I began practicing Bikram Yoga about three years ago. Almost immediately, I noticed the connection between my yoga practice and my violin playing / teaching. As my meditation in yoga grew, so did the similarities between practicing yoga and violin; helping to bring my mind to a place of peace, beauty, and understanding of the universe around me.
Breathing & Bowing
Yoga is the connection between mind and body through the breath. On violin, the more I breathe and connect my body with the music I’m creating, the better I express myself through the instrument. One day during the breathing exercise which begins every Bikram yoga class, I suddenly realized that breathing and bowing are exactly the same movement. I developed a warm-up/meditation exercise to help focus on this movement. It’s based on a 6-count breath called pranayama (translated as “extension of the life force”) which involves expanding and contracting the ribcage to fill the lungs with as much air as possible and then empty the lungs. This exercise has transformed my bowing to become the smoothest it’s ever been. Read more »
I've always had a love and appreciation for classical music. As a violinist, I grew up listening to and playing so many different classical composers. The emotion, themes, layers, and textures of my favorite classical music continuously inspire and comfort me. I also listened to a lot of hip-hop as an adolescent, once I started to really develop my own music taste. The rhythmic drive, lyrical intensity, and intricate layering of sounds appealed greatly to my ear and soul.
I’ve just begun working with The Brooklyn Label, an independent label, whose music really speaks to me.
With a signature sound of rich acoustic elements and lyrical flows not chopped, assembled, or auto-tuned, The Brooklyn Label’s sound captures emotions that can only come through in a live performance. -TBL
This collaboration has been reinforcing my thoughts on bringing my classical experience to playing this music. The similarities between classical music and hip-hop continue to surprise me. Musically, both genres are very broad and encompass so many artists and styles within them, however my favorite pieces/tracks/composers/artists of classical music and hip-hop have so much in common.
Emotion and expression are the first to come to mind. The best classical symphonies, concertos, and chamber music have unbelievable highs and lows. The dynamics and phrasing take me to so many different places, such as in Gustav Holst's The Planets (listen above). My heartbeat and thoughts reflect the expression I hear when listening to a piece like Mars. Whether or not I know what the piece is "about" or what kind of social statement it was making at the time, it means something to me, and takes me on a journey. I hear the incessant percussion and the slow build as more and more instruments enter until finally the entire orchestra is banging out the same powerful 5/4 rhythm. Similarly, I feel that the best hip-hop affects me this way; it takes me on a journey and tells a story. The building of sounds and emotion spark excitement and energy in me when I listen to a track such as Food, Clothes, Medicine by Aesop Rock (listen above). This song creates a fascinating rhythmic intensity through its the use of space and silence which accentuate the beat even more.
Often the most influential artists and composers of these genres are writing their music in response to social and/or political issues of the time. Poverty, oppression, war, and the civil unrest resulting from these hardships are so often the inspiration for both classical pieces and rap lyrics. Gustav Holst's The Planets was written in 1914, and many people think that Mars, the Bringer of War, was a direct response to the fear and harshness associated with the initiation of this World War I. Aesop Rock's Food, Clothes, Medicine is very clear in its lyrics, depicting the harsh realities of poverty and living on the street. The intense rhythmic drive of both of these pieces accentuates the harshness of the stories being expressed through the music.
The layering and textures are what fascinate me about these two genres. In order to really hear all the parts which occur, I have to listen so carefully and often many times over. I try to hear how all the orchestral instruments come together to form an incredible wave of sound in a symphony, or to pick out every intricate lyric and combination of samples which combine to tell a story or express images in a hip-hop track. The first time I looked at the audio waves of a hip hop track laid out on a computer screen, I immediately saw the visual similarity to a classical music score. Here you can see the first page from the score to Mars, as well as a screen shot from a track I’ve been working on with Ah-na of The Brooklyn Label entitled Ghost George Buggy (listen above).
Hip Hop track
Classical music score
As a violinist, I am so happy that my classical training has led me to playing hip-hop. Because of the emotion and wide range of sounds of which the violin is capable, I find myself employing numerous classical techniques to hip-hop music.
I essentially compose somewhat classical violin parts to the often hard, emotionally and rhythmically driven hip-hop tracks that speak to my mind and soul. When I play hip-hop I feel the music so much that I can’t help but let the expression pour through my violin and into the track.
Stay tuned for part 2 of this article! I'm going to go in depth to talk about some of the specific work I'm doing with Brooklyn Label (with video and recordings), and how I've been bringing my classical influence to composing violin parts in their songs.