaaaah.” I’ve always loved her style.)

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Ghanain restaurant menu. Photo by Rachel Strohm (CC BY-ND 2.0) via Flickr

The song “Ghana Jollof” is sung by Sister Deborah (b. Deborah Owusu-Bonsu), a popular Ghanain TV host, model, and academic, who holds a Master’s Degree from the University of Arts, London. The lyrics were written by her brother, Wanlov (“one love?”) the Kubolor. The song basically postulates that the Ghanaian version of the rice dish is better than the Nigerian version. The basic ingredients include rice, tomatoes, onion, chili pepper, salt, pepper; Ghanaian and Nigerian versions add goat, lamb, or beef. The Senegalese version (not part of the culinary showdown) uses fish. Between Ghana and Nigeria it’s a competitive recipe, so think West African Top Chef.

Intrigued by the story, I searched for the video and found it online. It’s quirky and fun, and a little mysterious. Why are those guys dressed up as women? Folks are shown on the up-and-up, driving a 6-series BMW convertible.

I had fun with this, and I hope you do too. For those of you interested in trying the dish, here is the Ghanian vegetarian recipe. And the competing Nigerian version:

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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Tijuana’s Youth Orchestra: Bach, Not Banda, Mahler, Not Mariachi

April, 7th 2016

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I know about El Sistema and the Simón Bolivar Youth Orchestra, where Gustavo Dudamel got his training. I also know about his work with YOLA, the Youth Orchestra of LA, something Dudamel was behind creating. Both El Sistema and YOLA give inner city kids a way off the streets into the world of classical music.

With Venezuela in turmoil,  the future of El Sistema, funded by oil revenue, may be jeopardized. It seems, however, that like a lesser-known youth orchestra in Tijuana may have a bright future. You don’t typically associate classical music with Tijuana, but the Tijuana Youth Orchestra gives the lie to that assumption.

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The story begins in January 1991, when the Soviet Union was breaking up. Eduardo Garcia Barrios was studying conducting in Moscow at the time. Barrios and his musician colleagues wanted to start a youth orchestra somewhere; that somewhere turned out to be a world away, in sunny Baja, Mexico. Barrios, along with a Russian harpist, Elena Mashkovtseva, moved across the globe from icy Russia to Baja, and founded the Baja California Orchestra for adults. The enterprising Barrios also founded REDES 2025, a program to train at-risk young people to become classical performers. In a Independent Producer’s Project feature, he told journalist Sam Quinones, “Music has this power. To play music you need discipline, to understand your body. It’s 120 kids doing one thing at the same time…it would be cheaper to make football teams, but music provides something different, spiritual order.”

Those words could have come from the much more famous Gustavo Dudamel. Both men, however, are doing the same thing: transforming young lives with the power of music.

Listen here to the NPR / KCRW feature. And watch a clip of the Tijuana Youth Orchestra — it’s a big orchestra, not as big as the Simón Bolivar, but big nevertheless. Have a look:

Tom Schnabel, M.A.

toms

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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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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Apollonian v. Dionysian Music Experience

January 28th, 2016

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The other day, while listening to KCRW’s weekday program, Morning Becomes Eclectic, I was listening to a new Coldplay song called “Major Minus”, a big and absorbing musical tapestry that you can get lost in. I also thought about the film premiere of the Electric Daisy Carnival on Hollywood Boulevard the other night, where Kaskade and Jason Bentley were deejaying and the crowd went over the edge.  Several people got hurt but most had a great time.

Then I saw a picture taken the other day at the El Rey performance of the punk rockers Pink Eyes, where the lead singer was handing the microphone over to an ecstatic fan held aloft  in the mosh pit.

It occurred to me that all three musical items, the Coldplay song, the Pink Eyes show, The Electric Daisy Carnival were modern day versions of the Dionysian concept from Greek mythology that was revived by Nietzsche’s book The Birth of Tragedy.

Let me explain: According to Greek mythology, both Dionysus and Apollo are songs of the über god Zeus. Dionysus is the god of wine, ecstasy, and intoxication. Dance.  Body. Music.

Apollo is cerebral: the god of the sun, reason, and dreams. Head music. Music to meditate or levitate by.

I listen to a lot of classical music and jazz. Bach, Beethoven, Ravel, Debussy, Coltrane, Miles Davis. Also tropical latin music by Tito Puente, Tito Rodriguez, Celia Cruz, and others. I like dancing to Latin music, but have to remember various steps and combinations moves. And as listeners to my KCRW shows know, I love the Brazilians too: Jobim, Dori Caymmi, Gal Costa, and many others.

I guess my preferences run more to the Apollonian. I sit in my living room, enjoy a glass of wine, and focus my listening on these artists regularly. I sit still in the sweet spot, focus on the music, and absorb the beauty.

The Electric Daisy Carnival, Kaskade, electronic music, the Coldplay song, raves, mosh pits are a collective flight into ecstasy, where people happily leave their normal senses behind and become engulfed in music. Ecstasy, after all, means “out of body”. It can and does get wild. That’s the essence of the Dionysian experience.

Apollonian involves stillness and thinking. Dionysian involves movement, dancing, individual and collective trance and ecstasy. The later sufi works of John Coltrane are a combination of both—works like A Love Supreme and Ascension seek closer union with the Divine. Ditto for works of the late qawwali (qawwali=sufi music from Pakistan) singer Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan.

I guess I enjoy both musical experiences, but my musical lifestyle tends to be more Apollonian than Dionysian. Which one defines your musical preference?

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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Six Great Music Educators

November 12th, 2015

A good music teacher can infuse inspiration and instill a lifelong love of music. I couldn’t relate at all to my super straight, rigid piano teacher when I was seven or eight, plus there was simply no great music to be had in the Schnabel household, save for the 45 rpm 7″ R&B sides my older brother brought home. So I stopped taking lessons. I resumed piano lessons in the late 1960s but lost inspiration.

I bought a cheap flute in a pawn shop near USC where I was in school and had several teachers, but none worked out. One was classical only so I couldn’t relate. Another teacher later on just wanted to get high and blow. The next one left town. Four years ago, however, I found a great teacher, a multi-reed player who has taught me a lot and I’ve studied with him ever since.

So, here is my humble tribute to honor six great teachers who not only taught well but inspired many great musicians onto greatness:

Nadia Boulanger (1887-1979):
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Based in Paris and living a long and productive life, she taught such a wide range of young musicians: classic titans such as Igor Stravinsky, Aaron Copland, Walter Piston, but also young turks like Philip Glass, Leonard Bernstein, and Astor Piazzolla, who studied with her and once told me “she taught me how to be Astor Piazzolla”. She also was a fine conductor, leading the Boston Symphony and New York Philharmonic Orchestras. She taught the basics to musicians and composers who were puzzled at first because they thought this was beneath their talents. Philip Glass told me that Boulanger told him to “play a C scale for the next week, and perfectly”. Her students came to realize that she knew what she was talking about.

Walter Dyett (1901-1969):
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Many prominent jazz musicians I’ve interviewed credit this Chicago Public Schools music educator as starting their careers as musicians. His name was Walter Dyett, and they called him Captain Walter Dyett. He taught at DuSable High School, where he was known for being a strict disciplinarian but, more importantly, he encouraged his students to open their ears and minds to all kinds of music. Like other great teachers, he was a great motivator. He also helped students find private instructors at low cost. Among his students were Gene Ammons, Johnny Hartman, Milt Hinton, Richard Davis, Bo Diddley, Wilbur Ware, Pat Patrick, and Oscar Brashear. Quite a stable of greats, indeed.

Gerald Wilson (1918-2014):
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Gerald Wilson was a jazz trumpeter and band leader, arranger, composer, host and teacher. He took over arranging duties for the Jimmy Lunceford Orchestra, replacing Sy Oliver when just out of his teens in 1939. He also arranged for Nancy Wilson, Duke Ellington, Ray Charles, Ella Fitzgerald, and many other top jazz stars.

He was host of an informative jazz radio show on KBCA in the early 1970s at 12 noon every weekday, and I listened and learned from him. He became the most popular teacher at Cal State Northridge, later duplicating this feat at UCLA. He taught thousands of students about jazz music and history, and mentored countless young musicians during his long career. He had a mind and memory like a steel trap, and could remember the set list of a Dunbar Hotel show on Central Avenue in the 1940s. He taught and inspired so many musicians who rose through his ranks and played in his orchestras: Buddy Collette, Eric Dolphy, Oscar Brashear, and many others. I would always attend his Pilgrimage Theater (now John Anson Ford Theater ) show back in the day. He lived a long and productive life teaching, arranging and conducting for Lou Rawls, Nancy Wilson, Lorez Alexandria, and others. He was truly one of my heroes. I helped arrange Mayor Garcetti’s tribute to him and presented a plaque and commendation to him at the Angel City Jazz Festival in September, 2014. He died just two days later at the ripe old age of 96.

Samuel Browne (1906-1991):
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This great teacher and mentor taught many great jazz musicians during his long tenure at Jefferson High School in Los Angeles from 1936-1961, and a who’s who of great jazz musicians have sung his praises: Dexter Gordon, Don Cherry, Eric Dolphy, Wardell Gray, Hampton Hawes, Frank Morgan, Chico Hamilton, Buddy Collette, Charles Mingus and Horace Tapscott are just a few who got there chops and careers together at Jefferson High during his long tenure. Browne would scout around LA during Central Avenue’s heyday during the 1940s and early 1950′s recruiting talent from other local schools for his crack jazz orchestra. Everybody gave him the honorific title “Count” Browne à la Count Basie. Browne was one of only three black high school teachers in the LAUSD when he was hired at Jefferson in 1936, after earning a master’s degree in music from USC.

Joe Allard (1910-1991):
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Joe Allard is probably the least-known of this sextet of music educators, but ask any professional saxophonist and you’ll hear plenty about him. Based in New York City, where he taught at the Juilliard School and the Manhattan School of Music, he also taught at Boston’s New England Conservatory. He played sax and clarinet for the NBC Symphony Orchestra as well as doing radio and TV shows. HIs importance came not only in teaching technique but also in the range of styles he taught. Among his students were Michael Brecker, Eddie Daniels, Dave Liebman, Bob Berg, Eric Dolphy, and Dave Tofani. Again, a who’s who of great reed players were inspired by him.

Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990):
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Perhaps the greatest polymath of all, Bernstein did so many things well, and was obviously at home in both musicals (Westside Story, Candide, etc), the New York, Philharmonic, and jazz. He was a prolific writer and speaker (The Unanswered Question / The Harvard Lectures), and a champion of the new music of Charles Ives as well as Mahler’s great symphonies. His series Young People’s Concerts / Jazz in the Concert Hall brought jazz, classical, and music education to thousands of people young and old. Here is an excerpt where he is teaching the difference between classical music and jazz.

Tom Schnabel, M.A.

toms

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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