Myra Melford: Mystic Manifestations
MM: I have actually. I was aware of it beforehand, and it had new meaning to me once I had studied it and gotten quite involved in my own spiritual quest. Then going back to listening to Coltrane, both his spiritual quest and his interest in Indian music took on a deeper meaning for me because I had my own experience with it.
AAJ: Stepping away from music for a minute. Outside of the studies, how did the experience in India influence you?
MM: It was such an expansive experience. It was my first experience in the so-called third world. It just opened me upthe fact that there are so many different ways that people can liveand choose to live. It was a completely new environment with all kinds of new sensory inputs. Sounds. Tastes. Sights. It was so stimulating. And I met great people. I made some wonderful friends there. I heard so much music, and met so many people who were traveling from all over the world. I got to see what it is that we all share in common despite our cultural differences, and was also able to enjoy sharing those cultural differences. It was really an incredible and expansive experience.
AAJ: Will you return?
MM: I sure hope so.
AAJ: Are there other places or areas of music that you would like to expand into?
MM: I absolutely am very interested in Middle Eastern music and African Music. I'd love to go there. But for some reason India really felt like the place I needed to go at that time in my life. But I would certainly love to travel to the Middle East, thought it doesn't feel like particularly the right time to do that. I also have an interest in African music and Latin American music. So I'm still hoping to do more of that kind of thing.
AAJ: Let's talk about your current release, Where the Two Worlds Touch. All the things we've been talking about clearly inform the album. Could you speak a little about how your studies influenced the album, and how that works with your dedication of the recording to Rumi, a Sufi mystic?
MM: I have to say, when I was applying for a Fulbright I debated trying to go to Pakistan to study Kawali or go to Northern India to study Hindustani music. So there was always an interest in Sufi music. I would say my interest was in musics in general from the Indian sub-continent. My meditation teacher is very fond of Rumi and other Sufi poets, and would often quote him. I would say my interest in Rumi came out of my interest in meditation and my spiritual pursuits, if that is the right way to put it.
AAJ: I'm very interested in the wayparticularly in Americathe mystical traditions have begun to blend and blur. So you can be studying Yoga and reading Rumi, and then someone will bring up Rinzai. Music seems to make an interesting crossroads.
MM: Exactly. We're living in a time when all of this informationwhether recorded or writtenis available to us. I think it's a time when a lot of us are making those things meaningful and personal. So it can involvewe have the opportunity to draw from a lot of different traditions and find what's common about them and also what's unique about them. But that's a little off the track.
Oh! The music! Most of this music was written before I went to India. The only thing that was written when I got back was "No News At All", which starts with a recording I made when I was walking around Calcutta one day, and the other piece I wrote post India is "Secrets to Tell You". The rest of them had been written before. Althoughthe other things I want to sayis my intention in going to India and studying that music was to become absorbed in it and imbibe as much as I could and then wait to see how it came into my own music in an organic way. It was never to become a professional classical player, or to try and imitate that music.
I would say that even though most of this music was written before, I can hear the difference in my playing on say, "Where the Two Worlds Touch", or the first piece, that a certain melodic style and flavor that comes from studying raga is already starting to come through. Certainly the influence of different types of modes and scales is coming through.
Most of the music I've now written since being thereI've just recorded it but it won't be released until later this yearI can feel a big difference in myself between what I did here on this record and what I'm doing now since I've had a chance to digest and assimilate my experience over there.
So, I guess I can already hear a difference in my playing, but not so much in the writing.
AAJ: On the inside album cover, you've quoted three poems by Rumi in full. Including one titled "Music". Clearly, music plays an integral part in Sufism and is deeply connected to expressions of mystical trance such as Sema and the ecstasies of the Whirling Dervishes. Do you have an opinion on what it is in the music that inspires that kind of mystical departure?