Paul Russell leads the group through a series of fun, thought provoking exercises in the first of four sessions.
Ever wonder what music feels like, what physical shape it assumes? If you’ve ever pondered these esoteric questions, Paul Russell is probably a good person to discuss them with. Before his first Musical Mandala workshop at the SAM Project ArtsLAB on Tuesday, I had a chance to talk with him.
Paul recently moved to Bellingham from Boulder, Colorado. He played solo gigs around Boulder, and wound up in Ghent, Belgium where he recorded an album, In Between Trees, with Tom Theuns. When Paul returned to the States, he met Harper Stone, the percussionist for Hot Damn Scandal. They both worked for Renaissance Adventures, a mythic quest\role playing program for youth. Paul’s energetic, animated manner seems well suited to this kind of activity. He related an amusing story about how he discovered Renaissance Adventures.
I was teaching yoga in a sort of corporate environment, and one day, next door to the studio I was teaching at, I heard all this shouting and people speaking in funny accents. I went over to find out what was going on, and it was auditions for positions with Renaissance Adventures. Not being really happy with the yoga gig, I auditioned and was offered a position.
When Harper moved out to Washington State, he convinced Paul to follow. Both of them now operate an off shoot organization, Majestic Adventures in Bellingham. I asked Paul about whether he had a family history of teaching, and yes, it seems that both his mother and grandmother were music teachers.
I like teaching as much, if not more than performing.
Paul went on to describe his Musical Mandala workshops as a circle song, improvised vocal exercise where parts are given out, a connection communion created, and the participants engage in deep listening. His inspiration for this kind of education came from lessons he took from a jazz pianist in Colorado named Art Lande. I asked Paul to describe what “deep listening” is:
Deep listening is being relaxed, alert, present, and allowing the music to alter our brain waves. It allows us to recover our sense of malleability, to become malleable. Art used to compare it to a foot print in soft sand, or a hand print in wet concrete. You let the music make an imprint on you.
Paul went on to expound on a term he himself originated called vibrel– vibration in relationship. Examples of vibrel would be melody, which he described as a stable form, and harmony being a simultaneous vibrel. Resolution would be vibrel seeking its resting place, much like water seeking its lowest point. Whew, pretty heady stuff.
At the first session of Musical Mandala, Paul spent some time showing Sandra Benton how playing her ukulele and singing the same tones connected her with the instrument.
Everything starts with the voice. It makes the composition come alive.
Once the participants of the workshop arrived, they were seated in a circle, and Paul asked the group to sing the same note. This he identified as unison, a very stable vibrel. Before starting into the rest of his instruction, he clarified what a mandala is.
A mandala is an organic structure with a unified center.
Throughout the session, he had the group sing octaves, which he described as the periphery of the musical mandala, and the interval of fifth’s. From his teacher Art Lande, he learned to handle each interval with the respect of “approaching the altar of a deity.” After running through some basic group tone singing\improvisation exercises, Paul introduced a new concept, polarity which he described as “mood lighting”. By using a physical motion of holding his hands together in a ball and then expanding it out to a bigger ball held with the arms, he illustrated how major and minor note progressions create suspense. Because suspense can create tension, he described it as “an adventure, a journey, from which we relax when returning home.” Paul led the group to gradually more intricate vocal compositions. His sense of humor and laid back style seemed keep everyone in a relaxed state of mind. He finished with an illustration of eventually training your voice and spirit it rise up like a growing plant, full of life force. This unique and fascinating class is held for the next three weeks on Tues. at 7PM, and will culminate with participants creating their own personal musical mandala. For information, contact Paul at The Musical Mandala.
Entertainment Writer Mark Perschbacher…A man who will cross great barriers to find exceptional music, art, food, and beer. Mark is a long time Skagit County resident, contributor to, and supporter of local arts.