Every Australian summer I take the long journey back to New York City, spiritual motherland to Jivamukti Yoga teachers worldwide. I go back to be with my holy teachers, Sharon Gannon and David Life, and to catch up with my extended family of activists, artists and upstarts during the annual Tribe Gathering.
In the summer of 2010/11, I stayed for almost three months to complete the apprenticeship program under the tutelage of Jessica Sage Stickler, ballerina/punk/lover of Tchaikovsky and Chopin. My very concentrated time was spent in a heady combination of teaching with Jessica (sometimes during her weekly live music class), taking as many classes as I could, sneaking off to Smalls Jazz Club a few times a week around midnight, and absorbing the Jivamukti method in the most direct ways possible.
One of these ways is through music; sacred vibration. The jivan muktah (liberated soul) uses music as a means to enlightenment. When we reach this state of cosmic connection, we hear an inner orchestra of divine sound. We can compare these sounds to music we hear in the material world, but the sounds we hear with our inner ear are far more sublime.
It is said that if a person is born with the dharma to be a musician, then their karma is incredible. Because they spend their whole lives refining their ear and therefore are ripe for enlightenment in this lifetime.
I met the classical pianist, Melody Fader (yes that IS her name), in one of Jessica’s classes. She was bright, smiling and had a very graceful practice. Somehow it didn’t surprise me that Melody was creating an album of Chopin pieces; some of them popular, some of them hidden gems.
I’m listening to the album now, in 2012, the year of the maestro’s 200th birthday and am not ashamed to say I’m transported…
Melody came from a music-loving family with her mother playing Bach and Chopin on the piano and her father a gifted pianist-by-ear. The radio was always on the classical station. It was inevitable that Melody would, at five years old, begin piano lessons and at 9, after learning her very first Chopin waltz, decided that music was most definitely her calling.
‘It was Chopin who inspired me to become a pianist’, the Juilliard graduate explains. ‘Chopin to me is the most beautiful expression of the human soul…I feel it is my duty, since I have the skills and training, to keep the music of the masters alive.’
I’ve personally always thought it takes great courage to play Chopin. There is so much bravado in his music, and the technique required to pull it off is significant. All that AND expression? As Robert Schumman once famously remarked, Chopin’s music is like ‘guns buried in flowers’. Quite often, young pianists with something to prove forsake the flowers for the guns. But not Melody.
Her take on the Raindrop Prelude is an aching study of tension release. Her version of the Fantasie Impromptu gives this well-known piece the feeling of spontaneity it craves, fully supported by the technical prowess it requires.
None of the pieces on Melody’s album sound like recreations of past concert greats. They are given new life and yet very much honor the maestro who wrote them. No mean feat.
My favorite little surprise on the album is Prelude op. 28 no. 3 in G. It is a one minute exercise into just how much music is hidden in the left hand. Bravado yes. But sweetness also.
I’m fascinated with the many variations of duplicity Melody manages to balance in each piece. So I had to ask her about how her yoga practice serves her musical life.
‘Yoga has helped me be more calm, less nervous about performing and more confident,’ Melody answers.
‘The more I connect with my inner truth, the more I can connect with all beings’ inner truth… hopefully this enables me to have a direct line from the composer to myself,’ Melody says, completely free of ego. She echoes what many artists feel is their job, that is to be a vessel for the divine.
When this direct connection occurs, Melody says ‘I am able to release it for others to hear’.
I ask Melody who has served as her inspiration and she tells me the great pianist, Artur Rubenstein, whose records her parents played for her from a very early age, and her teacher at Juilliard, Margo Garrett.
‘She inspired me by helping me to trust myself and let the music out’.
I hear this with a little softness in my heart… A vessel, alright.
Although, most definitely a classical pianist, Melody does not restrict her playing to the great classical masters. Recently, upon playing transcriptions of Charles Mingus’s improvisations, Melody heard Chopin’s Ballade in G minor (featured on the album) with fresh ears.
‘That experience helped me to hear how some classical music is also improvisational. After working on the Mingus, I saw Chopin’s G minor Ballade like an improvisation.’
The last time I heard Melody play live was at a private concert – just for me – in an apartment on the Upper West Side. I couldn’t make the main gig so Melody created one for me. She is currently enjoying playing late Beethoven, who she describes as being able to ‘tap into heavenly and earthly elements’ and doing a promotional tour of less private concerts to support the release of her Chopin album.
Here is a short film featuring Melody
Melody can be contacted via her website www.melodyfader.com
and her album can be purchased on iTunes https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/music-of-frederic-chopin/id495296269