<![CDATA[Listen For Life - LFL Blog]]>Thu, 08 Jun 2017 13:06:53 -0700Weebly<![CDATA[LFL Reviews: Quinn Kelsey excels as Rigoletto in San Francisco]]>Tue, 06 Jun 2017 07:00:00 GMThttp://listenforlife.org/lfl-blog/lfl-reviews-quinn-kelsey-excels-as-rigoletto-in-san-francisco[Below is the first paragraph of a review, written by LFL Founder Donna Stoering for bachtrack, of the San Francisco Opera's recent staging of  Verdi's Rigoletto. The full review is at:

"If your interest in opera is based to some extent on ornately beautiful sets and elegant costumes, San Francisco Opera's staging of Rigoletto is probably not the performance for you. But if you love Verdi's inventive music, enjoy fabulous male voices in particular, and appreciate great opera conducting with exquisitely sensitive orchestral playing – then this Rigoletto is a must."

Read the entire review here.
<![CDATA[LFL REVIEWS PLATFORM: Island City Opera’s production of Massenet’s “Don Quichotte”]]>Wed, 08 Mar 2017 17:21:32 GMThttp://listenforlife.org/lfl-blog/lfl-reviews-platform-island-city-operas-production-of-massenets-don-quichotte1  Although it is sometimes frowned upon to walk the “fine line” between reviewing something and promoting or marketing it, I am going to begin this review by saying that there are two remaining performances for this production, and if you can possibly attend one of them, we definitely recommend it (see IslandCityOpera.org for info). It’s a wonderful opportunity to see and hear this rarely-performed (but beautiful) opera by Jules Massenet, presented in a charming, intimate and very moving way by a locally-based opera company that does highly creative work with its very limited resources and highly professional cast (most of the soloists very active with SF Opera and other companies). And another benefit to this particular production is an informative pre-performance talk (about Massanet, his personal life, and this opera) given by composer and music critic Jeff Dunn one hour before “curtain time”.

The character of Don Quixote (or Don Quichotte in French) is universally beloved, of course, but this opera is unusual in that it isn’t based on the famous novel, but sets the familiar character in new situations that reflect his inner qualities and values to a modern-day live audience. The music of the opera is also unusual, in that Massenet departed from the standard tradition of his day where the big romantic roles and soaring melodies went to sopranos and tenors – the solo roles here are equally soaring and beautiful, but all in the lower registers of the human voice and performed by a mezzo soprano and baritones/bass-baritones. This may (sadly) explain why the opera never gained a large audience or a place in the standard repertoire, so major thanks to Island City Opera and to other opera companies that have (financially) dared to produce this magical piece.

And equal thanks to the supremely talented Igor Vieira, who championed the idea to the ICO founders and finally got to fulfill his childhood dream in this production, acting as both a very creative stage director, set designer and opera star (singing the role of Sancho). And acting, in his case, is the right word – this young singer has a riveting, beautifully expressive voice, charismatic stage presence, and tremendous gift for comic acting, with facial expressions that match his wide range of vocal colors.
Buffy Baggott did a lovely, radiant job singing the role of Dulcinee and was extremely impressive in the sheer number of different vocal hues and dynamics she could command, seemingly effortlessly, throughout the five acts.

But William Pickersgill as Don Quixote was the one who stole our hearts and emotions. He not only looked the part, he and his voice seemed to merge with the character, and I personally hope I never forget the complete expression of noble humanity, love and forgiveness on his face when he knelt on stage facing the audience, with his back to Dulcinee, during Act 4. That expression has stayed with me in the days since the performance, as he wordlessly conveyed a powerful, timeless message that so many of us need to hear in our country and our world today.

The other cast members fulfilled their vocal roles with aplomb and obviously enjoyed being part of this fun production and highly creative staging, with good use of video backdrops. Lighting changes were very simple yet highly effective and evocative. Of the chorus, new member Christabel Nunoo was charismatic and fully engaged (face, eyes, mouth, body language) in every minute of every chorus scene, so impossible not to watch, without being a distraction.

The orchestra quality and ensemble was intermittent – at first, excellent all around, but it tended to weaken in intonation and ensemble as the opera progressed despite the solid instrumentalists participating. Probably some budgetary restrictions limited the amount of rehearsal time both as an orchestral ensemble and with the singers - and on a 5-act opera, where the music is a very important part of the whole, some patron donations perhaps need to be collected specifically for the allowance of more rehearsal sessions in future productions.

Having said that, there were some wonderful woodwind passages during the more “youthful” songs, the horns were reliably in tune and consistently on point in all entrances, the percussionist did some lovely soft timpani rolls and intriguingly rapid work with wood blocks; and cellist Gabriel Beistline performed his beautiful cello solo in Act 5 with gorgeous, expression-filled tone.

One might think “five acts?!” but the time went very swiftly and did not drag at all. Quality singing, beautiful music, creative production, and a powerful message: these all combine to create an experience of opera at its finest, regardless of small-town, minimal budget or in a major city production. William Pickersgill’s total embodiment of Don Quixote, Buffy Baggott’s confident variety of vocal hues and dynamics, and Igor Vieira’s singing with absolutely no barrier between his soul, his heart and his voice…..just pure, total release of it all.

As he sang to a dying Don Quixote, “May your heart soar where all dreams become reality”. Kudos to Island City Opera for acting on Mr Vieira’s dream, and making it a reality for us all to share.

By Donna Stoering
For LFL Reviews March 2017

<![CDATA[LFL REVIEWS : The Choral Project presents STREET REQUIEM]]>Sun, 26 Feb 2017 16:57:28 GMThttp://listenforlife.org/lfl-blog/lfl-reviews-the-choral-project-presents-street-requiemLFL REVIEWS : The Choral Project presents STREET REQUIEM together with the San Jose Chamber Orchestra and guest soloists Frederica von Stade and Juanita Harris.

This past weekend I attended a powerful, moving performance of Street Requiem, which was rather uniquely composed in 2014 by a “team” of three gifted individual musicians in Australia: Kathleen McGuire, Andy Payne and Jonathon Welch. Beloved opera superstar and humanitarian Frederica von Stade has participated in several performances of the Requiem (Dallas, SF, etc) as mezzo soloist, but this was her first time singing it together with the always-impeccable Choral Project (under its founder/director Daniel Hughes) for two performances, in San Jose and Santa Cruz.
In a nice programming touch, “Flicka” opened the concert with two short, beautifully rendered songs (Finding Home by Ricky Gordon and Primary Colors by Jake Heggie) that perfectly led into the mood and tone of the Requiem that followed.

I had been invited by a friend who instinctively knew that I “must” be there. My heart and soul were touched – deeply. What follows is my experience of hearing this music for the first time, that afternoon.

All of us participating in the live audience for the Street Requiem intimately “journeyed with all those who have died innocently on the streets”. For me there is nothing like the effect that music has on my heart and soul. I was transported to another place. The mesmerizing sounds of the tremendously professional Choral Project singers and SJCO players wooed my senses and lifted me into a place where I entered the souls and walked in the shoes of other suffering human persons. At the start of the performance we were called to that place by a somber intonation (on a didjeridoo!) and an acknowledgement of the indigenous peoples who have gone before us on our land, along with the homeless, all being honored in this presentation. It was both a dark and “uplifting” sound, all in one. Each subsequent movement of the Requiem’s music that followed - in a mixture of many different cultures, styles, sounds, rhythms, chants, beats, and vocal repetitions - appealed to the very basic human part of me. I was transported to a meditative, reflective depth that only music is able to create for me.

I wanted to close my eyes, and I did, but I had to open them also, to watch the faces of the vocalists who begged me to join them in their similar experiences of the music. The intentional juxtaposition of a variety of instrumental sounds, cross-cultural percussion rhythms and the inspired blended harmony of the vocalists created for me a visual introspection of the reality and inspiration behind this superb work. Juanita Harris’ vocal power, commanding presence and unique timbre added greatly to the Gloria and Summer Latimer’s deceptively simple evocation of the Lacrimosa made its Irish folk style intensely personal and moving. Choral Project singers Mike Fotinakis and William Mathews both did wonderful jobs in their very different solo roles. The “Dies Irae” felt like the first intense “climax point” of the Requiem and from there onwards through the work, the spiritual and musical intensity seemed to build, its emotions washing over us and also through us, completely beyond (or without) our control.

I am a lover of heroes. The afternoon was about that for me - from those heroes who sadly lived the street experience to those heroes who, through their instruments, allowed us to enter into the sad plights, to those heroes who lifted their voices in beauty and solidarity.
The absolute inspiration of the writers and their genius has sent waves of glorious and sensitive sound into the universe and those sounds will not be stopped. We are all better for this performance having happened. All of us cried together during and at the conclusion of the program. For me there was a very strong sense of ‘there go I but for the mercy of God’ mixed with a celebration of the unique human spirit and a call to respond and act. I have been changed; it will not be taken from me.

Catherine Heck for LFL Reviews
February 2017

<![CDATA[LFL REVIEWS PLATFORM: Soli Deo Gloria ]]>Tue, 20 Dec 2016 17:07:39 GMThttp://listenforlife.org/lfl-blog/lfl-reviews-platform-soli-deo-gloriaLFL REVIEWS PLATFORM: SOLI DEO GLORIA

This time of year usually provides (thankfully!) an abundance of live music programs – from “Sing-along Messiahs” and choirs to bell-ringing concerts, and from symphonic/ballet collaborations performing the Nutcracker, to holiday jazz programs and street carolers. But it’s probably safe to say that the conductor and composer Allen H. Simon and his internationally touring chorus, Soli Deo Gloria, has offered one of the most distinctive and unusual programs anywhere, during this 2016 holiday music season.

As he explained in his excellent program notes, SDG Artistic Director Allen Simon had, earlier this year, thought he would compose a companion piece to Bach’s familiar cantata Wachet auf (“Wake, awake”) for an Advent program – but as the creative process ensued, the work took on a life of its own, enfolding the Bach cantata seamlessly within a much larger contemporary composition. And his result is, in our opinion, a stunningly unique work of true genius that should hopefully make its way into the choral repertoire. We got to hear one of its two debut performances given earlier this month in Palo Alto and Alameda, California by the SDG and its Orchestra Gloria, along with two vocal soloists.

Maestro Simon’s piece, entitled “Wise and Foolish Virgins”, used Christina Rossetti’s 1858 poem “Advent” (about the Biblical parable of wise and foolish virgins waiting impatiently for their reunion with the bridegroom) as the text for the “non-Bach” segments. He interspersed segments of the Bach cantata (music and text) between eerily matching and relevant segments of Rossetti’s poem (in English), which he then set to music that, while still original and contemporary, completely matched the compositional style of the Bach in a way that made the transitions back and forth between the two composers absolutely seamless (except for the alternation of languages – which was necessary and showed a distinction between the composers’ worlds, in a beautiful way).

Dr. Simon also appears to be a modern master of “word-painting” – creating harmonic changes, melodic shapes, throbbing bass lines and/or rhythmic declamations that make it possible for the listeners to hear and feel the meaning of a word or phrase in the text, intuitively. For just one example: the words “soul for soul” were spun out with great feeling over beautiful cello and bass lines, while the very next phrase, “kindle fire from fire” resulted in vocal writing that made the SDG singers sound very much like dancing flames over a throbbing orchestra.

And both the orchestra and SDG chorus did a tremendous job throughout the single-work concert. Of the chorus, the sopranos were particularly impressive – a good, blended, rich sound (and no screeching on high notes, just sailing over them in big climaxes – that is sometimes hard to achieve in a non-professional chorus - and also in some professional ones, for that matter!) The altos were very solid, the basses can always have more “bass” of course, and the tenors were admittedly the “least blended” of the four sections, with particular voices sticking out even at the back of the hall, particularly on higher passages. But as a chorus, they sang in a very unified manner and came across as being prepared/confident enough to relax and experience the music as they performed it, which again is a rare treat for the listener or audience.

Most of the time, the diction of the singers was quite good as well. A few times, during the early, “thick” fugal textures of the Bach segments, we could see the singers’ mouths moving but not hear what they were singing, but this could have been caused partly by the venue’s acoustics as well. All of the English segments were enunciated very cleanly, projecting over and through the absolutely gorgeous choral harmonies Allen Simon created for the repeated “Behold, the Bridegroom cometh” segments. Every time this “Behold” section returned, it was cast in a completely different sound world, harmonic grouping and phrase shape, which was tremendously impressive.

The composer also created a sense of greater impatience/urgency as the piece progressed, by doing a more and more rapid alternation between the (ever shorter) segments of the Bach and the segments of his own creation in an intense juxtaposition of chords, sounds, lyrics, emotions, and even centuries of time. And even though the result was seamless, and appeared to be joyously effortless for Dr Simon (who is not only a very talented composer but a wonderful conductor), this was obviously a very difficult piece for the singers to learn and to perform – unfortunately, a bit too difficult (in terms of range and pitch-security required) for the two hired soloists. But the SDG choir had clearly worked with great detail, dedication and love for their longterm Artistic Director (Maestro Simon) and the orchestra, also, did a really beautiful job overall, with some impressively-shaped and very moving performances by the four woodwind soloists in particular (Andrea Plesnarski and Tom Nugent on oboe, Max Hollander on English Horn and Dan Zimardi on bassoon).

I left the concert very eager to hear this uniquely creative and harmonically beautiful piece again, soon – it is a moving work that deserves to find its place on many more choral/chamber orchestra programs for future holiday seasons, not only with SDG but anywhere on the globe – I am so glad we got to be there to hear it and experience its debut, this holiday season!

Donna Stoering for LFL Reviews December 2016

<![CDATA[LFL REVIEWS PLATFORM: KITKA Wintersongs LIVE ]]>Sat, 17 Dec 2016 17:31:20 GMThttp://listenforlife.org/lfl-blog/lfl-reviews-platform-kitka-wintersongs-live It would almost be easier to create this review by writing just one word: “PERFECTION” - and leave it at that. But the goal of LFL's review platform is in the sharing of special experiences of live music, to encourage other music lovers to forego your digital listening whenever possible and instead participate in the unifying, nourishing experience of live music concerts, from all cultures and genres. So….here goes:

KITKA is a 9-member, world- renowned, women’s vocal ensemble that states their mission very beautifully in the program booklet: “For 37 years, Kitka’s mission has been devoted to cultivating global community through the practice of cross-cultural song sharing and collective harmony singing. …Our [many] activities all serve a vision of a world in which cultural diversity is celebrated – and human condition is rediscovered – through shared experiences of creativity and beauty”. And that last phrase succinctly describes all of their live concerts, but particularly this current Wintersongs program that they are touring across the Bay Area and beyond.

For the past 16 years (under the inspiring leadership and persistently successful grant-writing of member and executive artistic director, Shira Cion and her longtime vocal and production collaborator, Janet Kutulas), KITKA has been traveling, researching and collecting winter-songs from villages of many different countries and cultures, many of them not written down in any format but passed on through oral traditions in those villages over the centuries. This unique and important work has resulted in a highly popular Wintersongs CD, published songbooks, (used in equally popular annual Wintersong community sing-alongs), and annual Wintersong programs around the holiday season, showcasing some of their vast repertoire, performed in innumerable languages, modalities and vocal styles.

This year’s Wintersongs program was beautifully co-produced by KITKA members Janet Kutulas and Kelly Atkins, and expertly executed/performed by all nine incredible members of KITKA. Most all of them had solo opportunities and it was really striking to hear how very divergent in timbre and style their individual voices really are, because any time the group as a whole sings a unison pitch, it sounds without a doubt as if only one person were singing, and not nine. (Sometimes it sounds like one very loud person, of course, but other times the 9 voices could meld perfectly into the quietest of tones, as if a little child suddenly stood alone on stage, singing mournfully over losing her - or his- way home). And that metaphor was one of the haunting themes of this concert, as explained/announced so beautifully by individual members between their vocal sets. (And speaking of announcements, additional kudos to the born comedian of the group, Janet Kutulas, who has found a natural but hysterically funny way to encourage CD sales during their intermission!)

This year’s Wintersongs program focused on carols and winter songs from Georgia, Romania (Transylvania region), Ukraine, Yiddish traditions, and different regions of Bulgaria. The excellent program notes listed the village or location from where each song derived; the person or group (not always in the same country) that had taught Kitka the song; the arranger of that song for Kitka (sometimes Shira Cion, sometimes not) and the English translation of the lyrics (a total of 17 individuals from many different cultures and countries were listed in the credits for their help with song translations!) This all underscored the success of Shira Cion and her assistants/fellow members in continually carrying out the global, cross-cultural vision of KITKA over all these years, against all challenges (economic and otherwise), when it can be so much easier to rest on previous successes and accomplishments and “call it a day” as so many quality music organizations, in all countries, have done.

And perhaps the most impressive sign of their determination, belief and devoted work is that this group just gets better and better and better. We have heard KITKA perform over many years, and with the normal influx and training of new members that has to happen in a group of this longevity, one could be impressed that they always managed to maintain their already-high level of vocal/ensemble quality that has landed them performances on major radio shows, festivals, and concert stages worldwide. But this Wintersongs 2016 program shows them at a level several steps higher, even - “above and beyond” - not only by their own high standards but also in comparison with more “famous” vocal ensembles of all styles.

The venue for this particular performance was also perfect for making the most of their uniquely spun sound, fabulous overtones, and highly intelligent use of rests that created spaces of light between phrases of almost unbearable beauty. Their “attacks” and “releases” on notes or chords, at all times, were also “as one”. They perform with no conductor and one can only imagine the amount of rehearsal and intuitive knowledge of each other that this requires, with groups of any size, because the group has to adjust and readjust to the acoustics of any space.

KITKA’s individual voices range from “bass” equivalents (that create very successful drone notes), to high sopranos that can, when needed, wail just like the piercing reed instruments of Morocco and Easter Europe. All possible vocal ranges and harmonic combinations were on display in this program, along with their abilities to find extremely difficult pitches (in non-Western tuning) out of thin air; memorize countless vocal lines, rhythms, and words/syllables (in ancient village languages and dialects); maintain tight dissonances at perfect tuning so as to create ethereal overtones; resolve those dissonances into unexpected and unbelievable unisons or new chords, like the seamless turning of an audio kaleidoscope; and to hold long notes….seemingly forever!

Given the number of different countries/cultures/languages included in this magical program, there was a greater variety of tone colors and sound worlds; some of the Yiddish songs were more “classical”, almost, while some of the Eastern European songs had that more nasal, projected “village voice” sound that some fans connect with traditional KITKA style . And some of the songs, like the Bulgarian caroling arrangements, sounded quite contemporary in one way or another - also a pre-Christian healing ritual song from Georgia that opened with perfectly pure sound and overtones stacked in strangely beautiful combinations, creating the eerie sense of electronic/digitally generated pure tone. But that was the dichotomy, because at no time did the “perfection” of the sound and artistry become the least bit technical or take away from the emotional expressivity and total humanity of the performers and the performance.

And that was the overall take-away from this concert – KITKA’s incredibly beautiful ensemble is a perfect mesh of 9 totally different individuals, voices, and personalities each with their own lives and concerns. Through dedication, hard work and listening hearts, they have forged something cross-cultural and peace-building that is way more than the sum of their parts. Their goal is to share their musical gifts to lead people of all countries and cultures to experience that and do the same, building a global village.

So - maybe Invite them to your village! And if your village happens to be the greater Bay Area, catch their remaining Wintersongs performances and events: TONIGHT (December 17th) in San Francisco and January 14th in Gualala, and a Wintersongs Community Sing in Oakland on December 18th (this Sunday).

Donna Stoering for LFL Reviews December 17, 2016

<![CDATA[LFL REVIEWS: THE DYBBUK, A Chamber Opera ]]>Fri, 30 Sep 2016 17:42:35 GMThttp://listenforlife.org/lfl-blog/lfl-reviews-the-dybbuk-a-chamber-operaA recent and important discovery in the musical world was put on display on the USA’s West Coast for the very first time last weekend without any real fanfare, but its unveiling ultimately caused a seismic stir among musical cognoscenti and audiences, alike. So attention, Performing Arts presenters! The Dybbuk, a uniquely powerful chamber opera with a small but stunning, irreplaceable cast, is ready to visit any city or country near you, so act fast to snap up this totally portable, multimedia production.

The Dybbuk chamber opera and play is a brilliant new adaptation of a beloved Yiddish theater production by Sh. Ansky, under the same title. The play is based on the Jewish notion of a dybbuk, a ghost that comes back to inhabit a living person’s body in order to finish some unfinished business in this world. Nearly 100 years later, in 2008, this musical re-working of the treasured story was created by composer Ofer Ben-Amots (born in Israel in 1955), developing the plot into a circular vision of past, present and future for the characters while also creating commentary on several contemporary themes and assumptions in our society.

Ofer Ben-Amots’ works, recorded on numerous labels and performed/premiered by countless major orchestras, frequently interweave folk elements with contemporary textures and imaginative orchestration, “creating the haunting dynamic tension that permeates and defines his musical language” as the program notes aptly described. And yet, those words don’t at all manage to convey the raw, moving, emotional power of what one feels when hearing his modern but achingly expressive music being performed by the two stars on the stage: famed Israeli soprano Ronit Widmann-Levy, as Leah the bride, and her deceased bridegroom, who can no longer speak to her in human words, so comes back to inhabit her body and dialogues with her via musical phrases – all performed (while shadowing Leah’s every move onstage) by the fabulous clarinetist Kliment Krylovskiy.

In the original play by Sh. Ansky, the bridegroom was played by an actor, but Ben Amots’ inspiration of putting his voice into a “beautiful wailing clarinet” - the instrument of Yiddish expression - was nothing short of genius. But it was also risky, in that the contemporary writing, while flowing naturally, is nevertheless very difficult for both the soprano and clarinet parts, and not all singers or clarinetists who could pull off the technical demands of the score would necessarily have, in addition, the dramatic instincts, courage, emotional stamina and acting skills to make this production a success, let alone such a triumph. Both Ronit Widmann-Levy and Mr Krylovskiy are so superb in all respects that one can truly not imagine anyone else, ever, as alternatives in their roles.

There is a very palpable sexuality, both musically and physically, in the relationship between Leah and her deceased lover/bridegroom, following her body wherever she goes on stage, caressing or cajoling her through his clarinet. They dance (as a small onstage band of musicians, led by the opera’s composer, accompanies them) and Leah is torn – she misses him terribly, and is being forced to marry someone else now, due to their culture and customs, but at the same time she doesn’t want to be “inhabited” and taken over by someone else – she wants to be herself. Projected screenshots and media works shape and add to the emotive story and simple props. The ending is a surprise, painful but satisfying nonetheless.

The part of Leah is an absolute "tour de force" - and essentially a 90 minute (no intermission) “one woman show” - perfectly suited to Ms Widmann-Levy’s considerable acting skills and vocal range. It is also a very physical role, requiring her to faint hard to the floor one moment, thrash about violently in another, and dance seductively in another. All the while, her sense of pitch is never erring, and her confident vocal techniques and wide range of colors never elude her even during the most divergent alternations of mood and expression. Her performance, focused concentration and incredible stamina were all the more impressive because Ronit Widmann-Levy was also very involved, on a time-consuming basis, in making this production happen (hosted at the Palo Alto, California JCC).

There are many social norms and cultural attitudes intentionally brought out into the light by this production, to be examined and discussed by contemporary audiences, perhaps. But it is certain that the longer-lasting memories (and discussion) will be of the sheer power and beauty of this unique chamber opera, and its three main stars – the soprano, the clarinetist, AND the brilliantly expressive composer, who has created a treasure for generations to come. (Maybe when Ms Widmann-Levy and Mr Krylovskiy are gone, they too can come back and inhabit the bodies of the next artists to perform their roles!). There is a distinct and important (and comparatively inexpensive!) opportunity here, for arts presenters worldwide. Audiences everywhere deserve (and need!) to hear this uniquely beautiful and powerful new work, performed by these specific artists. We, as reviewers, cannot very well urge audiences to “go hear this!” if it is not being produced, so we very much hope that some venues will take up this “challenge” as a service to music and to what is best in our humanity.

by Donna Stoering, September 30, 2016
<![CDATA[An Aural Vision for Music and its Mission in the World: the story of the Listen for Life movement]]>Mon, 12 Sep 2016 17:45:11 GMThttp://listenforlife.org/lfl-blog/an-aural-vision-for-music-and-its-mission-in-the-world-the-story-of-the-listen-for-life-movement In recent years neurologists, sociologists, psychologists, and other experts have been offering humanity a wealth of research papers, Podcasts, TEDx talks and best-selling books, all extolling the proven effects and impact of music – on our brains, our moods, our study habits, and our behaviors. For a lifelong professional musician like myself, this of course is all very exciting, because it takes natural “cause and effect” connections that my colleagues and I have always “known” or sensed to be true, and then explains those effects to others in real, scientific terms. We are now able to see graphs and brain-scans showing what happens in the different regions of the brain, nervous system, and heart upon hearing different beat patterns and tones, regardless of the country or culture in which we reside.

Within the Listen for Life movement, we rejoice over the public interest in all of this developing knowledge about music and its effects on our individual brains, bodies and spirits – but we then add another layer of goals and another set of questions. If our music-listening choices make such a proven difference for us as individuals - lowering blood pressure, opening the heart/emotions to more easily identify with others’ feelings, and increasing receptivity in the brain to hear alternative viewpoints or solutions - why not harness that power of music to enable cross-cultural communication across all of humanity, particularly between warring factions, thus creating an almost subconscious, internal “dialogue of souls” without the need for divisive words – couldn’t this be at least a positive and genuine tool for peace-building? Fortunately, we have been invited by U.N. organizations in Geneva to design a variety of LFL projects around the planet, to test this possibility, and we have found that music does indeed have tremendous (largely untapped) power and potential – both positive and negative – in humanity’s constant battle for peace, whether that concept of peace be global or regional, and physical or spiritual.

First, a little background: I founded Listen for Life (www.listenforlife.org) in London in 1998, while I was an Artist in Residence at Oxford University (St Edmund Hall) and serving as an Artistic Ambassador for both the USA and UK to countries worldwide. Traveling to countries both rich and poor for speaking, teaching and performance engagements I was often featured on their local and national television networks, so would be recognized and stopped on the streets by musicians and music listeners alike, pleading with me to help them “save” their own music cultures from extinction. In every country I heard the same repeated tales, of master musicians giving up and switching careers because of an inability to support their families, make a difference with their gifts, or share their cultures and instruments on pop-driven media. I heard about long-cherished musical instruments in villages that no one alive remembered how to play – the masters had died, and younger generations had not seen the purpose or potential of investing the time to learn and carry on their unique tradition. And subsequent research with ethnomusicologists confirmed that indeed, we were losing music cultures around the globe at the rate of 5 per year. So, Listen for Life was initially founded to create alternative music-media content (such as our award-winning cross-cultural series, www.travelswithmusic.com) and channels that could “bring the music of the world to each community while bringing their music and culture to the world”.

This vision also encouraged the master musicians of each society not to give up in despair, because they could at last feel a sense of purpose, both individually and culturally, while re-discovering a belief in their own potential to contribute and make a difference in the world through their gifts. And that is the critical point. Through the years, Listen for Life volunteers in over 55 countries worldwide have initiated projects using music as a positive force to address a number of regional issues (conflict resolution, humanitarian crisis, international education initiatives, sound healing, cross-cultural music festivals to build peace, refugee care centers, music in hospice and hospitals, etc) and we have learned that the very power and potential of music itself is unlimited, IF our societies will enable, inspire and empower the musicians themselves to make that difference in their own corners of the world, through their gifts.

If we recognize that music is indeed a powerful tool for peace-building and a channel for communication, both spiritually and culturally, then it follows that we must first recognize and inspire the musicians who create, embody or perform this “intentional” music, helping them to realize the responsibility (and opportunity!) that goes with their gifts. Currently, we do not see this happening, so it has become a new focus of the Listen for Life movement (which is open to all music listeners and musicians worldwide). I believe that all “born musicians” are also born with a need to serve and a desire to share their gifts in a way that will bring about peace, healing and reconciliation. I know that I was – and I also know I am not unique. But if such musicians are in life situations where they can’t share their gifts (or feel no purpose in doing so), they lose their fire and hope, and they either quit playing/singing completely OR they succumb to the easier, quicker lure of doing commercial music, making much-needed income through the empty creation of music and lyrics that are uninspired, un-nourishing, or even damaging to cultural attitudes and peace-building.

As with any other tool, music can be used for the good or the bad. Our global community, especially at this time, cannot afford this waste of life, gifts, and potential amidst the ongoing challenges for peace. But many of our talented, trained musicians are not aware of music’s potential as a tool and they are not raised to have a heart of service or a realization of such great power in their gifts. So Listen for Life is endeavoring to organize retreats for musicians of all cultures, faiths and music styles to come together, be re-charged and inspired, and then be given opportunities back in their own communities to make a very real difference, through their gifts and through their exchange of cultures. The power of this cross-cultural communication happens in the silence “between the notes”: when one culture or thought is expressed, and then another in return from a second musician or group, it is the vibrations created, mixed and blended in that space of time between the two expressions that opens the hearts and neurological pathways towards new understandings, from which peace can grow. As one music-listener friend commented to me just recently, “everything that happens in music happens in life, and vice versa – the stops, the starts, the highs, the lows, the new beginnings, the unexpected chords, the reconciliations…music is life, and what better prayer or pathway for creating peace?“ - which is exactly why our movement is called “Listen for Life” – we encourage each other to listen, intentionally, for the life-giving nourishment and inspiration to be found in the music of all styles, genres and cultures. We are an all-volunteer, global family of music listeners (that’s just about all of us, right?) working together with performers, educators and producers to restore music’s power as a positive tool for personal (and universal) peace-building through cross-cultural communication, and projects that make a difference. Join us, online, help us identify master musicians with a heart of service in your own culture (whom we can promote and encourage) and if you wish we can also help you create a LFL project to address a specific need in your own community as well.

Donna Stoering September 12, 2016
Email: dstoering@gmail.com




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<![CDATA[SF Opera's Jenůfa glows with radiant performances (review excerpt)]]>Wed, 15 Jun 2016 17:12:12 GMThttp://listenforlife.org/lfl-blog/sf-operas-jenfa-glows-with-radiant-performances-review-excerpt If you need an overwhelmingly powerful excuse for including San Francisco in your summer travel itinerary, then buy your tickets now for SF Opera’s tremendous production of Jenůfa, but travel soon – the final performance is 1st July!

[Below is the first paragraph of a review, written by LFL Founder Donna Stoering for bachtrack, of SF Opera's production of Janáček's opera Jenůfa. The full review is at:

If one had to describe this production of Jenůfa in a single word, it would be: glowing – which might seem rather ironic, given that Frank Philipp Schlössman's sets consist of gray stones of various sizes and shapes, amidst the drably rustic, exaggeratedly high wooden walls of a mill. But the musical, insightful conducting of Czech Philharmonic’s Music Director Jiří Bělohlávek created a glowing inner light right from the initial notes of the prelude. And when the curtain rose on the opening moment of this moving story, many in the audience gasped at the realism of the radiant yellow-gold light (thanks to the genius of renowned lighting designer Gary Marder) that was emanating from the image of a grain field projected on the stage backdrop. Indeed, throughout the entire production, the lighting effects helped every scene, every singer, and every emotive arc in the score to positively glow with life, even amidst the gray world of the characters, imprisoned within the psychologically high mill walls.

Read the entire review at:
<![CDATA[LFL REVIEWS: “Earthsongs” by The Choral Project]]>Fri, 10 Jun 2016 17:50:56 GMThttp://listenforlife.org/lfl-blog/lfl-reviews-earthsongs-by-the-choral-project Review of The Choral Project, “Earthsongs” program, Sunday, June 5, 2016 at Mission Santa Clara, California

It was hard to miss the anticipation in the air of the faithful followers in the audience of The Choral Project concert today. Having never heard them before, I sat in my seat, still a bit weary from the performance of my own music students a day earlier. Then Daniel Hughes stepped in front of a handsomely clad choir and raised his arms. In an instant, the choir unleashed a joyful, bright opening phrase of the piece: One By One from The Lion King, sending me into two hours of bliss. The energy, spirit and amazing discipline of the choir became a carriage transporting the audience through pieces of many cultures and musical styles using music as a means to bring knowledge, healing and to bring the vision of a unified mankind.

The audience was gifted by hearing the world premiere of a piece written by the director (Daniel Hughes) entitled Prayer to the Celtic Moon. The beautifully layered modal themes stretched heartstrings delivering sentiment, a touch of sadness, and a sense of gratitude as if the lyrics were written for each individual present. The composition honored the simplicity of a Celtic style while bringing in impressive harmonies and dynamic contrasts keeping the piece interesting, intriguing and making me wish that Mr. Hughes would write an entire series of Celtic choral compositions.

The Choral Project performance also included "choirography" that was perfectly timed, with precise movements adding visual and percussive support to many pieces making them come more alive. Especially in their final piece, Wana baraka - a Kenyan folk song that sent blessings, peace, joy, and life to the audience – the beautifully shaped hand movements somehow created a visual vessel for their equally beautiful voices, and both the physical motions and the vocal sounds seemed to be springing forth in a unified, organic whole from the heart and soul of each individual in the chorus. It was spine-tingling and tear-producing.

Today was the day that I transitioned from a Choral Project newbie to one of the faithful followers of their future performances.

-Veronica S. Vitale, for Listen for Life Reviews

<![CDATA[Alan Gilbert and the NY Phil score big in San Francisco (review excerpt)]]>Tue, 10 May 2016 17:35:41 GMThttp://listenforlife.org/lfl-blog/alan-gilbert-and-the-ny-phil-score-big-in-san-francisco-review-excerpt[Below is the first paragraph of a review, written by LFL Founder Donna Stoering for bachtrack, of the recent San Francisco concert by the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Alan Gilbert . The full review is at:

Sibelius' Valse triste was the totally appropriate encore performed by the New York Philharmonic Orchestra following the prolonged, vociferous standing ovation they received from an overwhelmed audience of concert goers in San Francisco, all of whom were very sad to see this spectacular display of orchestral technique, musicality and ensemble come to an end.
Read the entire review here.