|Numinous The Music of Joseph C. Phillips Jr.|
The Numinosum Blog
One of the things I thought would be fun to do with the Inside Vipassana series is to not only give you some of the background and inspiration behind the music, but also of the people that perform it. I have asked a few of the musicians to answer some questions about themselves and what it is like to sit for an hour or so and sing or play Vipassana. So first up (if you didn't guess from the title of the post and the photos) on harp, Megan Levin.
The first time I wrote for the harp was in college. The first time a harpist actually played the music I wrote was back in 2005 with the first installment of the Pulse project, The Eloquent Light. That was a cool project because we wrote music inspired by photographs as well as got to work with guitar great John Abercrombie and trumpeter John McNeil. As far as the harp, I thought it would be a crazy idea to have one in the ensemble along with some of the Pulse "regulars" even though I knew no harpist at the time. In addition I knew that because of the harp's large size, transportation to and from rehearsals and the concert would be difficult.
So what's a harp have to do with Vipassana, there's not one on the recording?
Excellent question my esteemed reader, yes there is no harp on the recording. During the run up to the Vipassana CD release concert in May, I was planning to have two vibraphones like on the recording. However, the reality didn't want to follow my plan. I needed a second vibraphone player, one with their own vibraphone and willing to transport it (which surprising but partly understandable isn't always the case). So I called and emailed various people. Again, and again, and again. I must have called or emailed all of the vibraphonists in New York City and still no one could do the concert, the rehearsals, or some combination. Anyway after that 15th rejection and the first rehearsal only days away, I decided to take a different approach. I thought what instrument could play (mostly) what I wrote for the second vibraphone? Hey, how about harp?!
Now if I was having trouble finding a vibraphonist, what was I thinking thinking about the much larger and harder to transport harp?! Well, I love the harp and thought it would add an intriguing element to the sound of the ensemble. Also, how many times do you see the harp in new music or jazz? In my experience, not much if at all, so of course, I had to have one in Numinous. I contacted a number of harpists (by now I had a few numbers I could call), but no luck. However, one of my harp rejectors gave me a name of a young and incredible harpist recently arrived to NYC, who turned out to be a saving grace since she was available and willing to do the concert! So that is how I met Numinous harpist extraordinaire, Megan Levin. With Megan on board, I modify the second vibraphone part to fit the special abilities of the harp. And Megan is such a great player and a wonderful and enthusiastic part of the group and she made my crazy thought of having a harp in Numinous such a success that I didn't even think about a second vibraphone this time around. I just contacted her. Now I'm hooked on harp; don't be surprised if you see Megan and the harp on future Numinous projects!
So here are Megan's answers to the the few questions I asked about herself and the harp, and now you can know a little bit about the person behind that rather large and beautiful instrument you'll see at the concert.
Give us a little of your musical background before coming to NYC?
I'm from Austin, Texas, where I grew up as part of musical family. I started taking harp lessons when I was five, and pretty much loved it from the start. Being in Austin and having a musician dad, I ended up playing a lot of gigs and on albums of local artists. My first orchestral experiences came later, and this became my focus in college at Rice University. After college, I spent a year studying music in Paris, France, on a Fulbright grant.
What challenges does Vipassana pose for you as a harpist?
While there are never a lot of fast notes or many pedal changes, the repetitive nature of the piece is very challenging. I have to maintain absolute concentration and focus, or else I'll lose my place!
What do you like about Vipassana?
Well, first of all it is beautiful. I think that the harmonies are not predictable, but that doesn't mean that they are startling or harsh. The piece evolves, and the repetition gives a sense of growth and movement and progress on different levels. I feel like every time I hear the piece I hear something new, and it affects me in a different way. I also like the choice of instruments and voice. I think the combination produces a beautiful and powerful sonority.
Who are your musician heroes?
I love Louis Armstrong, because I think you can hear the joy in his playing. I love the French harpist and my former teacher Isabelle Perrin for her incredible musicality and again, love of music. I am a huge fan of Chris Thile (mandolin) and his band the Punchbrothers, who play a variety of styles with joy and spontaneity, but maintain the highest level of quality. I am also amazed by the Columbian harpist Edmar Castaneda, with his incredible groove and rhythmic drive. My father, Danny Levin, can play pretty much every instrument except harp. He is an amazing performer who continues to inspire me and keep my standards high.
If you could be flying over any place in the world, where would it be? Why?
Unfortunately, I am pretty afraid of flying, so I would have say just let me fly through clear skies and I'll be happy.
What is a book(s) that have inspired you?
I have just recently finished Bill Bryson's A Walk in the Woods, which has encouraged me to think more about my connection with nature.
What was the last time you've had that numinous feeling about something?
It happens all the time that I have the sense of things working out just as they need to, in a way that I could never have expected or predicted. I feel grateful, and blessed.
Tell us something fun or interesting about you that most people wouldn't know or suspect?
I was home-schooled until high school, which meant I had a lot of time to practice, but also means I'm still a little shy of big groups.
What's next up for you in your own music career?
I'm playing with some members of ICE (International Contemporary Ensemble) at a music festival in Lima, Peru, in mid-November. I'm excited for my first trip to South America!
Megan Levin: www.meglevin.com
Check back soon for more insider tidbits about Vipassana and those that make the music though you'll have to come on the 28th to get your real harp fix.
Numinous performs Vipassana
Wednesday October 28, 2009 8 PM (one set only)
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.