Wednesday, February 3, 2016

An Organizational Sweet Spot for Creativity

At the moment, there seems to be a lively discussion about whether 'tis nobler to be thoroughly organized or authentically messy.  Perhaps this has been brought about by the publication of Marie Kondo's new book on "tidying up" and a little push back in order. In an event, the idea of order and chaos is something much on my mind. We are in the process of condensing two households into one and so, if we want to actually be able to move in the remaining domicile, we are going to have to let go of a fair amount of stuff.  Right now, I am going through things in the village house to see what can go to make room for things from the lake house.  Mostly, I am working in my workspace and there are some things that don't fit neatly into the going to Goodwill pile, for example, a sheet of mahogany veneer.

       We are also into February and I decided maybe it was time to take down the little Christmas tree that had been serving as a sort of nightlight.  To replace this source of illumination, I thought of the valentine star that I just ran across in the attic. Up it went. Interesting...but too bright and too red (though in the photo it looks pretty good--gentler.)

      You probably know where this is going. I am trying to think of how to process all this stuff and I have a need for a little night illumination that doesn't set my teeth on edge. I could make a new "shade" for the light in the star. I could use the mahogany veneer, and I have all kinds of materials lying around waiting to be chosen for productivity.  I sang that chant, "All I need is here..." and it was true: board, paint, parchment paper and some handmade paper in a favorite shade of green. I happily spent the day creating our new lamp in my new space. The windows looking out to the front allowed me to see the mail carrier coming up the walk with a new book--A Perfect Mess. And I had already learned the lesson. Maybe. Is there room for another book?

p.s. It occurs to me that my comfort zone for order in life is exactly like my preferred aesthetic for creating art. I write about this in my blog statement.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Full-throated Mixolydian

Full-throated Mixolydian, 7 x 5", mixed media
The fifth mode (going up the scale in C major) starting on G, is the Mixolydian mode. When I play the Mixolydian scale, I immediately think of ballads and the spinning of tales. It is conducive to self-expression. How appropriate then, that the fifth chakra is the throat chakra. This energy center in the body is focused on expression and communication (which includes listening).
    These aspects of expression, giving voice and listening have been much on my mind. Perhaps these are quite important issues in our world today where there is a lot of vocalizing about not be heard. Is anyone listening?
    At this same time, I am studying to be a bedside musician through the Therapy Harp Training Program, and so appropriate musical expression is part of my learning, along with the modes (and the chakras have come along for the ride.) This is a very creative pursuit requiring intuition to understand what is needed in any situation and then to create the music that can bring comfort. I love this aspect of improvising and helping someone on their journey--a Mixolydian ballad might be just the thing!
    My study has also introduced me to the concept of toning; using the voice to bring healing. The very act of singing is a life giving force. This makes me very happy to know, as I am constantly singing or humming when by myself. Often, when I am out walking, I realize that I am singing a song which deals with some issue that is rattling around in my brain.
     Recently, at my uncle's funeral, there was a slide show of photos from the length of my uncle's life. There were photos from early childhood and photos at least through this past Thanksgiving, where he gave us a final gift of leading us in song. My mother (my uncle's sister) died in 2004, but she showed up in many of the photos. Something that struck me was how happy she appeared in the photos where the siblings were singing. I think this was her greatest expression and, though she struggled with some memory issues and SAD, she was shining whenever she was singing.
    Let's bring healing to the world by allowing people to express themselves and by listening. We can also use our expression to promote healing and harmony in the world.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

At Home in Harmony

Forest Floor Harmony, 9 x 12", watercolor/pastel on paper
We gathered for Thanksgiving with family at a West Virginia state park in the region where my mother and uncles grew up. I always view these visits as a kind of homecoming, where I am able to commune with my mother (she died in 2004). This interlude had a special quality because my young cousin is learning to play the violin and specifically, she is learning all the old favorites that we play and sing when my mother's family gets together. Because of Maggie's inspiration (and organization--she copied out sheets with lyrics for everyone to sing along) we had a couple of music sessions after our feasts. My usual instrument for such music making is the viola and I particularly like to harmonize with the old favorite melodies. What a rewarding experience this was! The senior generation lit up and and reminded us of how it is really done. The second night, Uncle Dave lead us all with his mandolin for an evening we will never forget.
          As we were experiencing this amazing grace, I had a sense of how at home I felt and how rewarding it is to be in harmony with one's surroundings. Thinking back to my childhood, I remembered that a first goal of mine was to learn to sing in harmony like my mother. This was a skill that I wanted to gain and I was so pleased when I was able to sing in this way with others. It was a rite of passage for me. The viola is also a harmonizing instrument and studying the viola and playing viola in ensembles strengthened my sense of harmony. I realized that harmony was a very early value of mine and one that persists into my seventh decade.
           In this new year, I am going to explore this value of harmony. How might living in harmony feel? And how does a purposeful harmony reflect out on the world and back to my sense of the world? This is what I will be thinking about in this new year of 2016.  Happy New Year!

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Leaping Heart Lydian

Leaping Heart Lydian, 7 x 5",  mixed media
I've been thinking about the heart chakra lately. It seems like a strengthening of heart would be good for our collective souls. The heart chakra is the 4th energy center of the body and the Lydian mode is the 4th mode. In the key of C, it begins on F. It has an interesting sequence with three whole steps before the first half-step. That surprising "leap" between the 3rd and 4th pitch seems to me a little like falling in love. This can be falling in love with anything: a new pursuit, a new home, a person or a new attitude and approach to life. You are going along and all of a sudden, your life is new. You have changed and perhaps that change is not your doing. Perhaps you wonder, 'Is this real?' The Lydian mode answers positively, as it finishes off like the maternal and nurturing Ionian mode.
   The metamorphosis takes place through the feverish solar plexus. We wrestle with our demons and shadows (sometimes this is a forced battle beyond our control) and our heart is renewed. This 4th energy center situates us between heaven and earth; between our conscious and unconscious. We find ourselves making decisions in a different way, from the heart rather than from the ego. The symbols of the heart chakra represent these ideas. The masculine triangle, points up to air and the feminine triangle points down to earth (the two create a 6 pointed star). Arnold Bittlinger, author of Archetypal Chakras speaks of simultaneous repose and movement as well as the connection of above and below. This connection is symbolized by the antelope which can leap high and far into the air, but must maintain a grounding with the earth. There is a wholeness with the combination of heaven and earth, conscious and unconscious. We have transversed becoming into being. I love that the symbol of this wholeness is the apple. The heart energy center absorbs the color green, between yellow and blue on spectrum. The color emitted by the heart chakra is rose.
     The attributes of the heart chakra are compassion, healing and centering. Let us hope for more heart in our world.
Lydian Lark, 7 x 5", watercolor/Neocolor II

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Solar Phrygian

Solar Phrygian, 4 x 10", watercolor/Neocolor II
    As I got to know the seven modes, it was the Phrygian mode that most grabbed me. It is both an instigator of, and outlet for, passion. As it turns out, the Solar Plexus is likewise a fiery, passionate realm of energy. Both the Phrygian mode and the Solar Plexus chakra occupy the number 3 spot and their job descriptions have striking similarities.

     Stella Benson, in her book The Gift of Healing Modes, classifies the Phrygian as an exotic mode. Hildegard Von Bingen used this mode to write many of her compositions. The Phrygian mode has been used for laments for centuries. It is also the basis of flamenco and tunes of Iberian origin. So, In my representation of Phrygian, I thought of fire and depth: a flamenco dancer swirling down and up again. When I was preparing for a presentation of brief, improvised examples for each mode, I played Phrygian chords and started hearing Jefferson Airplane's White Rabbit. Seems fitting...
Phrygian Fire and Depth, 5 x 7", watercolor/Neocolor II
     In the Jungian interpretation of the chakras, the Solar Plexus is a fiery energy center where the conscious and unconscious, the root chakra and polarity chakra, are integrated as part of the path to individuation. This integration is an alchemic process that takes place through fire. Fire is the element for the Solar Plexus. In my representation of Solar Phrygian, roots and shadows enter the fiery yellow globe and come out as an organic, lavender presence. Lavender is the color that is emitted from the Solar Plexus chakra and yellow is the color absorbed by this energy center.
     This process strikes me as a very earthy interpretation of what we go through when we have a crisis and know we must change. It is a difficult, heated phenomenon, which we feel (often passionately). But, once we get to the other side, we know we have grown and we are in a better place. That leads us to the next level--coming up!

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Dorian Polarity

Dorian Polarity, 7 x 5", mixed media
photographed in shadows
Continuing with an exploration of the relationship between musical modes and the energy centers, or chakras of the human body; this post considers how the Dorian mode relates to the Polarity chakra. The Dorian mode, when played with out flats or sharps begins on D. The tone of D vibrates at the same frequency as orange in the spectrum, according to Kay Gardner, in her book Sounding the Inner Landscape. Orange is absorbed by the Polarity chakra and electric blue is transmitted by the second chakra. The vibrational frequency of this electric blue, or indigo, is the same as the tone of A, which is the fifth of D.
    I would like to pause here and note some patterns which are universally appreciated. The first is the beautiful quality of notes, separated by fifths when played together. Our ear understands this relationship so well, that it is used for tuning. The colors which vibrate at the same frequencies as the notes related by fifths are complementary. This means that they are opposite each other on the color wheel (e.g. red is opposite green, yellow opposite violet, and blue opposite orange). Interesting...

     What I personally love about the Dorian mode is that it is a gentle minor mode and much of its character comes from the interplay between the d minor chord and C major chord (think of Scarborough Fare). It is just so pleasing to traverse between those worlds! It makes me think of walking through the woods with dappled sunlight; shadow and light.

     The second chakra, the Polarity chakra is also about combining shadow and light. Our conscious world is evident in our Root chakra and our Polarity chakra reveals what is hidden in the shadows: our unconsciousness. Our whole being exists in this energy center. In his book Archetypal Chakras, Arnold Bittlinger refers to Jung's interpretation of the chakras as the path to individuation. Our unconscious is revealed through our shadow side and projections. This shadow side links to the d minor of the Dorian mode.

In the Dorian Wood, 5 x 7", watercolor/Neocolor II
      My illustration for the Dorian mode was of the woods; a sort of magical wood with bright and shadowy places. No doubt I was under the influence of Joanna Mell and her description of the Dorian mode in her book Modal Musings. The forest seems like such an appropriate visual for both the Dorian mode and the Polarity chakra with its hidden and exposed qualities.

     I'll include an image of Dorian Polarity without the shadow of the blinds (it all seems so appropriate!) I hope you are enjoying this exploration of the relationship between musical modes and the chakras.
Dorian Polarity, 7 x 5", mixed media

Monday, August 31, 2015

Ionian Roots

Ionian Roots, 5 x 7", watercolor and Neocolor II
One of the outcomes of studying to become a healthcare musician is that I am seeing connections that I had never noticed before. The world seems to favor certain patterns and in their beauty, repeats them over and over again.
   While focusing on the musical modes, I realized that they could be naturally paired with the 7 chakras, or energy centers of the human body. That idea was spurred on by a chart created by Kay Gardner for her book, Sounding the Inner Landscape. An obvious starting point is that the Ionian Mode is typically described as C major. The musical pitch assigned to the Root Chakra in Gardner's book is C. Aha!

Iconic Ionian

The Ionian mode is neutral to the  Western ear. It is made up of a progression of notes which we anticipate; think of do, re, mi, fa, sol, la, ti, do. We could consider it as the baseline of diatonic scales. You can read a little bit about the Ionian mode in my blog from March 19, 2015, Iconic Ionian. The scene I painted to represent the Ionian mode contained all the elements needed for human life. These elements also appear in the most universally appealing paintings, so there is something fundamentally and materialistically necessary about the Ionian mode. Stella Benson, in her book The Gift of Healing Modes, points out that this mode is sometimes referred to as a "maternal" mode. it provides the sense of a "safe haven".

Likewise, the Root chakra is home to our founding energy. Our lives are grounded in the elements necessary for life and these elements are the concern of the Root chakra. For me, this makes a connection between the Ionian mode and the Root chakra. The chakras are linked with colors from the spectrum (vibrations, once again). At the lower end of the spectrum is red. The Root chakra absorbs the color red; and according to Kay Gardner, it transmits a turquoise color. Recently, in a discussion with friends, it was suggested that the perfect representation of the Root chakra could be beets, with the red root bulbs and turquoise (green) leaves. That will have to wait for the autumn crop! In the meantime, I invite you to join me on this exploration of the musical modes and chakras.