|Numinous The Music of Joseph C. Phillips Jr.|
The Numinosum Blog
THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 2, 2010
Now there are no gongs in Vipassana but percussion is an important aspect of the composition. Whether it is adding rhythmic energy and drive or coloristic effects, there is a wide range of the function of percussion in the piece. There is a balance between things being written out completely (where I'm very specific to what I want instrument-wise as well as musically) and places where I give instructions on the effect or type of color I'm looking for, but the percussionist is free to choose how to make that happen. So this is why having someone who is classically trained, but able to play in a more free and loose way is very important and I'm lucky to have people who can do both equally well. Numinous percussionist, Jared Soldiviero is one of those type of musicians and so to find out what's it like banging and shaking his way through Vipassana I asked him some questions about the experience.
Tell us something about your background as a percussionist.
My first musical memories were of my parents record collection, a treasure trove of classic rock, blues and soul from the late 50s onward. I loved records and there are photos of me when I was 2 or 3 years old with big headphones on, holding onto John and Yoko'sDouble Fantasy album ("Watching the Wheels" was my favorite song.) My dad played guitar as a hobby and I naturally took to the rhythmic side of music. To make a long story short, I started taking drum lessons in the 3rd grade and started learning more classical percussion in high school. Now I play mostly orchestral percussion or contemporary music. I love big setups with lots of different percussion instruments, because I'm still a drummer at heart. And next year, I'll finally get to play drums again, so things have come full circle.
What are some of the many different instruments you use in performing Vipassana? what challenges does that pose to you in the piece?
There are a large range of percussion instruments, from metals to drums and even some woodblock. I use cymbals, triangles, many different shakers, a djembe (African hand drum), a cajon (a wooden box played with hands), and woodblock, to name a few. The challenge in the piece is to find the right sound to match the right moment. Sometimes the piece will call for a shaker, but it's up to me to determine what kind of shaker sound fits for that moment in the piece. If there is a loud moment I'll need a shaker that can project through that sound, whereas there are moments where I'm the only person playing and I need to make the softest sound possible. On the more practical side, I need to count very carefully during the piece because there are moments where the percussionists are allowed to be totally creative and improvisational. But I still need to know where I am so if there is a big musical change, I can be right there with everybody else.
What do you like about Vipassana?
My favorite thing about Vipassana is the fact that it is very difficult to categorize. The musicians must be comfortable having their feet in many worlds at once. Improvisation is important but there are written melodies that need to be played beautifully as well. Everyone in the group must have extremely tight rhythm to keep the huge piece moving forward. You can hear the influence of so many composers/musicians and the joy is in recognizing those influences and bringing out special things about each one to make the piece feel alive. Personally, I enjoy playing in a large group where it feels as though everyone really believes in the music. The sense of togetherness onstage during a performance of Vipassana is something I don't get to feel so often, especially in a traditional orchestra!
What do you find beautiful (or where do you find beauty)?
I grew up on Staten Island and have been a city boy all my life. Beauty for me is not only in nature but also in architecture and design. I love cities for this reason. One of my mantras is 'simple pleasures' since I can find as much beauty in the enjoyment of watermelon, for example, as I can in listening to the St. Matthew Passion! Speaking of baroque music, the most beautiful kind for me is from the early Baroque period, particularly the opera written in Venice at the time. Nature: when I was in Vermont this past summer, there were nights when I finally got to experience something I missed growing up in New York: "big sky." After some of our outdoor concerts, we would stay and wait for the crowd to leave. Once all the light was gone on the ground, we could see unobstructed sky: planets, satellites, shooting stars, everything. I was telling my friend, I can't believe it took 30 years for me to see sky this clear and unblemished by ambient light on the ground. Truly marvelous.
Who are your musician heroes?
First and foremost, Bach. Then, Francesco Cavalli, a composer of some of the most melodious and beautiful opera from the 17th century, filled with humanity, humor and soul. To enter a completely different world, I would say that Michael Jackson was a prime influence on me, growing up. I have vivid memories of listening to each album of his as they were released, knowing all of his dance moves from all of his videos and playing drum set along with his records. Having my parents record collection at a young age exposed me to bluesmen, classic rock and even 80s music. One of my favorite songs as a kid was "Walk of Life" by Dire Straits and that band is still one of my favorite rock bands of all time. Likewise, Kate Bush will forever hold a place in my heart as a truly original and incredibly creative and influential artist. In jazz, I'm a devoted Charles Mingus fan and Keith Jarrett disciple. I love choirs, from Bach cantatas to gospel to the Bulgarian Women's Choir to Percy Grainger to Mahler symphonies.
What's your favorite Bjork and/or Gustav Mahler piece? why?
I don't feel as though I could choose a favorite of either! But I always love Mahler scherzos. The 2nd movement of Symphony 1, the 3rd movement of Symphony 2, etc.. They are so schizophrenic! Going from a mysterious and slithering melody to a grotesque waltz in a split second. I love the contrasts he finds in structure, orchestration, melody, harmony or anything else. I feel Mahler was the last great symphonist and if it's said that a great symphony should be like an entire world in one piece of music, then Mahler's complete symphonies must be like an entire universe?
I know you are a big Yankees fan, so if you could have been a member of any Yankee team in history, which one would it be and why?
Tough question! But I would say with certainty that I'd have wanted to be on the 1996 team. Since I was born in 1980, it wasn't until 1996 that I knew how it felt when my team won the World Series (now I'm quite used to the feeling...GO YANKS!) Also, I'm glad to have grown up a Yankees fan, because it helps to deflect the criticism of grumpy baseball fans bemoaning the "Evil Empire" and all its twists and turns over the years. I was born a Yankee fan and will stay that way!
What is a book(s) that have inspired you?
The Man Who Mistook his Wife for a Hat by Oliver Sacks is inspirational in the sense that you can feel how much of a humanist the author is. His loving descriptions of his patients and their particular illnesses really highlights the fact that they are people first, case studies second. It inspired me to hold fast to the adage of not judging a book by its cover. Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino inspired me to find beauty in cities wherever I go, to try and fully experience the culture, food, architecture, parks, personalities, quirks and everything else about any place I visit.
What was the last time you've had that numinous feeling about something?
I was visiting Mexico this past July and went to the ruins at Ek' Balam, a relatively small but beautifully preserved archaeological site. Standing on top of the largest structure (called The Throne), it's calm, quiet and serene. Looking out over the ruins below gives you that birds-eye feeling. And looking around in all directions you can see trees for miles and miles never ending. I was there on an overcast day so that beautiful grey light gave everything a "Raiders of the Lost Ark" vibe. It's so peaceful up there, one can take some time to just be. Or imagine what life was like when the site was populated hundred and hundreds of years ago.
Tell us something fun or interesting about you that most people wouldn't know or suspect?
When I was a kid, I loved magic. I would always beg my parents to buy me those magic sets that come with a bunch of tricks to learn and I would use my dad's camcorder to do shows. I loved card tricks and used to know tons of them. I've forgotten almost everything now but I still watch magic videos all the time. One of the greatest card magicians alive now is Ricky Jay. Watch his work on YouTube, you'll be amazed!
What's next up for you in your own music career?
I'm looking forward to another year of varied musical experiences. For example, I'll be playing the music of Elliot Carter and John Adams with the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, Frank Zappa tunes and cartoon music with the amplified chamber group Fireworks, and the music of Christopher Rouse at Zankel Hall. I love being a freelancer because it gives me the same kind of feeling I had when I was a kid with my records. I could pull out a different record with a totally different kind of music and love it as much as the previous thing I listened to. I cannot wait to go from Carter to Adams: two composers who couldn't be any more different!
You can find more info on Jared at www.jaredsoldiviero.com.
Numinous performs Vipassana
Wednesday September 22nd, 2010 8 PM to 9 PM
227 4th Avenue
Take the M, R Train to Union Street
POSTED BY NUMINOUS AT 8:00 AM
To all things that create a sense of wonder and beauty that inspires and enlightens.