This new issue of the "Awakening" CD contains a bonus preview track, "Blue Windows," featuring Doc Severinsen and Academy of Saint Martin in the Fields.
Frequently asked questions:
Q: What is your background?
Although this is a common and frequently asked question, it is one I find that I'm just not interested in answering for several reasons. First of all, in my opinion it is the music that is most important, and not I. If people are interested in knowing about the background of the music, I am more than willing to share what I know. In fact it is joyful to share. I know there can be a human-interest aspect to wanting to know about my background, but it seems to be an all-important obsession with many people that I find rather meaningless and irrelevant. Of what importance is it what university I went to or what teachers I studied with? The music is not a result of any of those things. People are always looking for a formula or a neat set of steps they can follow that will hopefully insure their own success, and frequently look to those who in their eyes are "successful" for the answers. Just look at all the self-help books ... 7 steps to "this" and 12 steps to "that" ... etc...
If it was that clear and easy that there were only 7 steps to success or whatever, why are there hundreds of other books saying there are 12 steps or 5 steps or five billion steps to accomplish the same goal??? I think this is very misleading and giving this kind of false information and false hope to people is a great injustice. I don't believe that is the root of true success. I believe it goes much deeper than that and yet is very simple. It starts with fundamental things like love and compassion and kindness. And "success" might be different for different people. It might be living a simple and quiet life with dignity and honesty with a family, and not what the media or "pop" culture has dictated success to be. Unfortunately people buy into "the system" and it is their choice in allowing themselves to be led around by the nose as to what is "success," "beauty," "happiness," etc. I think this is because people are lazy. They rather be told, because then they don't have to dig up the courage to find out for themselves. But there seems to be no escaping that we must look within ourselves for the answers.
All my life I have been presented with challenges just like anyone, and have had to make choices out of the endless possibilities based on my experience and intuition. The circumstances of my life are uniquely my own. Although we can learn from the experiences of others, it seems the tendency is to copy, and even though it appears that imitation is a part of growing, most people never seem to get out of that phase, perhaps out of fear. It seems safe... the path is known... But I tend to agree with an eastern philosophy, "don't be afraid of the unknown, be afraid of the KNOWN." I believe each person has something special to do that only they can do in this life. To copy my path or anyone else's would be counterproductive to a person discovering who they really are and what their purpose really is. There is another reason I hesitate to discuss my history. Given enough information, people start developing labels, and labels are limiting and ultimately cause division, prejudice, and judgement.
Unfortunately people don't seem to feel comfortable unless they can categorize you. When you are beyond being categorized, most become fearful and don't know what to do with you or how to react to you. It is a terrible failing of the intellect and a fire I have no interest in fueling because this is a metaphor of many ugly aspects of life that contribute to the divisions that cause war, hatred, and so many other such things. Labels, such as those associated with certain groups (ethnic or otherwise), fashionable cliques, etc, can also bring out a very ugly pride that ultimately separates people. I am more of the belief that we are one huge cosmic body and not separate, as many choose to believe. If people hear the music and feel beauty, or peace, or love, or some kind of "healing," then hopefully the music has fulfilled its reason for coming into existence, and that should be enough in itself. The music is pure, so why would anyone want to taint the beautiful experience they have with it by clouding it with all kinds of unimportant information? How can knowing what my hobbies are add to anything? And I'm really not interested in listing any awards and accolades because that's all very ego-based and really has no meaning. Do you think an Emmy Nomination means anything to a peasant in Mongolia? I don't think so, but I feel sure love and kindness do. They are universal. And that's hopefully what the music is about.
Q: Can you explain how you write the compositions?
A: Since I usually do not plan to write what I consider to be the best of what I do (the music of the "Awakening" CD and The Music of Life CD, for example), it's not easy to come up with an answer to this question. Writing the compositions was one of the most mystical experiences I have ever had. I never really sit down and say, "today I'm going to write a piece about the Chinese-American experience" or "I'm going to write a piece honoring my sister"... At this point in my life, it seems the more I let go of everything and refrain from forcing things or clinging to desires, etc., and just observe life as silently as possible, then everything, including the music, seems to flow rather effortlessly. If the music wishes to express itself through me, it seems to do so. It always comes as a great surprise to me and it is "all there"...the themes, melodies, mood, colors and minute details of the orchestration. I can even see how a musician will breathe and gesture with their face and hands and general body language. I see how their eyes look at me as we come to a cadence. It is all there in totality and really requires no "effort." The only help it needs from me is to write it down and give it all the love I have. The only labor is to try to keep up with the flow of information at that point! When I am done I am usually exhausted physically and mentally and sometimes take a break for weeks. My usual reaction when finished is one of complete discovery.
I feel like I am witnessing the whole experience as an observer for the first time. I often don't even remember writing the music! (This was very much the case with the first movement of "Gates of Gold." When it was finished and I woke up the next morning and "listened" to it, I said to myself, "What is this???") I remember sitting there with a pencil and score paper but the details are left for me to discover at a later time. Perhaps I don't remember things because I don't question them as they appear. I just follow the flow...I do not intellectualize...just allow myself to "feel." The more "centered" I feel "spiritually" the more creativity seems to flow. Many of the compositions have come while being in a very meditative state or while fasting. (However, much of "Call of the Mountain" was written while I just escaped death in Singapore and was barely hanging on. The spirit and will of that music to be born was so strong that even "near death" wouldn't stop it from coming to be.) I told musicians of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra during one of the recording sessions at Abbey Road Studio 1, that I have never felt more sacredness and a sense of "God" then while bringing forth the music with them. The studio becomes a big temple or church and we are all there to learn and experience a beautiful expression of divinity. Honestly I have had the feeling of ultimate bliss so many times in this way that during the sessions I would say a prayer that if I was not given the chance to live another moment, it was OK, because I have experienced heaven. Ultimately, all of this is not about "me," but all about the music.
I believe the music is a living entity. Perhaps the closest I will come to being a parent in this lifetime is through my relationship to the music. I helped to bring it into the world, have sacrificed everything I have for its sake, have given it all the love I feel I know how to give, have watched it grow and have felt all the joys and growing pains along with it, and then I had to let it go. Now it is out in this universe and will do what it was intended to do and be what it was intended to be, on its own merit and without interference from me. I feel I'm very detached from "fame," the desire to gain riches from it, etc. If these become the result of my association with the music then I will gladly accept the generosity, abundance, and kindness that the universe wishes to bless me with. But perhaps my greatest reward has been and continues to be being a witness to it all...
Q: Visual background - the photography, and the fact that you write music that is so visual. Connection? Do you hear music when you take photos? Do you see pictures when you write music? Do you feel that music is your best mode of expression, or is the visual as satisfying for you as the musical?
A: I feel sure that the music and visuals are connected. They are most likely from the same source. I don't consciously hear music when photographing or see pictures when writing music, but maybe it's going on subconsciously. I believe thinking is very dangerous to creativity because then all the prejudices, social, religious, and cultural conditioning we have been indoctrinated with taints the pristine honesty. So, instead of just "feeling" and "doing," we start asking too many questions and by then the "moment" is usually gone, resulting in a kind of fear-based distortion of the truth; what we think and what we think others will think, and not the truth. I prefer to just feel... Photography came late in life for me I guess. It really seemed to gain great importance during the recovery from the near death experience I had in Singapore. Starting in 1995 it got me out among nature and that, I believe, was very healing. It became "medicine" for me. Also, there are times when I feel too saturated with music and distance myself from it and then photography seems to fill the void. The images seemed so deep and so magical. Just as my experience with the music, I felt like I was not the doer but a witness of what was happening. I have no formal training in photography at all. I just learn as I go and feel my way through. In fact that's how I live my life. I just feel my way through everything. I don't usually know what I will be doing from day to day yet it all seems to work out in its own seemingly perfect way...(believe me, I have lived the other way too...). As far as which one is more satisfying, music or photography, they are both greatly satisfying, but music comes much more naturally to me it seems. It has literally become effortless.
However, I find the physical notation of it can be grueling. Perhaps I find the creation is effortless because I don't feel I'm the source of it anyway. But as far as the joy...well, when anything has touched upon that deep level of spirituality and creativity, it doesn't matter what form it's in, it just feels "right" and is euphoric to me. I can feel that way with either the music or the photographs or any expression of love...it just depends. I do recall though that while writing "Arrival..." from "Gates of Gold," I felt it was actually me standing on that ship...(could be a real past life experience)...and in "River of Tears," that it was me laying in a bunk somewhere in the mountains crying and thinking of "home" (China) and questioning myself if I had done the right thing in coming to the West...and it was me walking the mountain with a feeling of pride and accomplishment, in "Call of the Mountain". However, it seems things come into my mind after the creation has begun, like the music is helping me to remember what I already
Q: Asia....obviously a big factor and influence upon you...
A: Although it's not easy to put this in words, the connection is strong and undeniable. There are a few places since childhood that I felt unusually drawn to and Japan is one of them. I feel that I am more "Japanese" than the Japanese and certainly more Japanese than Italian-American of which I am 100%. The connection is so mystical, but very real. I have had Chinese people including famous artists say that "River of Tears" is "SO CHINESE!" I have even been asked if it is a traditional Chinese folk song! I was told by a famous Japanese musician that I have a "Japanese heart"... that I understand the Japanese heart. I have never studied either culture's music formally, yet it feels so familiar and natural to me. I don't question it, I just go with it. When I'm in Asia I don't feel like a foreigner...I feel like I'm with the people I have long been with. However, I feel similarly with basically all cultures and with just about everyone I meet. A friend who I met through her hearing the music on the radio, asked me the first time I met her, "No one is a stranger to you...are they?" I thought it was very insightful...and of course I answered honestly, "No."
Q: Spirituality... There is patently a deep thread of spirituality running through your work...What has shaped your beliefs and how do you feel the beliefs and experiences you have and have had, help to shape your music?
A: When I feel I am spiritually "centered" (and it seems to float in and out of focus...) that's when everything seems to flow effortlessly. I believe a healthy spiritual state of being is the root of all that I do that seems to have any positive impact in this life, whether it be the music, photographs or showing care and love to others. There is a common thread in all of them and I believe that is "love." I believe music in its purest form is actually pure love.
And it seems that no matter what we do, if the intentions behind our actions are pure, then they too are expressions of pure and divine love. Almost anything, including sweeping or washing the dishes can become a form of spiritual practice if we allow ourselves to be completely in that moment and focus all our attention on it with gratitude and a sense of purpose, keeping our ego out of the picture. Even the seemingly tedious task of putting the CDs into envelopes (the original pressing of "Awakening") to mail to radio stations and orchestras, etc., I viewed as a form of spiritual practice and love. I remember offering a blessing to the recipient of each one as I put the CD in the envelope. Believe it or not, I was not looking for anything in return. I felt that those who were to respond would and no "hype" was necessary and I was surprised beyond my wildest dreams by the immediate acceptance and outpouring of love I received in return...divinely magical! I feel my entire life since early childhood has been a spiritual search for truth and since I was on my own from about 15 years old
I began to explore different religions in trying to find out the truths of many kind. And seeing the obvious hypocrisy of most likely all of them, was trying to understand why this was so and how not to be a part of it. I wanted to know what was "right" and how to best live my life without being "feared" or "guilted" into it. In 1993 I feel I experienced the greatest spiritual awakening I had ever had up to that point and much of it was due to keeping an open mind. A very special friend had been sharing many things he was learning about the different spiritual masters and teachings of many of the world's cultures and religions, and although some I found offensive at first, most likely due to my own prejudices and conditioning, they began to make sense.
It seems the truly great masters throughout history have a great sense of the "oneness" and connectedness of everything. And those masters could be your neighbor who has never left the town you're from or has never been to spiritually exotic places, or doesn't wear an orange robe. It seems some people need to go no farther than themselves for all the answers. From all I have been able to understand from my own search, the common theme is that the spiritual path and search actually leads us to the divinity in ourselves...the journey from self to self. During this time I feel I became more accepting of different ways of expressing thanks to a higher power. I began to see beauty in just about everything. I hugged trees and spoke to rocks... I viewed all of them as my friends and felt this deep and joyful love for all of them, especially the earth. It was at this time that the compositions of the "Awakening" CD began to materialize and "Gates of Gold" was the first to be written. To sum up how I feel spiritually, I believe if we all just followed the golden rule of treating others as we want to be treated and love our neighbor as ourselves, I don't think there's much more to know in order to live in peace. The simple things seem to have the greatest power yet are so easy to miss. It is up to us to be more sensitive. However, it seems the more I learn the less I feel I understand about the meaning of life and what this world is all about...why God would allow such misery and suffering. But through all the ups and downs of this life, for me there is one undeniable truth and that is music...the purest form of love that I have ever known. And maybe that's all I need to know.