Tag Archives: Clips

A Present for You – Music and Video – Brouwer’s Etude No. 1

For all of you who have donated to A Life’s Work, read the blog, liked the Facebook page, left a comment somewhere, or supported me and my work in some way, here’s a wee present for you — Leo Brouwer’s Etude No. 1. Hope you like it.

Video shot by photographer and friend Peter LaMastro.

Special thanks to the awesome Kate Schutt, who re-introduced me to this piece.

If you’re new here, you should know this blog is about a documentary film, A Life’s Work, currently in post production. The director, David Licata, who also plays classical guitar, invites you to support the film. In addition to monetary help (the portal accepts $5 to $50,000), there are many ways you can support A Life’s Work. Why not consider being a part of  the film’s growing community?

Want more classical guitar music?

Listen Up! A Clip featuring the SETI Institute’s Jill Tarter

Last week’s post, Please Forget Me, inspired a comment from friend and A Life’s Work subject Robert Darden:

I teach my Journalism students that they need to be invisible when they do interviews. I don’t want them to speak much and I sure don’t want the interviewee to know their political or religious views. In fact, I don’t know what any of the good reporters I’ve interviewed through the years think about such things … including the ones I see regularly. Their job is to get out of the way of the interview, to let the interviewee speak.

This reminded me of a comment left on How to Conduct an Interview, Part 2: Asking the Questions by friend and one of A Life’s Work’s cinematographers, Andy Bowley:

i think rule #1, to listen is supremely important. if you are listening — really listening and thinking over what the person is saying to you, they can really sense it. and if you’re doing it right, you should be listening and thinking. i mean you’ve got a lot to think about: you should be cutting their sound bites in your head, evaluating their ideas/stories for clarity, and maybe most importantly, letting your natural curiosity push you towards the next question. it’s nice to tell your interview subject that you’re just having a conversation — but if you ask questions that satisfy your curiosity or that clarify something — guess what? you really are having a conversation!

best of all, when you work this way your natural listening responses (nodding, smiling, scribbling, eyebrows whatever) tell that person that you are with them. no fake nodding necessary . . .

This in turn reminded me of an exchange I had with Jill Tarter of the SETI Institute. Why, I asked, is the Institute only listening for signals, and not sending them? What if everyone is just sitting around listening? (This is a hot topic in the SETI community.) She responds in this outtake.

What do you think? Should we be transmitting messages as well? And what should that message say? Write your thoughts in the comment box. I love hearing from you.

Keeping Up with Robert Darden and the Black Gospel Music Restoration Project

In December 2013 the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture announced that it would be welcoming into its collections recordings from the Black Gospel Music Restoration Project, yes, the project started up by Robert Darden and featured in A Life’s Work. Big news. I asked Robert if he’d share how this came to pass. Ever the gentleman, he agreed to a mini interview. 

How and when did this come about? Who contacted whom?

Passing a 45Kathy Wright, then a Baylor development officer (now a regent), encountered former First Lady Laura Bush in Washington D.C. and, in the course of the conversation, told her about the Black Gospel Music Restoration Project (BGMRP). Mrs. Bush, who is on the board of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History & Culture (NMAAHC), currently in progress on the Mall in Washington D.C., was intrigued with our work and shared the information with someone at the NMAAHC. They contacted us in Fall 2011 and invited us out to speak with them. Tim Logan (VP for IT at Baylor) and I flew to D.C. and made a presentation. Apparently, they liked what they heard.

What does this mean for the parties involved? Will the BGMRP continue its work at  Baylor? 

For the NMAAHC, this means they have immediate access to the largest digitized collection of rare black gospel vinyl in the country. How they are going to use that access is still a work in progress. At one point, the NMAAHC was planning to move an intact African American record shop from Philadelphia into the building. Visitors would have the total experience, complete with thousands of soul, R&B, blues, and gospel LPs and 45s. Somehow, there will be a link on the vinyl that will allow visitors to listen to the music, perhaps through their cellphones, perhaps through headphones. All of that is still being decided.

From the BGMRP, nothing changes. We will continue our quest to locate, identify, acquire (through loan or donation), clean, catalogue, and digitize America’s fast-vanishing legacy of gospel vinyl from the 1940s through the 1960s.

Our biggest challenge now is how to make that music more widely available, though the constraints of modern copyright law. It is currently available for scholars, but the general public can only hear 30 seconds of each song, save for those individual songs we’ve cleared through copyright control and have made available for free on iTunesU.

Robert Darden with Deacon Burton.
Robert Darden interviews Deacon Reuben Burton in Chicago for his book.

Will your role change?

For me, nothing changes. I’ll still teach at Baylor. I’ll still work on Nothing But Love in God’s Water: The Influence of Black Sacred Music on the Civil Rights Movement, Volume II for Penn State University (Vol. I should come out in mid- to late 2014). The connection with the NMAAHC gives us wider visibility and, hopefully, more access to their experts. I will continue to be the “face” of the BGMRP. For the future, I would love to explore with them the options of making this music even more available, perhaps through the Smithsonian’s Folkways Records.

What does this mean for gospel music and what do you think it means for the public at large?

For gospel music and the public at large, this partnership is another step in insuring that this irreplaceable musical and historical treasure is preserved for all time. This is the foundational music of all American popular music. Every step, hell — every piece of vinyl — is important, perhaps essential to understanding not only the history of music in America, but the history of African Americans.

If someone had told you on February 14, 2005 the day before The New York Times ran your OpEd, that all of this would transpire, would you have believed them?

First, I didn’t believe that the by-God  The New York Times would actually RUN my little rant. They receive hundreds of submissions a week. I had no expectations, no plans. I was angry and hurt and wanted to vent in the biggest forum in the world. If I had any secret wishes, I don’t remember them … although I may have hoped that somehow some record industry exec would read it, be shamed, and release some of the music they’ve got stockpiled.

So, no. I wouldn’t have believed any of this would have happened.

When the OpEd actually was published, I couldn’t believe that one of the first calls was from the office of Mr. Charles Royce, who wanted to brainstorm on HOW we could save this music. I was in a daze all day.

What do you do for an encore?

I’d like to stay involved with the BGMRP as long as I am physically able. I would like to help insure that every part of the operation is fully funded and endowed so that it is protected from anything that might (God forbid) happen at the university.

We are just starting to acquire the sermon tapes of some of the most famous African American preachers in the country. I would like to save as many of those as possible, particularly those active during the Civil Rights Movement. Most are on cassette tape, which is the absolute worst for preservation purposes.

Finally, my big dream is to raise money for an 18-wheeler with a mobile recording studio (and image-scanning devices) that we could take both the warehouses of the big collectors who have said we could digitize their materials (but that they won’t allow them to be mailed) and to the parking lots of the great African American churches in Chicago and Birmingham and open them up to the public. I’d say, “If there is black gospel vinyl in your attic, let us digitize it RIGHT HERE AND RIGHT NOW. We’ll give it back to you AND give you a CD or MP3 of it. If you’ve got photos of grandma posing at church with Sam Cooke or Dorothy Love Coates, we’ll scan and digitize it RIGHT HERE AND RIGHT NOW and give you the original and a scan back!”

Thanks, Bob!

Here’s a clip from A Life’s Work of Bob explaining why so much of this music is missing.

Win a CD Comp Full of Killer Gospel Music Guitar Tracks

We have a winner! Congratulations to M.E. Hope.
The contest is officially over.

Here’s a clip Robert Darden of the Black Gospel Music Restoration Project. He mentions some recording artists.

The first person to leave a comment on the blog correctly identifying the artist mentioned in the clip who also appears in the ad below will receive a CD compilation of guitar-driven, old-school, totally rockin’ gospel songs hand-picked  by me.  This is music that will make you jump out of your seat, raise your arms in the air like you just don’t care, and feel uplifted. Take it from an atheist, this music does a person good no matter what your belief or non-belief system.

Want a hint? The artist is mentioned in the first one minute and ten seconds.

Ready, go! Good luck.
peacock records

Where Soul Music Got Its Soul

In August I had the pleasure of seeing a gospel trio called Como Mamas. They were pretty great, but I was really excited to see the folks who were to take the stage after them: Eddie and Brian Holland of Motown fame. Along with their partner Lamont Dozier, they wrote more soul classics than anyone except perhaps Smokey Robinson. Where Did Our Love Go, Baby Love, I Hear a Symphony, Baby I Need Your Loving, How Sweet It Is (to Be Loved by You)… it’s a long list. The Holland’s recounted the genesis of these songs and Eddie sang excerpts, accompanied by a pianist.

Two highlights: Brian Holland told a story about running into Burt Bacharach in an iHop in L.A., where Bacharach told him I Hear a Symphony was one the greatest pop songs ever. Can you imagine what that must have felt like? One of the greatest songwriters of the 20th century telling you that you wrote one of the greatest songs ever? In an iHop no less?

The other highlight was Eddie Holland’s answer to the moderator’s first question, “What was your musical background?” Eddie said, “Did you hear that group [the Como Mammas] that was just on?   That was it. Sunday. Saturday. During the week. All the time. That’s where the soul comes from. Right there, man. That music.”

But soul music didn’t just get its soul from gospel, it also got a lot of its style. That’s clear from the following one-minute outtake from A Life’s Work, wherein Robert Darden of the Black Gospel Music Restoration Project shares an anecdote. It involves The Temptations, The Mighty Clouds of Joy and how the hit song, “Do You Love Me?” became a Contours song. Bob tells it in his highly entertaining, frenetic, and inimitable way. Enjoy.




Say What?

It doesn’t happen all that often, but every once in a while something like this shows up in my email inbox.


It’s kind of exciting! Someone watched this clip from A Life’s Work on YouTube–

and thought enough about it to write a comment. I went to YouTube to read it.

Fake? Huh?
Fake? Huh?


The only thing I can think of is the commenter is objecting to how old  Jared Milarch says the Methuselah Tree is (close to 5,000 years old), and that perhaps this commenter believes the earth is less old than that. If not that, I haven’t a clue what else could be fake about the clip?

I respond to every positive comment and ignore most negative comments. But this comment has me flummoxed. Part of me wants to engage the commenter because I am curious, but another part of me says don’t ever start  a conversation with someone who communicates in a monosyllable and doesn’t respect capitalization and punctuation.

What do you think I should do?




Films for a More Serene You

I remember reading the review of Terence Malick’s adaption of the James Jones WWII novel, The Thin Red Line. I think the review was favorable, I don’t recall, it was so long ago, but I do remember one word the film critic used: “meditative.” I also remember thinking, that’s code for boring! Still, being a Malick fan at the time, I decided I’d try it. It turned out to be one of the more powerful movie-going experiences I had in my life.

The first half of the film focuses on AWOL Private Witt roaming around an idyllic Pacific Island ruminating about man’s place in the universe. The shots of the landscape, flora, and fauna are spectacular, and these scenes are indeed meditative, in the very best sense of the word. What made the film so powerful was how Malick obliterated that state of mind with the battle scenes that make up the rest of the film. All of that precious beauty we enjoyed earlier? Destroyed. All the noble musings by Private Witt replaced by the brutal actions of war. I was in tears when the U.S. troops stormed the hill and everything and everyone started getting blown to bits.

That kind of juxtaposition doesn’t  happen in A Life’s Work, but I don’t shy away from telling people I intend the film to be a meditative experience. If after watching the film viewers come away feeling like they’ve meditated, I’d be one happy camper.

So, if  you need to recover from the adrenaline rush of the summer blockbusters — all those exploding cities, buildings, cars, and bodies — and you’re perhaps looking for a film that’s a little more … contemplative, I have a few recommendations for you. But first, here’s a minute of calm for you, courtesy of us here at A Life’s Work Central.

Just about anything from Yasujiro Ozu (good starters include Tokyo Story, Late Spring, and Early Summer). Ozu made the same film over and over: quiet, understated family dramas with characters who do not express themselves in a typical Western fashion. The big moments happen off-screen — weddings and deaths, notably — and what we see are the moments in between, the moments we call life: waiting for the train, commuting to work, sitting down to dinner. The most dramatic ending you’ll see in an Ozu film is a character peeling an orange and the peel falling to the floor. It doesn’t sound like much, but in the context of the rest of the film, it’s just as moving as the first battle scene in The Thin Red Line.

Still Walking: A family convenes on the anniversary of the eldest son’s death. Director Hirokazu Kore-eda’s tribute to Ozu (there’s even an Ozu-like shot of a train), the drama here is more ramped up than in an Ozu film, and a character cries, but mostly its quiet, lovely, and melancholy. A contemplation on family dynamics and mortality.

Spirit of the Beehive: Made during the waning days of Generalissimo Francisco Franco’s dictatorship and set during the dawn of his power, this film combines sneaky elision, poetic imagery, and gorgeous cinematography to cast its spell. Shots linger and an air of mystery pervades every scene. I love this film so much I’ve written about it twice for Extra Criticum, here and here.

Heart of Glass: In a Bavarian village in the late 18th century, a glassmaker dies and takes to his grave the secret of his world-renowned and town-sustaining ruby glass. The glass factory owner goes mad trying to discover the formula. And as he goes, so too goes the village. Nothing special there. Except iconoclastic director Werner Herzog decided he would hypnotize the actors before they went before the camera, resulting in a dreamlike, hell, down right somnambulistic film. (You can read my review of the book Every Night the Trees Disappear: Werner Herzog and the Making of Heart of Glass on Filmmaker Magazine‘s website.)

Into Great Silence: Director Philip Gröning spent six months in a monastery in the French Alps filming Carthusian monks, who live isolated from the rest of the world and have taken a vow of silence. No commentary, no music, no effects and shot using only ambient light. We see the daily lives of the monks and a LOT of prayer. The film is so immersive at one point I got up from it without pausing, made a yogurt and fruit concoction, and returned to the film feeling not only guiltless about leaving it, but as if in the preparation of my snack I was in some way taking part in the monk’s daily routine.

Sweetgrass: An austere documentary about modern-day shepherds in Montana as they lead their flock to pasture. The big dramatic moment is a shepherd on his cellphone having a freakout about his loneliness and how much he hates his obstinate sheep. I confess when I watched this film I wasn’t in the mood for it, and it still won me over.

Andrei Rublev: Andrei Tarkovsky. Oh, I can see a certain someone rolling his eyes, but like Into Great Silence, you need to be ready for a different kind of cinematic experience. Andrei Rublev is an invented biography of a 15th century monk and icon painter. It  checks in at 205 minutes, and you COULD watch watch it in a few sittings since the film is broken up into seven distinct chapters, but to appreciate its knock-out ending you really should set aside an evening. And be prepared to be transported to medieval Russia.

Tender Mercies: One of my all time favorite films. Like Ozu’s films, Tender Mercies avoids the big moments. People get married but we don’t see the wedding, people die in a car accident but we’re nowhere near the wreckage. We are at the wake, however, something Ozu wouldn’t show. (Significantly, the big life event we do see is the former country singing star’s baptism.) It’s all small moments, beautifully directed and acted. Screenplay by Horton Foote, directed by Bruce Beresford, and starring Robert Duvall in a performance that’s a study in brilliant understatement.

Thoughts? Care to share your favorite, blood-pressure lowering films? Leave a comment.