Thursday, February 27, 2014

Featured Musician: Jan Laurenz

By Dana McClellan

It's taken me awhile to get started on this feature because I really wanted to get it right. I have been a huge fan and supporter of Jan Laurenz from afar, and I am honored to be able to present him to as many people as possible. He is a phenomenal musician, ranked at the top of my list of favorites. I'm hoping you will agree by the time you're finished reading this and listening to some of his tunes. There will be many videos posted here, so you may want to come back and/or create a playlist of your own via YouTube, which is what I have done. Every time he comes out with a new video, I add it to my playlist. A playlist I listen to over and over again.

I can't remember exactly how I stumbled across Jan Laurenz. I think I was searching for "Chapman Stick" videos on YouTube and as fate would have it, clicked on one of the Alto Stick videos he had posted at the time. I was astounded. The way I describe him when I'm sharing his videos is like this, "If it can be plucked or hammered, this guy can play it and play it well." I believe him to be a master musician and his music has affected me deeply through good times and bad. Imagine how excited I was when he agreed to help me with this feature by answering some questions and allowing me to grab some of his photos.

Some Background on Jan Laurenz

Born in Zurich, Switzerland in February, 1975, Laurenz became interested in playing guitar at age eight after watching his sister before him. His interest and natural ability soon propelled him to become better than his sister. He stated with a laugh in our email correspondence that his sister still "hates him for that." Those of us with siblings know how that goes :)

Besides languages, Jan was an average student, but with his mind always on the guitar. He developed an interest in Flamenco guitar by listening to his mother's Paco de Lucia vinyls and learned to play some of these compositions by ear. Right about that same time he studied under a guitar teacher who was sort of a hippy ("or just very cool guy") who "gave me some first feelings about improvisation, I never had any classical training" (Laurenz).

A Paco de Lucia inspired composition by Jan Laurenz

Jan stated that since his parents didn't really know what to do with him, they decided to help him study at a Swiss jazz school at age sixteen after accepting the fact that music was his main interest. His gratitude for this was evident when he wrote this in a correspondence to me,  "I am so thankful forever [to] them to support me this way." He graduated after four years there and went directly into teaching guitar and playing in local bands.

Later he moved to Barcelona, Spain to check out the scene there and ended up staying eleven years. Jan played gigs in that region and did very well with a band called "Calamento," which he terms a "flamenco fusion jazz rock band." Eventually he discovered the Chapman Stick and what he calls the "tapping world in general" and began posting videos on YouTube. 

The Calamento band split up and he decided to move back to Switzerland, where he lives in a small town called "Loco" with his girlfriend, a graphic designer. He now gives lessons and plays in a band called "Encuentro," a trio band with a decent fanbase playing mostly world music.

When I asked Jan where he felt his inspiration came from, this is what he said, "For me it just comes from [these] nice places around me, nature, walks in the wood, rivers ecc.. and also from some tasty beers which is my favorite drink :)"

A beer lover too?
I can relate--trust me :)

Some of the instruments I've seen him play in his videos include; various electric guitars and acoustic guitars, Chapman stick, Beartrax guitar, various ukuleles, mandolins, Domra (Russian), Warr guitar, Harpejji, and many more that I can't remember because some of the videos I started out watching are no longer up :(
At the time of this posting, Jan has an impressive 3574 subscribers to his YouTube channel.

Besides his music and passion for it, there is something else that stands out in some of his videos; it's the majestic background of the place in which he lives. WOW, is all I can say. It's easy to see how music as beautiful as his could manifest from such a place. His surroundings are absolutely breathtaking. As for his music and passion for it; watch his videos and see for yourself. There is no doubt in my mind you will become mesmerized by his melodies and his playing. There is something about watching a truly passionate player make music, we are blessed to take part in a type of love that emanates not only through the instrument, but to all who are listening. Jan Laurenz talent is a blissful experience :)

Now for some evidence...

Hard to choose favorites, but in regards to page-loading time, I'll try not to go too crazy :)

Favorite Jan Laurenz Videos 

Sorry! I couldn't pick just a couple :)

Here are links to a couple of his pages/profiles:

Thank you for taking the time to check out my blog! 
If you like what you've read here, please comment, share and check out some of the rest of my posts and pages :)

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Steve Vai Creates Guiness World Record for Worlds Largest Online Guitar Class

 Podcast Interview Featuring Steve Vai

Podcast interview. WFNX's Fletcher and Henry discuss the upcoming "World's Largest Online Guitar Class" with Steve Vai.

Steve Vai speaks in his usual confident manner about what he'll be going over in the "Berkeley Music" sponsored class conducted back on March 3, 2011. The event, scheduled just hours from this interview.

Here is the best video I could find on YouTube of the online class. I'll continue to check around for something higher quality.

Some outstanding videos featuring the Guitar God himself:

Steve Vai - Passion and Warfare Interview 1990

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Ode on Intimations of Immortality: The World through Wordsworth Colored Glasses

William Wordsworth

Literary Analysis by Dana McClellan 

Imagine yourself a young child rolling down a grassy hill. Finally, you come to a stop and position yourself comfortably on your back in order to look up at the sky. It’s a beautiful spring day with a bright-blue backdrop and big, billowy-white clouds. In these clouds you begin to see faces and animal shapes while listening to the birds as they frolic forefront of your view. Now as you turn onto your stomach, you look down at the grass and into the microcosm of a miniature world full of tiny bugs making their way out of their hiding places and into the warmth of spring. You are a part of this magical world as you imagine yourself climbing blades of grass and maneuvering yourself over tiny pebbles shaded by what could very-well-be the beginnings of a dandelion. The wonder you are experiencing feels tingly inside and as you turn to look and appreciate the rest of the world around you, you notice that a policeman and park ranger have congregated where your car was once parked and you watch as the front-end of your car gets smaller and smaller as it makes its way to the outskirts of the parking lot and finally out of view. Damn-it! You knew you shouldn’t have parked there! But spaces were limited and the park crawling with tourists and families with screaming children running around cussing at each other and blasting gang-banger music.

So much for that tingly feeling.

I believe this to be a modern-day visual similar to what William Wordsworth was trying to convey in his Ode on Intimations of Immortality. In the end Wordsworth does something I find surprising. For those of us who are familiar with the more negative side of reality as an adult, we can relate to the “thought of grief” (Wordsworth 796) all too well. Without giving any particular negative instances (making it timeless) we are reminded of the void we regularly feel as we grow older. I call it a void because that’s exactly what it is. A space inside that cannot be replaced by anything on the earth. All we have is a dim memory of the place and the magic of the “immortal sea” (799). Finally, we are relieved to find that there can be a bright side. It’s a good thing we’ve held onto those dim memories, because one day, through all of our yearning and pondering; we will find a way to see the good things in life. It’s been right there the whole time; we’ve just allowed our tainted physical perception to cloud our spiritual one. 

In the first and second stanza of Ode on Intimations of Immortality, Wordsworth gives us the first few glimpses of where this poem might be heading. Each stanza begins with a reminiscent longing for his childlike perspective. For example, 

There was a time when meadow, grove, and stream, The earth, and every common sight, To me did seem Apparelled in celestial light… (Wordsworth 795). 

But then ends from more of a realists’ point of view, “The things which I have seen I now can see no more” (796). To this, a mature audience can relate. 

In the third and fourth stanza Wordsworth spares himself of his grief-stricken thoughts as he turns his focus back to nature, but his bliss is short-lived as we can see in the last line “Where is it now, the glory and the dream?” (Wordsworth 797). As he ponders the origins of humanity in the first line of the fifth stanza, Wordsworth states “Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting” (797). But not entirely; we still have ties to our Creator and access to the light even if it’s hard for us to see it in our daily lives. 

In my first couple of readings of stanza six I misunderstood the author’s intention. I took it to mean that the earth with all of its sinful pleasures, was constantly trying to pull humanity away from its Creator. Upon further discernment, I realize Wordsworth wasn’t saying that at all. He respects Mother Earth and her pleasures, and is fond of the fact that she does all she can to lessen the pain of our yearning to be back with God in His “imperial palace” (Wordsworth 797). Ultimately, God is the Creator of all things, and thus created this “Mother” earth to offer us some comfort in life. 

This leads us into stanza seven where Wordsworth addresses our desire to grow up as quickly as possible when we are young and the various roles we’ll play as we mature. He speaks to a young child in stanza eight; a character “…six years’ Darling of pigmy size” (Wordsworth 797) and looks upon him as sort of a guru; one which is still in a position to access the world he so desperately would like to experience again. He admires this child but is perplexed as to why he would want to provoke “the inevitable yoke” (798) and the heaviness of life as an adult. This is just before Wordsworth begins to see the world from another perspective; likened to a seed that has to be planted before it can experience life again. 

In stanza nine and ten, the beauty of life and the world take on a whole new meaning, “O joy! that in our embers / Is something that doth live / That nature yet remembers / What was so fugitive! (Wordsworth 798-799). Then Wordsworth wraps up the poem in Stanza eleven with a beaming ray of hope and sense of fulfillment. We see there is solace in the human heart and in “Thoughts that do often lie to deep for tears” (800). He has finally come to grips with the fact that he will never again see the world through the eyes of a child, but that doesn’t mean it can no longer be beautiful. Our memories and our appreciation of nature in all of its glory will keep us connected to our source and help to bring about a more profound understanding of what’s important in life. 

Ode on Intimations of Immortality is an absolute masterpiece. It conjures thoughts and feelings that are familiar in a spiritual kind of way. Wordsworth takes us back to our youth and reminds us of the way we perceived the world when we were young and how important it is to hold onto that aspect of ourselves. As we move through the rest of the poem we are inundated with more familiarity, but it doesn’t feel quite as comfortable and nice. It is the jaded perception we inevitably clothe ourselves in that colors the world around us. The world is no longer magical. 

I take comfort in the fact that my perception of life is very similar to that of Wordsworth, and the fact that there is hope for me yet. In the end I am always an idealist, but in those quiet moments when I am alone and remembering the emotion and the other-worldliness I use to experience during certain times—such as Christmas; not just the presents, but the love that I felt all around me, and the way I would feel when I’d walk into church with my grandma and aunt; with the chanting of the monks and the hundreds of candles emanating their “celestial light.” 

I grieve . . . 

I miss the family I had when I was a child. I miss the tingling feeling I would get when good things would happen and there was nothing standing in the way stealing my joy. Those moments lived much longer then. Wordsworth makes me realize I must consider myself blessed that I can remember it at all—in all of its bitter-sweetness. These memories aren’t of the physical realm, they are spiritual. These memories lie far “too deep for tears” and are seen through my own version of Wordsworth colored glasses. 

Work Cited 

Wordsworth, William. “Ode on Intimations of Immortality.” The Norton Anthology of World Literature. Second Edition Volume E. Ed. Peter Simon. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2009. 795-800. Print.