“The real story is about spontaneous expression, and it is therefore a spiritual and a psychological story rather than a story about the technique of one art form or another.” Stephen Nachmanovitch (*1)
I was lucky to grow up in a quite musical environment. In fact, my best childhood memories all relate to music. I was first exposed to classical music. The composers who have inspired me the most include the French Impressionists Debussy and Ravel, Poulenc and Fauré (primarily their vocal music), Satie and Messiaen (“Visions de l’Amen, for 2 pianos). Of course, as a piano major, I played a lot of the classical and romantic repertoire like Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin, Schumann, Rachmaninoff and Liszt. As a teenager, I discovered Scriabine whose advanced harmony and metaphysical concepts of music fascinated me. On the other hand, I was drawn by Bartok’s rhythmic ideas and Albeniz and Piazzolla’s exotic flavor. Later, I became very interested by Stravinsky, as well as Samuel Barber and William Bolcom.
Very early in my life, I had a deep sense of belonging to the world of music. I remember my very strong desire to play the piano. I always say that music is the only everlasting love story of my life, and the piano my true love. Not that it was always easy; in fact, there have been many storms and crises.
At age 25, I felt that making music had to have another meaning than the one that was given to me by a world of competition and judgment. Seeking a new connection to music, I left the Conservatory for a sabbatical year. I then went to the U.S. to try out jazz and improvisation searching for liberation and freedom of expression.
The Jazz pianists that have influenced me include Keith Jarret, Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock, Kenny Barron, Bill Evans, Ahmad Jamal, Jacky Terrasson, and Brad Meldhau. In the realm of teachers and mentors, Art Resnick, Richie Beirach, and William Allaudin Matthieu were especially important for me. I learned a lot from their sophisticated sense of harmony and innovative approach to composition. Art was the first one to encourage me to compose, Richie the first one to value my compositions. With Allaudin I discoverd the profond and fascinating meaning of harmony (cf. “The Harmonic Experience”) and his works fusing Jazz, Classical, Indian and North African music are still a great inspiration to me. Other Jazz musicians who inspire me include Miles Davis, Wayne Shorter, Stan Getz, Gil Evans, and vocalists such as Ella Fitzgerald, Bessie Smith, Sarah Vaughan, Carmen McRae, Betty Carter, Cassandra Wilson, and Shirley Horn.
In addition to Jazz and Classical music, I have been listening since my early teens to Arabic and African music; and I have always been very drawn to these cultures. Never would I have dreamed then that I could actually participate myself as a pianist in such music, given the circumscribed nature of my musical environment. But when I arrived in New York those barriers also broke, thanks to my meeting with Ramzi Moufarej and Bassam Saba, and the creation of Myriade. Being in New York, I had to get into Salsa a little as well which besides being total fun, helped my sense of rhythm tremendously. My trip to Argentina in 2000 got me to put my fingers (and feet!) into Tango for a minute.
However, I really liberated myself through composing. Getting rid of the labels of Classical, Jazz, Salsa, Middle Eastern, and Tango, I just composed and it came out as “my music”. Whatever it was called didn’t matter. It was my connection with it that counted. It is through composition that, combining all these influences, my own musical language and identity started to emerge as I began to understand on a deeper level that the meaning of music making was not to be found anywhere else than within myself.
I have talked mainly about my relationship to the piano and to composition, but I must also talk a little about the singing part of my life, which followed entirely another track than the piano. I am as untrained and natural vocally, as I was trained and conditioned pianistically. As far as I can remember, I have always been singing, with my family, harmonizing with my sister, on my bicycle… Then I sang in choirs, and even more seriously when I joined the choir of the University of Strasbourg.
We were selected to participate as the French chorus at the festival, Choruses of the World which toured the Eastern United States. That trip was the seed for my return to the US on my own seven years later. The feeling of singing in the middle of this enormous choir composed of some twelve choirs of thirty chorists, accompanied by the Philadelphia Philhamonique Orchestra for Beethoven 9th for instance, was such a contrast with the solitude of piano playing! It was my only way at the time to make music with other people and get a sense of communication and of being part of an organic entity. Immersed in an ocean of voices, creating music together, literally breathing together, is an unforgettable, exhilarating and quite addictive feeling. It is also through this choir that I discovered Francis Poulenc’s choral music which had a major impact in my life. When I returned to the U.S., I began to sing Jazz. After a few years, as a way to reconnect with my roots, I started to interpret French songs arranged in my own Jazz versions that led me to the Frédérique’s Trio concept. Now I find my voice wanting to get out of the limited role of delivering a text; and, I’m starting to experiment by using it more like an instrument while finding new inspiration in Indian Raga and Middle Eastern singing
My inspirations other than purely musical – though to me it is all music…- involves water a lot, with quite a fascination for the sea and the ocean, also the wind, the earth, and nature, wide open spaces…Then of course, I am always thrilled by traveling to discover new territories and cultures. In fact, I’d like to think of my whole life as an endless voyage…
My first conscious musical aspiration was using music as a means to communicate with the outside world. As a child, I often isolated myself and dreamt of communicating with music what I wasn’t able to express in words. My search to establish that connection was first through playing – which still seems to me the most heartfelt and intense by that direct contact on stage – and then through composing. Which ever it is, I wish to bring to people something they can take with them and keep: a comfort, a peace, a joy, a sparkle of life, as this is what music does to me, and I hope to pass it on to others. “When you hear music that you enjoy, it tunes you and puts you in harmony with life.” Hazrat Inayat Khan (*2)
In the course of my musical life I, of course, also discovered the joy and profound satisfaction to communicate music by teaching it, and I was lucky that way to go through a very wide and varied experience, in private and in musicschools, with students of all backgrounds, levels, and ages. In fact I learned just as much from them than they learned from me!
My connection with music is the deepest I have in my life, and I want to share it with people. That connection happens on many different levels: between me and music, me and another composer (if I am the interpreter), me and the public, and also between me and the musicians I’m playing with, and the people who play my music and people who listen to my music, in concert or on CD, sharing a moment outside of their daily worries and the business of their individual lives.
Ultimately, it then becomes a means of bringing people together as well.
What recurs as a leitmotiv throughout my musical evolution and history is my yearning towards reunion, fusion, mix of cultures, sounds, traditions, and styles, as well as the exploration of unusual instrumental combinations, in that same desire of achieving reunion and abolishing as many barriers as possible. It became more and more clear that, for me, it is a matter of reunifying all of those influences, heritages, and interests into my own unique language in order to create a sense of union and peace within myself first. Expanding that concept beyond myself, I aspire, by offering an image of openness embracing all the colors and diverse sources in my music, to create peace in my own corner of the world. I would like to think, as does the Sufi master Hazrat Inayat Khan, that “Music alone can be the means by which the souls of races, nations and families, which are today so apart, may one day be united.” (*2); and I share W.A. Mathieu’s vision that “Someday it will be time to make the First World Piece… Man, woman, and child, everyone living, will be part of the same musical intention resounding around the world, a Yes Mass, a Global Symphony”…”Maybe it will be the first of many affirming actions by a united humanity.” (*3)
The concept of fusion is more a product of my writing (composition and arrangement), while the part of my music that connects me to people and people together happens in the vivid and magical moment of performance.
I chose music at too young an age to have had an awareness of any of these concepts and aspirations. In many ways it didn’t seem much of a choice, I was simply but irresistibly drawn into it and have since then slowly been discovering the many layers of that merely intuitive decision. But, intuition might be a higher state of intelligence, and what I was connected with in my youth might have been the innocent knowledge of a truth I am still unveiling today.
Music is the means by which I am making this internal voyage to the self. It is what connects me to my higher self and deepest truth, because it is through music that I access to the creative energy and source, the divine within me. I had to break away from my religious education in order to find my own relationship to the sacred. I can finally reconnect now with that spiritual dimension in my music. These thoughts, still evolving in me, are difficult to express, touching the edge of what is describable in words…(and it is why precisely I have chosen to express them in music instead). But many people have voiced them before me. Here are a few of the most meaningful to me.
“…”The creative process is a spiritual path. This adventure is about us, about the deep self, the composer in all of us, about originality, meaning not that which is all new, but that which is fully and originally ourselves.” Stephen Nachmanovitch (*1)
“It is not by worrying for days together that one can composes a piece of music … It is by focusing his mind to the divine mind that, consciously or unconsciously, man receives inspiration. It comes to an artist as if his hand was taken by someone else, as if his eyes were closed, his heart was open.” Hazrat Inayat Khan (*2)
“Inspiration may be a form of super-consciousness, or perhaps of sub-consciousness- I wouldn’t know. But I am sure that it is the antithesis of self-consciousness.” Aaron Copland
“For Art to appear, we have to disappear “…” When we experience inspiration, be it in love, in invention, in music, in writing, in business, in sport, in meditation, we are tuning into this ever-present, ever-changing environment of information about the deep structure of our world, this ever flowing Tao.”…” Stephen Nachmanovitch (*1)
Buddhists call this state of absorbed, selfless, absolute concentration samadhi. Not that it is a question of a particular religion, but it definitely has to do with something beyond us. The world of music has become so “star-oriented”, so much about impressing, competition, ego trips, stars and heroes…I feel that we all need to heal from it and rediscover the real meaning of music.
We must rediscover the fundamental purpose of music and all art which is to nourish the soul and reconnect us to our divine selves. Reconnecting with our divine selves also reminds us that we are all part of the same divine essence. I believe it is the purpose and mission of any art form and every artist.
“Like loving someone, commitment to the creative art is commitment to the unknown – not only the unknown but the unknowable.” Stephen Nachmanovitch (*2)
” Music does resist definition. It seems to want to be able to form itself according to where it goes and the work it does and the energies it conjoins. That’s okay, we don’t need a definition to be able to do something.” W.A. Mathieu (*3)
And I would like to leave you with this question W.A. Mathieu formulates it :”What would your life sound like if it were a piano concerto?”
*1 Stephen Nachmanovitch,Free Play: The Power of Improvisation in Life and the Arts
*2 Hazrat Inayat Khan,The Mysticism of Sound and Music
*3 W.A. Mathieu, The Musical Life http://www.coldmountainmusic.com/