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After 9.11: Music in Troubled Times

As you are reading this, you are no doubt packing your bag - and sunscreen - to head out to the International Folk Alliance and looking forward to excellent music and big-time schmoozing. I, on the other hand, am writing this while facing the challenge of the holiday season at a time when "Peace on Earth" seems very far away indeed. I thought my fellow columnist, Joel Mabus, did a stunning job in the Nov/Dec issue on highlighting the role that music plays (literally) in lifting us up, pulling us together and giving voice to our deepest emotions.

Josh White, Jr. has been saying for years that it is impossible to remain depressed/unhappy while singing out loud. The same ideas are emerging in popular culture. Don Campbell's The Mozart Effect has the ambitious subtitle of "Tapping the Power of Music to Heal the Body, Strengthen the Mind, and Unlock the Creative Spirit" while the book's description at amazon.com says "the music of Mozart contributes to the improved functioning of the higher cerebellar functions, including the ability to deal with logical and mathematical concepts, while contemporary rock actually decreases mental acuity." (Don't even think about trying to go there with your teenagers.) The Tao of Music, a "Sound Psychology" by John M. Ortiz, Ph.D. ("licensed psychologist, certified clinical hypnotist, composer and musician" [amazon.com again]) is another literary example of society's increasing awareness of the impact music has and ways we can consciously use that. Musicians have applied this knowledge every time they step on stage. It is interesting to see some of these concepts moving into the mainstream in new guises.

Science also finally seems to be catching on to what we have known for years. Not only is there research suggesting that exposure to certain kinds of music can enhance intellectual performance as measured by testing but newer imaging techniques, such at PET and MRI, allow us to monitor the brain's activity while experiencing and/or making music. Music therapists have much anecdotal evidence to tell us that music can reach people, especially children, in ways that traditional medicine often cannot. There are new vistas opening up in memory retention and pain control. We are learning that "the complex, repetitive, and mathematical qualities of music make it a compelling stimulus for the brain." (www.webmd.com) Joseph Arezzo, PhD, a professor of neuroscience and neurology at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, is making inroads in proving that some of the mood changes that we associate with music may be actual changes in brain function and activity.

All of this intellectually supports the emotional certainty that music, always a source of comfort and strength, can occupy a special place in troubled times. This was borne out strongly for me just a few days ago as I stood in the back of the room in the Avalon Theatre in Easton, MD. The occasion was Celtic Christmas, a show I co-produce with Seamus Kennedy, whom I also rep. Seamus always has a special guest and this year it was Danny Doyle. Late into his set, Danny did John McCutcheon's Christmas in the Trenches, the story of peace breaking out during World War I amongst the British and German soldiers hunkered down in France on Christmas Eve, 1914. Based on letters written about a true incident, it is a song that raises more than one emotion and question about war. In these tumultuous times, it was received with such extended applause that the show was at a standstill for a minute or two. That moment may not change the world but it certainly changed our world for the moment.

Now for something which speaks more directly to being an artist rep! I am just recently back from the NorthEast Folk Alliance where we had both a lively Agents peer group meeting and a thought-provoking workshop on becoming an agent. It is heartening to see that offering the Booking Agent Training Course is having the desired effect of recruiting more people into the field. The up and coming reps that I met in the Poconos all appeared to be approaching this with a good knowledge base and thoughtful questions. One issue that has come up over the last two peer group meetings is how to assist venues in knowing which rep handles a particular artist. Every one of us has had a presenter ask us how to contact an artist and/or their rep or made a referral to another rep. The suggestion was made that we approach the Folk Alliance about helping us create a multi-panel pamphlet that would list the agencies, all pertinent contact information and a roster list. The prototype was the Ontario Council of Folk Festivals six-panel brochure which they do every year. (if you don't know to what I am referring, go to www.icomm.ca/ocff to find out about OCFF or call 1.866.292.6233 and ask the amazing Erin Benjamin to send you a copy of the Festival brochure.) Felice Massey promptly followed through with Phyllis Barney who said Folk Alliance would assist in printing such a project. It is our responsibility to pull the information together and get it to them in a format with which they can work. Since, quite a long time ago, I inherited the artist rep listings that were periodically updated over the years, I volunteered to pull a current version of this information together. Thanks to all who sent in information. The Folk Alliance is in the process of getting a design done and we should have a printed brochure sometime in 2002. (Yay!)

© McShane Glover/Noteworthy Productions

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