Posts Tagged Ghost Month
Flute Improvisations during the Arizona Monsoon and Ghost Month
Last year, I learned that the the 7th Lunar Month (roughly the August-September time frame) was observed in certain parts of Asia as Ghost Month (盂蘭). Apparently, the portals of the Underworld are opened – allowing the spirits to run free (if not amok). There are certain taboos that apply to this month — I’ll let the reader refer to Wikipedia for a list as well as more background on the event.
Anyway, some of the many customs that are observed at this time include paying respect to the deceased by reciting prayers and making burnt offerings to their memories. It is also customary to limit one’s travel — especially during the night hours.
Last year my friends and I (to our coincidental peril), evidently did not show sufficient respect and we all suffered unusual travel discomfiture(s).
Letting It Happen
But, I have also found that for me, the 7th Lunar Month is a great time to be fully immersed in musical endeavors. There is little effort involved, as the urge to improvise and compose is overpowering.
For the second year in a row, I thought I would take a short hiatus from recording. But It was not to be. For no particular reason, I would awaken suddenly to the ubiquitous sound of birds. I would then take a the field recorder outside to capture the ambient sounds of jays, owls, quail, sparrows, towhees, roosters and sapsuckers. A couple of those sessions were done during an aggressive thunder storm (the Arizona monsoon season has lasted longer than usual this year).
I would typically improvise a flute solo on the same day of the ambient recording, and before I knew it, there was more-than-enough material for an album. The calendar of recording dates confirmed my suspicions: between August 6th and September 5th this year was indeed Ghost Month.
I didn’t fight it – I let it happen. And so emerged the album by the same name. Please, enjoy a listen:
I am beginning to look forward to the 7th Lunar Month. (And who could blame me?)
The album, “Let It Happen” by Bill Leyden is dedicated to the memory of master flute-maker, Leonard “Lone Crow” McGann (RIP), who succumbed to cancer in August, 2013. Track 14, “Goodby, Lone Crow” is played with one of his flutes – a Low A Native American flute made from sassafras wood.
Release Notes and More: “In Another World”
I am happy to announce the release of “In Another World.” This New Age album is filled with lush, orchestral melodies, exotic, subtle rhythms and accents made on the Native-American-style flute. I find the completed collection to be ideal for meditation and healing; I think you will too!
In Taiwan, the 7th lunar month is referred to as ‘Ghost Month.’ My friends from that island-nation advise me:
“…You don’t want to travel during Ghost Month! You should make offerings to your ancestors and don’t let the ghosts who are roaming the Earth this month learn your address!”
I’m not particularly superstitious, but in the coming years, I may take a little more notice of Ghost Month.
I was minding my own business recording improvisations on the Native American-style flute for this album. Then along came the 7th lunar month -July and August this year (2012).
I took a short road trip during which every appointment was suddenly rescheduled out of the month. I started to think that the Ghost Month advice may have some merits.
When I returned home to Arizona, disappointed by the drop in personal productivity, I attempted to salve the feelings by getting out the Fender Stratocaster guitar and recording some musical passages. The recordings would eventually find their way onto the “Faded Splendor” track. I tried adding strings (violin, violas and cellos) — and the whole album shifted. The melodies became more lyrical and complex. One track followed another in quick succession until the album was a collection of compositions, rather than a series of Native American-style flute improvisations.
Passing Through the Portal
When I was done, I knew that I had crossed a threshold (into another musical world) through which I may not return. Next year, I will be less inclined to ignore Ghost Month and more apt to pass it with a wink and a smile as I compose.
Listen to “In Another World” by clicking on the arrow below:
I used flutes from the following craftsman:
Dedication: Chris Will
Kitty & Creek Norris
All tracks © 2012 by Bill Leyden. All rights reserved.
Images: Damon Allen
My Friend, Shayde Christian
Suddenly, after a day of shooting his film, “Painting in the Rain,” he apparently decided to come over to view the images and was peeking around my front door:
“Hey, man…is that your music playing?” Shayde asked.
“Hey, I really like what’s going on there. Does that mean that you have access to all of the tracks?” he continued.
Not yet knowing where he was going with the line of questioning, I fell into his logic:
“Sure, I do! It’s multi-track software.”
“Hey, if you’d take the flute tracks out of it, it would be perfect!”
It has long since become a running joke between us, but at the time I felt a flush run upwards through my body and with as much humility as I could summon, I informed Shayde that:
“Yes, I could do that, but, you know, I am kind-of known to the people who listen to me as a Native American-style flute player!”
Oh! I’m sorry! I just meant that for my movie, I could really use the orchestration part, and not the flute — it doesn’t fit my story!”
“Right,” I mustered.
Three years later, Shayde chose the title track from the album, “Beloved” for a poignant scene in his feature, “Painting in the Rain.” The flute punctuates the scene perfectly. He put together the Beloved video as a thank you:
I have enjoyed what I hope is a good joke so much that I have extended it to my Native American flute player friends, including Wolfs Robe, whose traditional albums are almost exclusively played on the Native American flute.
Learning to Appreciate the Taiwanese “Ghost Month”
I have several dear friends who hail originally from the island of Taiwan. I have learned over the years that it is probably a good idea to lie low during Ghost Month. I used to take this with a grain of cultural salt, but as I age to perfection, I find myself attempting to be more flexible.
Every now and then, when I speak to someone new that I have met from Taiwan, I will ask about Ghost Month. Immediately, the response is something like,
“How do you know about Ghost Month? You’d better be careful during that time — a lot of strange things happen!”
For the benefit of the reader, I quote from Wikipedia:
“Taiwan: Ghost Month
Traditionally, it is believed that ghosts haunt the island of Taiwan for the entire seventh lunar month, when the mid-summer Ghost Festival is held. The month is known as Ghost Month. The first day of the month is marked by opening the gate of a temple, symbolizing the gates of hell. On the twelfth day, lamps on the main altar are lit. On the thirteenth day, a procession of lanterns is held. On the fourteenth day, a parade is held for releasing water lanterns. Incense and food are offered to the spirits to avoid them visiting homes and spirit paper money is also burnt as an offering. During the month, people avoid surgery, buying cars, swimming, and going out after dark. It is also important that addresses are not revealed to the ghosts.”
This year, I did not exactly follow the precepts of Ghost Month. I traveled to LA, where all appointments that I had arranged were unusually rescheduled out of the month. And I got a speeding citation in Jerome, AZ for blazing through town at 30 mph at night. At that moment, I was telling my passengers, who had suffered a motorcycle breakdown that afternoon that it was probably Ghost Month that contributed to the new tire blowing out 20 miles from civilization. They remarked that they would no longer show any disrespect for Ghost Month.
“In Another World”
I had begun the album, “In Another World” well-before the 7th lunar month this year. And by the time that I was working on the third song, Ghost Month had begun and suddenly the album took a sharp detour.
The first inkling that I had was during the recording of the song, Redona Me. The song starts in C minor, a key I don’t usually use, and pulses slowly until the melody begins to soar longingly — hopefully toward an unseen destination. There is no flute present (I thought of Shayde and smiled to myself).
By the time that I had completed the track, Contessina, I knew something was going to be different. Then, when I finished the first mix, I sent a copy to Shayde for his input. True to form, he said something like,
“This is the best s— you have ever done! The album is not just a collection of songs – these are compositions with a theme!”
Not content, he continued,
“I don’t know if this is good advice for you or not, but I like your new stuff so much, that I think you could lose a track or two of those flute solos.”
I asked, “Oh, you mean I should just take some flute out, and it will be perfect?”
“Hey, man,” Shayde quickly responded. “I know how you feel. Do you know how many of my own scenes that I have had to cut from my scripts?”
So, I continue to mix — it is yet to be seen whether I’ll be able to heed his advice with grace. Maybe the ghosts with whom I have tried to make piece will guide the way.
In the days following this original post, I received a three-page write up with Shayde’s comments. Nestled in the thoughts on transitions and old-Bill vs. new-Bill, there was a question about the track, “Redona Me:”
".... "Redone Me.” What is the 6th note in the melody, a 6th? It grabs me by the heart. And there’s a passing tone around 1:10 that just keeps me so off balance...."
I was more than willing to give him a heart-felt response:
“After an intro of alternating Cminor and Ab major chords, the melody starts its lift on the 5th (G) of the Cminor Chord. The melody then runs up the the scale of the minor chord passing through the 6th note to the octave, where the chord changes to Ab. The octave G note, which was the 5th of the Cmin chord then becomes the major 7th of the Ab chord. So, it would appear that the Ab maj 7 chord is moving you as it almost appears out of nowhere.
The melody then ‘relaxes’ back a full step to the F note as the chord progression reaches for the Bb major chord. The F note is the 5th in the Bb major chord, thereby strengthening the resolve of the longing in the initial melodic reach by resting at a major triad (F/Bb/D).
At about 1:10, the melody and the chord both rest briefly at Bb again. The melody then raises 1/2 step to the B natural, either implying a G7 chord or a Bb Add B chord that transitions to the Cminor chord again. This tension is storing the energy to lift to the next melodic vault.