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January 24, 2013

Passion Just Can't Shut Up

Photo from Peter Schaaf off Marin Symphony site.

How do you know when you're in the presence of passion? It just won't shut up, that's how. It can't. But, in a good way. That's Rob Kapilow.

An American composer, pianist, educator, author, tennis-playing, karate-teaching, all around intellectual whirlwind, (who surely must have been a child prodigy), Kapilow showed the audience at the taping of a show for CBC Radio last night What Makes It Great with the It, in this case, being classical music.

It's also the name of his new book, an enhanced e-book, the first of its kind, that lets readers read and hear about classical music simultaneously thanks to iTunes, iPhones, iPads  and I can't believe my publisher just refused to get that they should have done an enhanced e-book years ago when he first mentioned it.  That's kind of what he said.

Seated at a piano, wearing grey flannels and a white shirt, attire which was ridiculously conservative in contrast to his gregarious, non-stop personality, this 60-year-old who could pass for someone at least 10 years younger, was mesmerizing because of his knowledge, his riffs on the piano and his out of the box enthusiasm.

He played his way through the first bars of a Chopin piece, talking almost non stop to the audience  as he did and revealing a few of the tricks of the composing trade in a way none of us had ever seen. Or maybe I'll just speak for myself.

At 24, he was a Yale music professor who got the opportunity to step in for one week as the conductor of the Broadway musical, Nine. That experience made him realize that not only is music not about the musicians or the conductor, it's about the audience and right then he was suddenly overcome with a compulsion that would change his life to help audiences feel about classical music the way people feel about the first popular music they fall in love with and  played over and over again as teenagers.

What he discovered by stepping into conducting that Broadway musical in the middle of its run, is that there is no such thing as getting to rehearse. Rehearsing is sitting in the audience and watching in preparation for being the conductor the next day. No pressure. He managed to pull it off  until it came time at the end to throw a large tambourine onto the stage, to the female lead. He had never done it before and instead of directing it at her, it went flying over her head the way a home run hit strikes the back wall, in this instance a wall of curtains.

A few years ago, he was hired by the Marin County Orchestra to write a symphony to celebrate the 75th anniversary (in 2012) of the Golden Gate Bridge. "What does the bridge sound like?" he asked the audience. "Foghorns" was one man's response. "That's right," he said, practically jumping off the piano stool. Instead of sitting alone in front of his piano, Kapilow got himself out onto the tug boats under the bridge, he listened and he asked questions of the tugboat operators and interviewed people on the street and even interviewed parents whose teenagers had, tragically, committed suicide off the bridge and that's when he knew he must have a chorus which grew to 100 so he could tell the full story, not just in music but through words  and he must have this and that and...you get the idea.

He wouldn't be the easiest guy to work with but he would get it done, and uniquely, no matter how many people ended up thinking he was a pain in the butt. Hey, no pain, no gain, no creativity.

I could go on and on about him but really all you need to know is that in his new book, What Makes it Great, which you can buy off iTunes or even the old fashioned way, you can read about some of the famous classical music pieces you love, assuming you do, and hear those parts he's talking about at the same time, right in your own living room. It will be almost as good as him being there. Nah. It wouldn't. But it would be the next best thing.

But the e-book/book here.

January 12, 2013

Ayahuasca judgement, not curiosity

Last night I went to a play in Vancouver, a monologue about Ayahuasca and how the characteristic purging, puking, and grip you by the throat terror that this thirty-something guy on stage had experienced after participating in a ceremony as part of a retreat on Vancouver Island that enabled him insight and to make connections that had eluded him for years.

He had been trapped by behavior that made his life miserable and came with inexplicable and horrific random visualizations.These images confused him, paralyzed him, made him disassociate and sometime even puke, even without drinking any Amazonian vine called Baanisteriopsis Caapi.

He’d read books by a well known Vancouver doctor more than once, inhaled them in fact,  and then one day, uncharacteristically, he e-mailed the doctor who eventually invited him to a retreat of about 25 people where Ayahuasca was consumed. The doctor ingested it himself, as if he was John C. Lilley doing his first hits of L.S.D. because this doctor liked to be different, he was different, he’d built his reputation on it.

Before this play, I’d first heard of Ayahuasca in 2008. I saw a documentary film on Salt Spring that played to a full house with the filmmaker, Richard Meech, present. In his film, Vine of the Soul: Encounters with Ayahuasca, he'd documented the  experience of three thirty to 40 year old Caucasian Torontonians who'd travelled to the Amazon and, like this actor on stage before me, went through their own little private versions of Hell and back as part of their purging experiences. Only one had experienced pure bliss.

I thought to myself, Jesus, why are middle class white people so tortured and why must they participate in rituals considered “cool” because they've been stolen from ancient cultures? Sweats. Ayahuasca. Take your pick.

The guy who hosts the groups was on stage to answer questions on this particular night as well. A medical doctor. Written a bunch of books. Good books. Books worth reading. I've read a couple myself. He had a ring on every finger,silver rings, which unnerved me. It reminded me of someone who had been a therapist in my life in my past. Be suspicious, very suspicious of any health care provider who wears a ring on every finger.  They just might come with side effects. Who you trying to impress? Why you trying so hard to be cool?  Don’t agree with me? Go get five rings, if you own five rings, out of wherever you keep them, put each one, one by one, on your fingers and see how it makes you feel. 

This guy, the physician on stage, he had a very masculine presence even though he’s not a very big man. After the play, on stage, he was wriggling around like a football coach, preparing to give the pre-game talk to his jocks. A not so undisguised whiff of disdain was wafting off of him and I couldn’t figure out why. He’d agreed to be there hadn’t he? 

I asked him a question, a rather innocuous question I thought, “What personal experience had he had that convinced him that this should be incorporated as part of his therapeutic technique.” His  response came back with such defensiveness it was as if I’d challenged him. I wonder if he realizes that his manner, on stage, is arrogant and defensive and maybe all those years of working with clients reeling against “the man” had rubbed off on him except I didn’t believe that. I believed it had always been there, right from the beginning, and that’s his shit, entrenched and perhaps why he's able to have, such compassion, I guess, with the addicts he treats.  

But, I also wondered what his story is, the other story, the one that he tells himself when he’s home alone right before he goes to bed at night and whether it would ever be possible for him to just sit in a room and do nothing, be a nobody, just a human being, minus the notoriety because eventually we will all have to be what we are, just that, flesh and blood and bones, that's it, just ask the elderly.

I wondered why it would be okay for the doctor to take the Ayahuasca while he was hosting these retreats and I wondered why cultural misappropriation wasn't an issue for him and when he referred to a Shaman named Dave, I didn’t even bother to suppress a laugh. Would you go to a shaman named Dave? Where do you find Dave? In the yellow pages under S?

Sometimes middle class Caucasians really make me sick with their first world desperation and their cloying need to be rescued out of their first world problems and it’s not as if I haven’t been there myself because I have. 

Those are the kind of thoughts I was having at the end of the evening. It made me wonder if maybe I couldn't benefit from a little Ayahuasca intervention so I might discover, Yes and thank you, why that sort of thing really irks me more than it should.

When I left the play, my friend looked at me and said, "That guy, the doctor, he has a lot of anger. I feel agitated," she said and we continued on to the corner of main and Hastings where we saw three or four cops in the middle of a take-down  and my friend, who has an anxiety disorder, insisted we get on the wrong bus just to get away. 

"It's all bullshit," she said. "People looking for a quick fix and there isn’t one and it's only when you've been through hell and back and done the work that you know that."

When you’ve become really attuned to others' feelings because you've had to become attuned to your own because there was a time when you were more removed from them than the Grand Canyon is long and wide, then you can see other people's bullshit. The lies they are telling themselves become so obvious because their body language is betraying them. And then you can see false prophets as if you are an astronaut on the space shuttle looking back at earth shocked by a huge clearcut or like you’re reading a new adult version of the Emporer’s New Clothes.

You want nothing to do with anything that isn’t  about you finding your own inner strength, not expecting external sources to rescue you,  not even from some doctor who thinks he has all the answers  even though he thinks he’s fooling some people by saying, out loud, that he doesn't.

PS: Kudos to the guy who wrote and performed the play. It took a lot of guts. There's no need for the doctor in the house, except for ticket sales. Maybe.