Reflections on the Value of Unearthing Creative Works Worth Listening to….
A dear friend and collaborator of mine, Saved by a Poem author Kim Rosen, told me about this remarkable spiritual teacher named Jason Shulman. I had heard of him from a number of people I deeply respected for years. They raved about Jason’s spiritual school for mystical/non-dual Judaism on the east coast, called A Society of Souls, and I had always wanted to learn more about him.
A few months later, as fate would have it, he came to the west coast, and in the process of exploring whether he had time for us to meet, we found out a remarkable coincidence. It turns out that his wife, Arlene, grew up across the street from me when I was growing up in a town outside New York City called Rockville Center. Even more astonishing, she was the daughter of my mother’s one and only best friend, someone I knew and loved as a child.
Upon realizing that we had found one another after more than four decades, we quickly set up a dinner/reunion since my Mom was (and is) still alive and kicking! We all had a beautiful evening reminiscing, getting to know one another as adults for the first time. Invariably, I gravitated towards the piano and started improvising, which quickly drew Jason towards me. I hadn’t learned yet that a core component of his spiritual life and teachings was his music, his ‘nigguns’, and the Jewish equivalent to “kirtans”. To my surprise, I learned then and there that he was a gifted vocal improviser and songwriter!
I eventually found out that Jason was a true mystic, drawing from the wisdom of the Kabbalah, Non-Dual Buddhism, and the best of the ancient spiritual traditions in a profoundly deep, intuitive, and incisive manner that cut through to the bottom line of the present moment like few teachers on the planet. Like most mystics, Jason was intimately aware of how music, when melded with discreet intention, can brings us to the heart of the soul, especially when singing to the Divine in a society of souls, within the context of ‘sacred community’.
As I used the piano to support Jason’s vocal and lyrical improvisations, we dropped into a magical synergy right then and there. The connection between us was undeniable. It didn’t take him long to ask me whether I would be willing to produce and arrange a CD project that would recontextualize his favorite original chants, prayers, and nigguns. Having instantly fallen in love with this beautiful teacher’s essence, I was thrilled to have been asked and instantly said yes, without hesitation.
Months later, we commenced working together. It became a project that turned out to be an absolute joy to work on, not only because of the beautiful content he brought to work on, but because I got to spend intimate time with both Jason and his wife Arlene, both people of great warmth, integrity, and depth- inevitably bringing greater self awareness and evolutionary support for my spiritual journey.
Jason and I intrinsically believed that a well-executed project for the purpose of providing inspiration, celebration, and affirmation of pursuing a deeper connection to the Sacred would be acclaimed and enjoyed by a burgeoning audience of hip spiritual seekers. Jason had just released a tremendous book with publisher Sounds True called The Instruction Manual of Receiving God, and this CD seemed the perfect audio companion for what I now believe is a timeless classic of spiritual wisdom. (http://store.societyofsouls.com/theinstructionmanualforreceivinggod.aspx_)
Jason and I hoped to create a musical experience that would assist the listener in integrating their love of chanting to bring even more passion and sensorial engagement to their daily spiritual practice. Our jointly produced music project- our precious new “baby” – was entitled Unlock My Heart. We released the CD toward the end of 2006 (?) sending it off into the world on a wing and a prayer, trusting that “if we built it, they would come.”
Not surprisingly, it was released into thin air. And then…nothing.
Unfortunately, the project defied categorization. Few were adequately introduced to it. Ever fewer understood what and whom it was created for. And even fewer even ended up hearing it – except Jason’s community of avid students from around the world. Lifetimes of heart and soul, hundreds of hours of production, and a damn amazing set of inspirational songs and chants devoted to cultivating a more intimate relationship with the Sacred, arranged as a world music/pop contemporary offering, and off it goes into the world, orphaned by the oversaturated world of music and media searching for its fifteen minutes of fame.
It never ceases to amaze me how so much work, resources, and passion could be put into a “labor of love” like this, only to live a shelf life unloved, underappreciated, and without many hearts to “come home” to. How many acts of creation simply don’t have the marketing resources to properly launch valuable work into a world filled with unlimited offerings? How many skilled artists have the time, skills or resources to successfully steward their ‘baby’ with ample amounts of influence, resources, and connections to ensure the work finds its perfect audience?
While we didn’t just leave our baby at the doorstep of strangers (the unpublicized marketplace), we simply did not schedule nor have available the time, expertise, resources and interest to ensure that our beloved project would have its moment in the sun. Now, more than a decade later, the work still stands exists on Jason’s home site and some obscure other locations, just waiting for an opportunity to be discovered by the hungry “kirtan” lovers who just might be willing to consider chanting to expressions of the Sacred that isn’t necessarily defined by the Hindu deities of Krishna, Radha, and Ganesha?
Don’t’ get me wrong. It’s not like we didn’t try to market the work to the marketplace. But meaning-based artists like Jason and me are so passionate and engaged with the creative process of generating something out of nothing, that the passion to market our work is simply not there. The kind of effort, skill, talent, and luck required to bring a new work towards prominence – or at least appreciation from the world is profoundly challenging – especially in a world of endless distractions, internet entrepreneurs and micro-niche marketers.
One last thing: Go ahead and try to releasing a work who’s goal is to be “inspirational” in a world where that very word is owned by the Christian music market, as officially deemed by NARAS, the “Grammy” organization. These songs and chants were written, arranged, and performed to inspire the soul, open the heart, and move our bodies into passionate, celebratory, ecstatic joy, especially for inclusively spiritual individual ands communities that don’t give a hoot about the spiritual stripes you wear. In our increasingly xenophobic culture – and in the recognition that so many people are hungry to celebrate spirituality as a uniquely human need without denominational dogma – creative works of this sort can help us transcend any particular religion or culture that might separate us from one another. But in a world where the Christian owns the word ‘inspirational’ as a category market. …good luck reaching your audience!
For time immemorial, artists of all kind have and continue to invest their blood, sweat and tears into creative works that take literally years to create, only to watch them drift away unheard or seen for the rest of time. We artists will put our hearts, souls and limited resources into projects that engage every drop of our creative juice – and then, just because it’s easier to pull something out of thin air than target the work properly to its perfect audience, we’ll sadly recognize that there’s aren’t broad niches for projects such as these, get intimidated or overwhelmed as to how to reach that audience, and decide that things like this might be best left to the marketing mavens of the world. But now – in this world of web interconnectivity- is that really necessary to let them go forever? Or is there a new dawn of opportunity available to creators who contributed their work just a tad sooner than the web opportunities have presented themselves?
Well, as I start blogging regularly, I’m moved to share this work with you, to reintroduce it to you, or to simply share with you about this little ‘baby’ of ours is out there, open to touching your heart one day. Unlock My Heart is a passionate set of songs to Spirit, lovingly arranged as a world music/contemporary/upbeat and evocative soul journey. Every track was designed from the perspective of a true spiritual pilgrim – Jason – and yours truly, a composer/producer/musician dedicated to bringing music and meaning to new levels of expression and usefulness. I encourage you to purchase the project on Jason’s website, SocietyofSouls.com. The project will inspire you to sing along as you drive through your life and support you to navigate your life while feeling more fully alive and grateful during these crazy times of uncertainty, chaos, and existential challenges. Infused with an abiding love for being a spiritual being on a human journey, Unlock My Heart’s songs will empower you, awaken you, and excite you to come a bit closer to your true, innocent nature. So, shamelessly promoting my work as the arranger/producer of this work – in partnership with my long time music associate, Dan Alvarez – I can honestly say this beautiful work deserves a listen and a home in your heart! Take a moment to experience this timeless resource so that you can experience a transformative ‘Change of Heart”, affirm that you are “Never Alone”, free to be an “Open-Hearted” man or woman, as you continue to proceed on your “Long Journey Home”. My hope is that you are touched by this labor of love and are moved to share it with your loved ones, friends, and community.