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Spirit & Place: Q&A with David Darling



Spirit & Place wraps up Sunday evening with its 17th annual Public Conversation, bringing together three people whose work and lives each have a little something to do with play.

Jane McGonigal is the celebrated author of the 2011 book Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World. She also works with SuperBetter labs to create alternate reality games designed to countenance and solve social and cultural problems in the real world.

Susan Sparks uses her experience as a former trial lawyer to bolster her skills as both a professional comedian and a senior pastor at Madison Avenue Baptist Church in New York City.

And David Darling is a widely acclaimed cellist and multi-instrumentalist, who, in 1986, founded the non-profit organization Music for People, which seeks to foster a holistic, egalitarian approach to musical performance.

NUVO recently spoke with Darling, who won the Grammy in 2010 in the New Age category for his album Prayers for Compassion.

NUVO: The Spirit & Place mission describes using arts and music to explore “sometimes difficult questions and issues through the process of metaphor.” Does that have any resonance with you?

David Darling: Well, I see my non-profit Music for People as a source for people to find their innate and intuitive behavior toward creativity, toward art, and toward music. We use music by and large because I find it’s one of the easiest mediums to apply to everybody in the same way. So when people begin to rediscover that they can do music because they found drumming or whatever it is, it helps to give them integrity and confidence to continue having something like that in their life.

NUVO: You started Music for People in 1986 in order to promote a “humanistic approach to music.”

Darling: It came out of my experience, first as a public school music teacher, and then as a college teacher, and then as a professional musician giving workshops throughout the world. I was enthused to try to make a company that gave everybody a chance to begin their musical pursuit again in a positive environment with no negativity, with nobody telling them that they didn’t have the right stuff.

NUVO: And Music for People focuses on improvisation.

Darling: There are so many problems sometimes around the learning of music through what we might call the formal way, where you read music on the page. Those things sometimes get in the way of some people who just don’t have that kind of neuro-linguistic system when they’re younger. Improvisation is one of the simplest ways that you can become involved with music because you don’t have to read any notes and your melody can come from your breath, your rhythm comes from your ability to walk. Now we don’t advertise as a certain kind of improvisation, we just say that it’s “free.” We make sure people understand that it’s free — not jazz or anything — it’s just free. So it includes one of the most basic philosophies that has been talked about over the years, that music is actually just sound or sound making, a very holistic approach. We say that music the sound of birds or rivers flowing, the whole world is a musical spectrum.

NUVO: You’ve spoken about the idea of a “birthright to be musical.”

Darling: In the holistic sense, in the most pragmatic philosophy that I know about, the idea of a birthright describes what music is. The way I think about it is that all melodies have tension and release patterns in them, we call it sometimes in the theoretical of music the four-one or the five-one cadence, and every time we breathe we have tension and release as well. I’ve always described that as the perfect musical phrase. So I’ve always said that from birth, even when we’re in the womb and we begin breathing, we’re actually doing music.

I believe music is a form of talking. I see it as a big tent of meaning, and I think it’s important to be very broad about what music really is. It’s not just playing music off a printed page, it’s everything that makes sound in life. There have been many people in recent years that have demonstrated that the voice is the original instrument in a certain way. If you play an instrument it’s okay, but the original one is the voice, and that’s attached to speaking.


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