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Monday, May 17, 2010

Blend of cultural & spiritual music inspires at Houston multifaith chapel

Left to right: Stephanie Phillips, Jodi Roberts,
Randy Granger. Lower left: Rothko Chapel.
(c) respective artists and Rothko Chapel.
This past Saturday my wife and I had the pleasure and honor of being guests at the Rothko Chapel for a special member's concert featuring Randy Granger, accompanied by Jodi Roberts and Stephanie Phillips.
Rothko Chapel is a sanctuary in Houston, open to people of every belief. It is visited by thousands of people from every faith each year, who come to attend the chapel's many events, to meditate, contemplate, pray, worship, or for interfaith fellowship. It's sleek lines and calm environment is inspired by the late abstract expressionist Mark Rothko, whose work there I have written on before.

The intimate setting featured a small stage, table and chairs set up inside the chapel space, covered with rich tapestries and colorful rugs and cloths. Amongst those were set several instruments. Then the three musicians took the stage. Jodi Roberts began standing behind a table of Tibetan bowls. Hitting them gently as their sounds overlapped, the wonderful acoustics of the chapel allowed us to not only hear, but feel the vibrations.

Next Stephanie Phillips played the viola. As with the bowls, the sounds of the viola resonated and penetrated your body such that your eyes close and you are drawn inward, focusing solely on the music. Phillips' style seemed to me almost Romanian, in contrast to the Tibetan sounds just before. Yet at times her method produced something beyond expectations of a viola and sounded almost more like a reed flute.

After that Randy Granger played something that looked like a UFO flying saucer, or two metallic bowls turned on one another - the Hang drum. This instrument was a veritable mini-band on its own, at lease as Granger played it. By that, I mean the variety of sounds from this one object sounded as though at least three instruments would have been needed to produce them. And wonderfully rich sounds they were. Granger also played a variety of Native American flutes.

Granger's rhythms shifted directions and before long all three of these diverse musicians were playing in unison. What would seem an eclectic mix from around the world harmonized together unexpectedly and beautifully. In some of the pieces Granger would also sing.

The first pieces evoked a feeling of life in its abstract sense - a process that marches on, and on, developing and growing. Fittingly, the following pieces in which Granger brought in the flutes were like packs of wolves singing to one another at night. A following piece sounded more like monkeys. It was almost as if each piece moved along the evolutionary path of life on the planet. The chapel's announcement of the concert helps explain the link between the arts, spirituality, and social action with a quote from the Dalai Lama:

"We can never obtain peace in the world if we neglect the inner world and don't make peace with ourselves. World peace must develop out of inner peace. Without inner peace it is impossible to achieve world peace, external peace."

Although these kinds of events have been an excellent fit for the chapel, a private members event was a first for them. The chapel hosted the private concert in appreciation of its members, and intends to do so annually. Members are those who have chosen to support the chapel in its mission of both contemplation and action; in the pursuit of spirituality, human rights, and the arts. A picnic reception under a tent outside the chapel followed the concert.

Information on the Musicians (from Rothko Chapel's website)

Randy Granger is an award-winning New Mexico musician, songwriter and composer, and workshop presenter. His music fuses Native American flutes, the ethereal Hang drum, emotive vocals, and evocative songwriting. Profiled on NPR’s All Things Considered, his music is heard worldwide on radio, satellite, podcasts and Sirius Mystic Soundscapes. Randy Granger tours and performs throughout the United States as a solo artist and with musicians such as Coyote Oldman and R. Carlos Nakai.

Randy Granger's MySpace page

Stephanie Phillips is a composer, violist, and singer who conducts workshops in creative music making and improvisation for people of all ages and musical abilities. She has performed extensively with several Texas symphonies and performance ensembles. She plays diverse styles of music including European classical, jazz, salsa and sacred improvisation. Stephanie holds a B.A. from Oberlin College and a Masters in Music Composition from Texas State University.
Music Inside-Out

Jodi Roberts is a sound healer, spiritual director, and recording artist who uses the sound of Tibetan bowls, temple bells, and Chinese gongs to weave meditative, ceremonial musical experiences. She plays instruments that express the beauty and resonance of nature. She is a graduate of the University of Texas with a degree in cultural anthropology and trained in cross-cultural native ceremony and healing. She lives in Austin and tours throughout Texas.
Sacred Inspiration

I would like to thank Rothko Chapel Executive Director Emilee Whitehurst for inviting my wife and I to this wonderful concert, and encourage you to learn more about the chapel and its events at

Comment, Randy Granger:
Thank you DT. The honor and pleasure was ours.

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