April is National Autism Awareness Month and April 2nd is World Autism Awareness Day. I am very proud of the initiative that we took a year ago in developing the Woodstock Chimes for Autism, which was inspired by 8-year-old Tyler Doi, who has high-functioning autism and an extraordinary musical acuity that enables him to identify which Woodstock Chime is playing when he hears it ring. If you haven’t seen the video we helped produce, check it out at http://www.chimes.com/autism. He is certain to inspire you as well. Just recently, we found out that the group who made the video for us, Kala Project, submitted this short to the Sprout Film Festival, which focuses exclusively on films that celebrate the diverse lives and creativity of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. The film was accepted and will be part of the festival, which is located in New York City and runs from May 30-31. Our Woodstock Chimes for Autism has generated significant donations to organizations working in the field of research and treatment of the autism spectrum, since we give 100% of the after-tax profits of this chime to these groups. Tuned to the opening notes of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 21, this chime’s happy, calming song is made even more appealing because of the significant cause it supports, autism awareness. One aspect of autism is hyper-sensitivity to sound. This chime is designed with a specially sized clapper so its soothing tones play more gently in the wind. Some think Mozart was autistic. Everyone has a creative side which sometimes is locked up inside waiting for the right time to emerge.
Drum circles in the broadest sense have been around since the first caveman started beating on a log. There is something about drumming that is both primal and cathartic. Unlike most other instruments, it is possible for anyone – including non-musicians – to play rhythms on a drum (or any percussion instrument) immediately and join others in a music-making experience. Of course, there’s also no limit to the level of musical expertise one can achieve as a percussionist.
About ten years ago, I had a friend come to our company to facilitate a drum circle for our employees. The friend is Arthur Hull, who many consider the “father of the modern drum circle”. Arthur has a wonderful way of getting the shyest people to come out of their shell and join the fun. I saw the results of his event immediately which included lots of smiles. The lasting effect is a renewed spirit of community and teamwork among participants.
From time to time, I have the opportunity to conduct drum circles myself, primarily for non-musicians who are connected with my company. The most recent was at our company headquarters here in the Hudson Valley.
While the temperature outside was in single digits, indoors things began to heat up as the drumming commenced. There were forty of us with hundreds of instruments available in my percussion studio. The drum circle included a short review of “rules” such as “no wearing rings” if you are playing drums and to remember to listen to each other. Then we did a few exercises to get comfortable with playing such as how to get a good sound out of the bells, shakers, blocks, xylophone and drums. We tried different rhythmic patterns at different volumes from soft to loud and practiced “call and response”. We ended by “performing” an improvisation with many of these elements. The result was fun, interactive and a nice break from our daily routine. Here are a few video excerpts of that session.
Last year, I was challenged to facilitate a very large drum circle in Atlanta. The group consisted of people who sell Woodstock Chimes throughout the US and other manufacturers within the gift industry. I say challenging because “conducting” a group of that magnitude (150 participants) who are playing drums is like herding cats. Imagine that many people playing instruments which are capable of producing serious levels of sound in a somewhat small indoor conference room. The results were incredible though. Everyone participated and left the event fully charged to conquer the world and put Woodstock Chimes in every home!
Keeping the Pulse on Drumming!
When I was growing up everything was pretty black and white. You drove a Ford or a Chevy. You drank a Coke or a Pepsi. You had a choice of NBC, CBS, ABC and (eventually) PBS on TV. We now live in an interesting time where you have a zillion choices. We are offered dozens of types of latte coffees (different sizes, types of milk-like products, wet or dry…), hundreds of different Woodstock Chimes (all of which are awesome, of course), thousands of channels on cable (only a few of which are of interest to anyone) and millions of websites. It can create all sorts of confusion and frustration. Thanksgiving dinner used to consist of Turkey, Stuffing with Gravy, Cranberry Sauce and some kind of Potato. That’s ancient history.
Here is an excerpt from a NY Times Article: “…seeking the perfect choice, even in big decisions like colleges, is a recipe for misery…when looking [on-line]…for a new camera or a hotel…limit yourself to three Web sites…It is not clear that more choice gives you more freedom. It could decrease our freedom if we spend so much time trying to make choices.”
The first three Woodstock Chime products, the Chimes of Olympos, Chimes of Lun and Chimes of Partch were offered in the early days of Woodstock Chimes because someone told us three is a magical number in retail. Just one choice is boring, two creates an either / or situation, but with three, people always chose a favorite (three points create a plane). It seemed to work. I still personally love the Chimes of Olympos, our first baby! Long live freedom of choice.
I have an affinity with Philadelphia. It’s not because I make bells and they have a cracked bell. It’s not because I am a historian, which I am not. Nor am I a Philadelphia sports fan. I like cream cheese, but it’s not that either. I was reminded that my connection to Philadelphia is through music when I recently participated in a wonderful week honoring the legendary percussionist Alan Abel. Mr. Abel played with the Philadelphia Orchestra for nearly 40 years (‘59-’97) and taught at Temple University for almost the same amount of time. I knew about his musical achievements and advancements in the area of percussion instruments when I was in boarding school (thanks to classmate Michael Udow who was from Philadelphia). For those of you who don’t know, he showed the musical world how a bass drum should sound by suspending it in a hoop attached with thick rubber bands. By doing so, the bass drum is free to vibrate and sustain its beautiful low tones.
If this wasn’t enough, he came up with the ultimate triangle that could be heard over the loudest passages of a large orchestra. My high school orchestra had a bass drum with an Abel stand and we used his triangle back then (at the Interlochen Arts Academy in the late 60’s).
Another connection is through my conservatory timpani teacher, Cloyd Duff of the Cleveland Orchestra, who studied at the Curtis Institute of Music. His teacher, Oscar Schwar who played 43 seasons with the Philadelphia Orchestra, helped to define the sound that we all strive for. That sort of makes me his grand-student.
Abel has over 65 former students in major orchestras throughout the world. The concert that paid tribute to him drove home the fact that the percussionists in the Philadelphia Orchestra and those teaching and playing in Philadelphia are carrying on the tradition of incredible musicianship. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=znRCbA8aAfQ
The third connection is through NEXUS (which actually means “connection”). Bill grew up in Philadelphia, Bob grew up not far from Philadelphia and Russell attended Curtis (former Nexus member John Wyre was also from Philadelphia). Wonderful works by Bob and Russell were on the Abel concert. Besides the concert honoring Mr. Abel, NEXUS joined with students from Curtis in a performance of two of Steve Reich’s classics, Music For Pieces of Wood and Drumming (complete). Again, that concert proved that the next generation is carrying on the tradition of excellence while updating the repertoire.
The Abel event was in celebration of his 85th birthday (11 months late) and was in collaboration with the Curtis Institute of Music and Temple University. Performers included NEXUS (Bob Becker, Bill Cahn, Russell Hartenberger and me), Philadelphia Orchestra members (Percussionists / Timpanists Don Liuzzi, Christopher Deviney, Angie Zator Nelson and Tony Orlando, violinists Hirono Oka and Lisa-Beth Lambert, violist Che-Hung Chen and cellist Yumi Kendall), Alan Abel (percussion / conductor), Pablo Batista (percussion), Rolando Morales-Matos (percussion), Phillip O’Banion (percussion / conductor) and Natalie Zhu (piano).
I am not from Philadelphia, nor did I study there, so, my Philadelphia affinity is with its music and musicians. It was a true honor to perform with these amazing musicians in this amazing musical city.
Photos: Lauren Vogel Weiss
The Catskill Mountains of the Hudson Valley are part of the Appalachian Mountain Range and is considered a dissected plateau created by erosion. It is known around the world for its natural beauty, its arts colonies such as Byrdcliffe, the comedy resorts of what was known as the “Borsch Belt”, the 1969 Woodstock Festival and, if I may add, Woodstock Chimes. It has been inhabited by the Algonkian peoples and later discovered by the Dutch, the French and many other cultures.
In the past, interpreters were necessary to bring this diverse group of people together and now the interpretation of the region will be in the form of an interpretive center. The effort to create such a center began in the 1980s and has been postponed for many years for many reasons. I recently attended the groundbreaking ceremony for this center which will be in Mount Tremper, located in the heart of the Catskills some 30 miles west of the Hudson River. The center is named after our former congressional representative, Maurice Hinchey, due to his dedication to environmental issues during his many years of service to our community.
Several organizations have come together to finally make the center a reality including the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, The New York City Department of Environmental Protection, The Catskill Center for Conservation and Development and The Friends of The Catskill Interpretive Center. The Adirondack Park has two such centers so it’s only fair that the Catskill Park is now given such a resource. Many speeches were given during the groundbreaking and representatives from each of the supporting organizations were in attendance. A musical tribute was presented by our local friends Jay Ungar & Molly Mason. Jay & Molly’s unique sound can be heard on many of Ken Burns’ documentary film soundtracks such as the beautiful Ashokan Farewell heard throughout the Civil War series. Who knows when this building will be completed but it’s the beginning of an effort to attract visitors and educate the public. I for one am delighted to live in this amazing area.
Here’s a video clip of Jay & Molly Ungar singing!
As a member of the Steve Reich and Musicians ensemble since 1979, I’ve participated in several premiere performances at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) through the years. Last week I had the honor of being part of a three-day series of concerts showcasing both Steve Reich’s and Philip Glass’s music at this prestigious concert hall. Each night’s concert was split between their two groups and the concerts were sold out almost immediately, which gave 6,000 people three spectacular performances of major contemporary works. This series was in part a celebration of the 50th Anniversary of Nonesuch Records which has featured these two composers in many of its productions. Bob Hurwitz, President of Nonesuch Records just joined Nonesuch Records in the early 80’s, as we were premiering Steve’s Desert Music at BAM with Michael Tilson Thomas and the Brooklyn Philharmonic. We recorded this work the day after the performance.
In the mid-1960s a few composers were experimenting with new forms of composition. Among them were Steve Reich and Philip Glass. Their influences were quite varied and included African and Indian music, jazz, classical music and the gamelan music of Bali as well as the music of Terry Riley, La Monte Young and Moondog. At the time this music was considered experimental and the venues often were lofts in Manhattan or private gatherings.
In the mid-1970s, Harvey Lichtenstein, executive director of BAM, programmed many of these artists, giving them a large-scale venue to present their works. This led to the Next Wave Festivals which began in the early 1980s.
While Philip Glass and Steve Reich are often lumped together under the category of “minimalism”, this series of three concerts clearly illustrated the huge differences of their output. I performed in compositions of Steve’s in each of the three concerts. The first night included Music for 18 Musicians which won the group a Grammy for its 1998 recording. The second night we played Steve’s 1971 composition, Drumming. The last night, I played in his 1985 work, Sextet for two piano players and four percussionists.
Other Reich works performed included Four Organs, Clapping Music, Video Phase and WTC 911. The Philip Glass Ensemble played many of Glass’ compositions, including several excerpts from his famous Einstein on the Beach opera. Between the two groups there were over 30 performers and everyone came out at the very end for a full company bow to a standing ovation.
Minimalism has achieved very high acceptance and groups throughout the world now play this style of music. There is even a joke about minimalism which proves its acceptance in society: Knock knock, who’s there? Knock knock, who’s there? Knock knock, who’s there? Knock knock, who’s there? Philip Glass.
Here is the NY Times review of this series