Smile Politely

Movement and music inspire Interpretations of Light

Interpretations of Light, an album of instrumental yoga music produced by Champaign-Urbana yoga teacher Maggie Taylor, will be shared and celebrated at a special CD release event this Sunday, September 7th at The Living Yoga Center in Champaign. The project was inspired by Groovin’ Yoga, a monthly yoga class that brings together live, improvised music from local musicians and intentional movement led by Taylor and by the students themselves.

Groovin’ Yoga classes started up about three years ago, beginning at Amara Yoga & Arts and later travelling over to The Living Yoga Center. Once a month, musicians and yogis have had a place and a time to gather together in the name of creative collaboration and freedom of expression. The class itself is a sort of collaborative piece. Often, the music inspires the movement and the movement inspires the music. “No matter who was playing, there was always a beautiful energy exchange between the musicians and the yogis,” said Xochi John, who played cello on Interpretations of Light. “Each class was unique in its energy and flow, and that is what I loved about playing in that setting.” In a typical Groovin’ class, Taylor leads the opening yoga postures and stretches, and then allows yoga students to follow their intuition, leading their own bodies in movement for the remainder of the practice.

Interpretations of Light was inspired by, and created to honor these Groovin’ Yoga classes. She was in search of a way to share the musicians’ gifts with more people, more often. Many musicians have contributed their time and talent to Groovin’ Yoga over the years. Local players Michael Shapiro (guitar) and Xochi John (cello) became regulars at the Groovin’ classes, and their playing provides a strong foundation on Interpretations of Light. Also featured on the album are: Andy Miller (gongs and percussion), Mark Enslin (tablas), Erin Brooker (harp), and JP Goguen (didgeridoo).

Xochi John has played Groovin’ Yoga classes for two years. Her cello playing can be heard on Interpretations of Light.

The idea for an album was, at first, only an offhand suggestion. But Taylor couldn’t stop thinking about the project’s potential once the idea was out in the world. She began collaborating with friends and local artists on the creation process at the end of summer 2013. The album is completely instrumental, and uses the cello, acoustic guitar, various percussion instruments like tablas and frame drum, harp, gongs, and didgeridoo to create an atmospheric sound experience.

Mark Enslin and Andy Miller play around on percussion at Perennial Sound Studio in Champaign.

“It’s kind of like the anti-music album,” Taylor said. “It’s not really designed for you to sit and listen to. The tracks aren’t designed with the same architecture as a song would have.” Instead of each track reaching it’s own climax and resolution, the album as a whole is structured with a rise, climax and fall. In designing the concept for the music, Maggie used a wave to represent the energetic progression of the music as a reflection of the sequencing of a typical yoga class: beginning with opening postures, moving through sun salutations, building during standing postures, and intensifying for the peak pose of a class — something challenging for people to work towards or experiment with — and then gradually returning to calming sounds and rhythms for closing postures and savasana, or a final meditation.

“It’s really designed to become the background soundtrack to you listening to yourself. So, when someone is in a practice the music wouldn’t take them out of the experience of their yoga practice or their meditation… It was designed to compliment a practice,” she said. The album has no vocals — an intentional choice to keep listeners from becoming distracted by the music. Ultimately, the songs are intended to help foster and maintain a state of focus that is useful for yoga, meditation, craftwork or study.

Local artsist, activist, and yoga teacher Lyndsey Scott created a music video for a track from Interpretations of Light, “Refraction.” Check out this beautiful piece to get a taste of the music.

“My hope is that it makes a home [yoga] practice more pleasurable, so that people want to practice more often. It goes toward that goal of yoga helping people’s lives be more full and more bright and more beautiful,” she added. Yet, the music isn’t exclusively for yoga practice. Maggie intentionally didn’t include the word “yoga” anywhere on the album. Her hope is that it can be used by anyone who would benefit from its offering: massage therapists, students, office workers — any practice that could benefit from a bit of focus. The album will serve as a great tool for yoga teachers, too. The piece as a whole can be used to frame an hour-long yoga class, or teachers can pick and choose specific tracks to add to their own class playlists.

The album itself, as Taylor explained to me, is not just intended for listening. Because of the music’s character and design, it certainly creates a mood, but doesn’t fully envelop the listener. As I sat and listened to the album, sounds and rhythms sort of washed over me in a way that gently stirred reflection. Instead of eliciting specific images, thoughts or words, each song lent itself to inspire a lot of different moods and emotions. Songs like “Glimmer” and “Sunstream” are bright, pulsing and playful, while “Daybreak,” “Ultraviolet” and “Wave” feel darker, intense and internal. Each track inspired something different in me. No matter the feel, though, each song drew out beautiful elements from all of the instruments used in recording. The cello and guitar are dominant throughout the album, whereas didgeridoo and gongs add special touches on certain tracks. The tabla (a kind of hand drum) was my favorite addition to the record. It’s presence in some pieces sounded truly enchanting.

The album will be available for purchase at the album release this Sunday. The release will consist of two parts: a yoga class with live music from the featured musicians, followed by an album release party. The yoga class will begin at 4 p.m., and will last one hour. Spaces for the class are limited. The party will begin at 5 p.m. following class, and all are welcome to attend the album release. Get tickets to the yoga class here.

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