My Main Muses

Everyone has a muse (or muses) who have helped them find their own path. For me, that list includes teachers, coaches, leaders, artists, musicians, crafts people, friends and family. 

 

Ben Johnston and Harry Partch
My photo of Composers Ben Johnston and Harry Partch (taken at Harry’s San Diego home just months before his death)

The American composer Harry Partch probably had the biggest influence on my musical thinking and yet there are many obstacles blocking his general acceptance. The performance of his music requires a unique set of extremely large instruments and a devoted ensemble to produce his epic works. His book Genesis of a Music first published in 1949 details ancient systems of tuning and individual musicians who used beautiful scales throughout the history of the world. If it weren’t for this information, I would not have been inclined to make my first windchime in the 1970’s, the Chimes of Olympos, to hear what the sound of a scale (and maybe a taste of the music) from the seventh century BC sounded like.

 

Dr. Thomas Rossing, Gold Medal award from the Acoustical Society of America and faculty member of CCRMA at Stanford University
Dr. Thomas Rossing, Gold Medal award from the Acoustical Society of America and faculty member of CCRMA at Stanford University

In order to build that first Windchime I studied woodworking, metallurgy and acoustics in college. My physics professor Dr. Thomas Rossing is a renowned acoustician who helped bridge the gap between science and art for me. Without the information and experience I gleaned from Dr. Rossing, I again would not have ventured the path that I did.

 

Frank Zappa, who greatly affected my thinking, listed many of his influences on the cover of his 1966 Mothers Of Invention album Freak Out!. One of those influences was the French born composer Edgard Varèse whoonce said “An artist is never ahead of his time, it is his audience who are behind theirs.”

Frank Zappa
Frank Zappa


While Frank Zappa and the Beatles were ahead of their time they did have a significant following. Others however took time for the audience to catch up including Steve Reich, Philip Glass and other contemporary composers who grew out of the experimental 1960s. It is heartwarming to see the growing interest in that music. My musical inspirations include Jazz, Indonesian Gamelan Music, Early Music, J. S. Bach, Harry Partch, Frank Zappa, The Beatles, Steve Reich, John Cage, Igor Stravinsky and Karlheinz Stockhausen, to name just a few.
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Playing with Steve Reich and NEXUS helped shape my musical life over the last 30+ years. Steve opened my ears to many new ideas and sounds including the concept of psychoacoustics (sound perception).

Steve Reich, NYC Mayor Bloomberg and me at the Mayor’s 2013 Arts Awards
Steve Reich, NYC Mayor Bloomberg and me at the Mayor’s 2013 Arts Awards

While the members of NEXUS have many things in common, we all share our ideas with each other ranging from percussion to politics to the meaning of life. We haven’t figured out the meaning of life yet but we are close to a better understanding of percussion at least.

NEXUS at the Byrdcliffe Theater 2004
NEXUS at the Byrdcliffe Theater 2004

For the Greeks, the nine muses for the arts were Clio, Thalia, Erato, Euterpe, Polyhymnia, Calliope, Terpsichore, Urania and Melpomene. But for me, nothing inspires one as much as family and good friends. To that list I add my colleagues that I work with daily at Woodstock Chimes who are always looking for new ideas that work. Who is your inspiration?

“I can’t understand why people are frightened of new ideas. I’m frightened of the old ones.”  -John Cage

John Cage
John Cage

 

Woodstock Chimes for Autism™ and Tyler’s Amazing Story

I am very excited about launching our new Woodstock Chimes for Autism Charitable Chime™ program, especially as World Autism Day approaches on Wednesday, April 2nd. A while back we were contacted by a family from Toronto whose eight year old son, Tyler, is high functioning autistic and has a passion for windchimes. We were thrilled that not only does he love windchimes but he has the good taste to prefer Woodstock Chimes over all others! I was so touched when the family recently drove eight hours just to visit us. We produced a video of his visit which we’d love for everyone to see and share using hashtag #TylersStory.



Tyler Outside
Tyler Outside

Tyler flipped out when he saw our testing area outside with hundreds of chimes being checked for weather-ability. I was even more touched when he spotted me and ran up to give me a hug. His focus on windchimes is absolute. I gave them a tour of my music studio which is the home of thousands of instruments, large and small, old and new. Tyler honed in on every one of the hundreds of windchimes to the exclusion of everything else. I even tried to play some Bach for him on the marimba but he continued to search for and ring chimes. He has been studying our website for years and is truly an expert on our company and products. We held a challenge to name chimes just by the sound and I had to concede to his ability to identify every one of them. I was able to hold my own, but was considerably slower at doing it! It’s all in the video. I must admit to getting a little teary eyed every time I watch it.

Woodstock Chimes for Autism
Woodstock Chimes for Autism

We were so inspired by his story that we decided to develop the Woodstock Chimes for Autism. One hundred percent of our profits from the sale of this chime will go to benefit autism research and treatment. We collaborated with a production company to produce this wonderful video telling Tyler’s story to help promote our give-back program. Please take time to look at the video and go to our website page devoted to this program: www.chimes.com/autism. I was thrilled to have Jamey Wolff of the Center for Spectrum Services featured in the video. We are also quite fortunate to include an interview on that page of a world renowned autism expert, Dr. Kenneth Bock of Bock Integrative Medicine.


Tyler & Garry
Tyler & Garry

After learning about Tyler’s story, we have been contacted by other families with similar situations. We look forward to hearing from more individuals and families. If you have a story, please contact us, through the links found on at www.chimes.com/autism. We hope to be a partner with others in the pursuit of research and treatment for this condition which affects so many young people. If you’re so inclined, we would appreciate you spreading the word by passing this video on to your friends and family and for using the social networks to promote the project, using the hashtag #TylersStory.

Goodbye Columbus

Fernando, Joe, Susan and Me
Fernando, Joe, Susan and Me

I recently spent several days working with high school and university students during the “High School Percussion Ensemble Festival” at Ohio State University in Columbus.  Ohio State has always had a dynamic and impressive percussion department but professors Susan Powell and Joe Krygier have grown this department to an amazing level in the 14 years they have been there. They are both supremely gifted performers and inspirational teachers as well. I had the pleasure to work with them along with my fellow guest performer Fernando Meza, percussionist with the Minneapolis Symphony and professor at the University of Minnesota.

Fernando Meza
Fernando Meza performing with his incredible 12 mallet technique in an outdoor concert in the Arctic Circle

While touring with NEXUS we often have the opportunity to listen to young performers and I am always impressed with the level of performance which has become fairly universal.  At this Festival, Fernando and I held a master class and heard eight high school student ensembles play some very difficult works. There were many outstanding performances including a quintet of five young performers interpreting George Hamilton Green’s An Indian Story arranged by Bob Becker. The soloist, a sophomore in high school, astounded the audience not only with her technical wizardry but her relaxed and authentic interpretation. What really thrilled me was the enthusiasm of all of these young performers. They need to show their joy of performing a little more J but I would attribute their deadpan stares to a slight nervousness and inexperience.

Fernando Meza inspired us all with his workshop dealing with snare drum and tambourine. His adaptation of ethnic hand drumming techniques to the tambourine showed us all that there’s always something new to learn.  He can do things on the tambourine with one hand that the rest of us struggle using two. This allows him to hold a tambourine up high for all to see while playing fast and intricate rhythms.

The OSU students dubbed this “The Kvistaphone”
The OSU students dubbed this “The Kvistaphone”

I enjoyed sharing my knowledge of musical acoustics with this group of 200+ students. I brought a rack of tubes tuned to the first 32 partials of the harmonic overtones serious. This all sounds very academic but the sounds are ethereal. Hopefully it opened up some young ears to timbers they weren’t normally accustomed to hear. My aim in these workshops is to help bridge the gap between music and science while using scientific data to explain how we can play our instruments it in a way to produce the sounds we like.


Joe and me rehearsing Reich’s Mallet Phase on my Amadinda style xylophone
Joe and me rehearsing Reich’s Mallet Phase on my Amadinda style xylophone

I also brought a set of instruments that I built to perform Steve Reich’s piano phase. I called this adaptation of Steve’s piece, Mallet Phase. Joe Krygier was gracious enough to perform this challenging but fun duet on my new instruments. He made this performance work extremely well to my delight.

Fernando and I both led honor students in performances of works we selected. Fernando played the drum solo in Bob Becker’s Mudra with student accompaniment. Fernando’s musicianship is enviable. I chose to have my student group

Honor Students rehearsing Kotrab by Rick Kvistad
Honor Students rehearsing Kotrab by Rick Kvistad

perform a piece written by my brother Rick called Kotrab. While we only had a few rehearsals, the young students pulled it off quite well.

This is what people see when watching NEXUS play ragtime
This is what people see when watching NEXUS play ragtime

One hour before the evening concert, Professor Powell decided to include Charleston Capers, another ragtime xylophone piece of George Hamilton Green’s, arranged by Bob Becker. She is a supreme virtuoso which was proven again with this performance. I had never played this piece with NEXUS and only had one hour to learn my part in the marimba accompaniment. Fortunately, I remembered the solace my fellow members of NEXUS had once given me when I felt I could have done a better job accompanying Bob’s ragtime solos. They remind me that nobody’s watching us. Everyone’s attention is solely on Bob. Fortunately this held true in this performance with Susan Powell as soloist!

OSU percussion department with Susan and Joe (middle row on the right)
OSU percussion department with Susan and Joe (middle row on the right)

This is the amazing OSU percussion department with Susan and Joe (middle row on the right).  I suspect they are smiling because I left a small Woodstock Chime for each of them.

A Well-Balanced Concert Event

Garry in front of Cathedral
Garry in front of Cathedral
Phoenix Sculpture
Phoenix Sculpture

On March 1st, Diane and I attended an amazing event at The Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine in New York City. It was a celebration of the installation of an exhibit of a massive 12 ton, two piece sculpture by the contemporary Chinese artist Xu Bing. The work completed in 2010 after two years of creation is simply entitled “Phoenix”. The sculpture is built from repurposed construction materials and tools from building sites around Beijing. Mr. Xu says the sculpture is a commentary on the effects of rapid commercial development in China. The exhibit will be on display through January of 2015. St. John the Divine is the largest Cathedral in the world. Construction of the Cathedral began in 1892 and its construction continues today.

Philippe Petite and Garry
Philippe Petite and Garry

What first attracted us to this event was the announcement that our two friends Philippe Petit and Paul Winter were part of the celebration. Philippe danced on a temporary tight rope while Paul sang below on his soprano sax. Both Philippe and Paul are brilliant artists-in-residence at the Cathedral. Philippe gained fame in 1974 for his high-wire walk between the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York City. He is the subject of

Philippe Petit
Philippe Petit

many movies including the must see Academy Award winning documentary Man on Wire (2008), which chronicles his walk between the towers. As a world class artist / author / builder, his contribution to the world goes far beyond high-wire acts.

Paul Winter and Garry
Paul Winter and Garry

Paul Winter has won numerous Grammy Awards, performed throughout the world, produced tons of amazing recordings (including Pete Seeger’s “Pete”, a 1997 Grammy Award winner for Best Traditional Folk Album).  He is currently working on a project which he calls “Flyways” celebrating the great bird migration between Africa and Eurasia along the Great Rift Valley, using indigenous music of the cultures over which the birds fly. Besides the beauty of his music, Paul’s contribution to the world is multi-faceted as a result of his love of nature and his environmental preservation efforts.  Paul, Philippe and Mr. Xu all share a common mission to shed awareness of the subtleties of the beauty of our world through their creative geniuses.  If the exhibit and their performance alone wasn’t enough, six other groups performed on this occasion including acts from the Big Apple Circus, dancers, drummers (Glen Velez and others), choruses, jugglers, and the cathedral organist.

Coincidentally, our original windchime, The Chimes of Olympos, was a result of repurposing aluminum tubes from discarded lawn chairs. And one of our latest chime offerings is the Chimes of the Phoenix from the Windsinger Collection. It was inspired by the mythological tale of the Phoenix rising from its ashes as a metaphor of rebirth and renewal.

Work, Vacations and Downtime

It's never too hot to wear Hot Woodstock Socks! Tasa, Maya, Diane and Garry Kvistad modeling their Woodstock Chimes socks in sunny Mexico...
It’s never too hot to wear Hot Woodstock Socks!
Tasa, Maya, Diane and Garry Kvistad modeling their Woodstock Chimes socks in sunny Mexico…

Work hard, play hard is an old saying that I firmly believe in. The balance between work and recreation is important and the lines are often blurred. Ideally, one can do both at all times. In other words, enjoying your work and learning from your recreation is a worthwhile goal. I find myself becoming bored easily if I’m not enjoying and learning. Sharing this enjoyment with friends and family makes it even more rewarding.

Standing below the whistling Observatory of the Tulum Ruins
Standing below the whistling Observatory of the Tulum Ruins

Each winter for the past 11 years, Diane, our two daughters and I have been migrating to the Yucatán Peninsula of Mexico for a few weeks. This area offers a tremendous variety of activities and a beautiful culture. The Mayan civilization spans centuries and is now combined with other cultures from around the world, especially the Spanish. The ancient ruins throughout the area are absolutely phenomenal with many clues to the lifestyle and advanced civilization of these peoples.

This year we revisited the beautiful ruins at Tulum, the only ancient Mayan site built on the ocean. I was fascinated to discover that the observatory building there had a feature built into it that would create a loud whistling sound when hurricane force winds were approaching – an automatic Aeolian storm warning.The Mayans were and still are extremely artistic and musical. At the much larger ruins at Chichen Itza, there are large pillars that were used as musical percussion instruments. The Mayan culture was also quite advanced in many other areas including sports, mathematics and astronomy.

XelHa26
Xel-Ha, an amazing ecotourism aquatic park in the Mexican state of Quintana Roo
Playing with the boys at Xel-Ha
Playing with the boys at Xel-Ha

We always go back to the eco water park known as Xel-Ha where we enjoy swimming with the resident fish, floating down the river, hiking the jungles and enjoying the all-you-can-eat buffets while listening to Mexican marimba music bands. Last year I actually had the nerve to sit in and play one of the few Mexican marimba pieces I know by memory with the band in front of the café there:

Hi five from 100 feet below sea level
Hi five from 100 feet below sea level

We stay in a small fishing village known for its large turtle refuge. One can snorkel among these friendly creatures right from the shore. In addition to snorkeling, I have been SCUBA diving ever since our first visit to this area. The coral reef along the coast is second in size only to the great barrier reef of Australia. Each year we see large barracuda, many turtles, eels, sharks and oodles of colorful tropical varieties such as parrotfish.

My goal for next year is to learn more Spanish!
My goal for next year is to learn more Spanish!

The inhabitants of this wonderful area have done a marvelous job in balancing ecology, sustainability and entertainment. Long live the Mayans.

Music and Business Make Good Bed Fellows

Photo Credit: Bob Hirsch
Photo Credit: Bob Hirsch

I recently had the honor of being a keynote speaker for the Ulster County Leadership Development Institute (ULDI) sponsored by the Ulster County Chamber of Commerce here in the Hudson Valley of New York State. The 25 or so participants were top employees sent by local businesses to help develop their leadership skills. Since I don’t make a living giving inspirational lectures, I often use these opportunities to make a connection between music and business, suggesting that one can learn something from each area. When I speak to business people about being more creative, I suggest they think outside the box and give them some concrete advice to do so. When I speak to musicians about business

Photo Credit: Bob Hirsch
Photo Credit: Bob Hirsch

skills, I suggest they think more inside the box and give advice for that. Too often business people are locked into a box of restrictive behavior while musicians are too far outside the box! We know that the left side of the brain deals with logic and objective thinking while the right side deals with intuitive and subjective thinking. Thinking out of the box for me is to open the side of the brain that one isn’t exercising to its fullest potential.

In my 90 minutes with the ULDI group, I started with a list of recommendations and observations that might shed some light on what worked for me and my goals.

The universe is expanding, the world is shrinking: Think big.
Act like a leader: The type you want to be.
Leaders need to be informed: Personally, locally, nationally, globally.
Leaders need to be generous: Help save the world.
Leaders inspire through their passion: Hobby or profession.
Leaders listen: Hearing is a physical activity while listening is a perceptual state of involvement.
Teamwork: Can’t do it alone, surround yourself with good people.
Humor: It helps almost any situation.
Leaders set examples: Honesty, hard work, passion, persistence.
If it’s important enough: Never, ever give up.

After the talk, I demonstrated a dozen unusual instruments from my collection. This was an effort to share my passion while indicating that things that stick out of the

Photo Credit: Bob Hirsch
Photo Credit: Bob Hirsch

pack get attention. Included in that demo were a Hang Drum, rainstick, Waterphone, pop gun, ratchet, Chinese opera gong and wind whistle to name a few. The Hang Drum is a wonderful instrument made by hand in Switzerland related to the Steel Pans of Trinidad/Tobago but convex instead of concave and played with the fingers instead of sticks. They are tuned to special scales that sound great no matter what is played on them. If you Google “hang drum”, you’ll discover many videos of proud owners wailing away on their Hang Drums. The problem for those wanting one is that these are low production and extremely hard to find. After demonstrating the instruments, I handed out drums to everyone and began to facilitate a drum circle. Drum circles are

Photo Credit: Bob Hirsch
Photo Credit: Bob Hirsch

great vehicles for creating a musical community with people of all abilities. For this one, I set up some rhythms with all the participants and asked each one, one at a time, to take a “solo” with the accompaniment in the background. Everyone responded beautifully while in a safe environment of the circle but having the experience of being in the spot light at the same time. This is very much like everyday life. As they say, sometimes you’re the bug, sometimes you’re the windshield.

Holiday Time, Family Time…and Music!

Rick Kvistad (left) and Garry Kvistad (right) with home-made xylophone used to play “Mallet Phase” by Steve Reich at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music December 6, 2013
Rick Kvistad (left) and Garry Kvistad (right) with home-made xylophone used to play “Mallet Phase” by Steve Reich at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music December 6, 2013

With the holidays all around us, I think of family, food and music more than ever.  I just returned from a trip to San Francisco where my brother Rick (he’s the principal percussionist with the SF Opera) and I performed at the Acoustical Society of America’s annual conference.  This trip included family, lots of food and fun music making.   I was invited to present a paper on the rhythmic techniques and psychoacoustic effects of the music of Steve Reich.  While this may sound a bit technical, it was simply my intention to play live music for a group of scientists who more often show charts and talk about lab experiments.  This very large organization has members from many different disciplines including bio and medical acoustics, oceanography, industrial design as well as a musical acoustics component.  I had built a few instruments to play Steve’s Piano Phase (1967) in the type of pure tuning system used on all of our windchimes.  It seemed to hit a chord, so to speak, with these scientists who appreciate musical application as well as theoretical discussion.  The weather in San Francisco was ironically colder than in New York which is very unusual so it did feel like winter holiday time to me.  We attended a lecture where an optical process was described to digitize old recording media such as Edison cylinder rolls from the late 1800s to LP records of recent times.  Instead of using a needle to ride in the grooves, an optical device analyzed the surface and was able to reproduce the sounds without touching the roll or record.  I believe this technique will be improved to the point of reproducing the sound better than the originals which will help to archive important recordings no matter how poor their condition since scratches and cracks can be ignored. And it can be done without destroying the original media.  Next week I will perform again with the Esopus Chamber Orchestra back here in the Hudson Valley of New York.

Garry performing the Darius Milhaud Concerto for Percussion (1929) with the Esopus Chamber Orchestra. October 19, 2013
Garry performing the Darius Milhaud Concerto for Percussion (1929) with the Esopus Chamber Orchestra. October 19, 2013

While the program is ‘An Evening of English Music’ of Britten, Elgar, Holst, Vaughan Williams, and, yes, Carols!  I do love winter and look forward to the beauty of freshly fallen snow.  I realize I am in the minority here but if it’s going to be cold, let it snow, let it snow, let it snow.

Have a happy holiday season with your families, great food and an abundance of good music.