Ramona Borthwick - One Of Us

Am excited to announce the release of my new CD ‘One Of Us’. The music on this project is reflective of personal experiences, and is dedicated to our wonderful planet Earth, who in all her graciousness has been sustaining us forever. The CD comprises ten original compositions that were recorded last summer with some amazing players – Ingrid Jensen (tpt), Noel Borthwick (gtr), Johannes Weidenmueller (b) & Adam Cruz (dr). Most of the tunes were written specifically for this project over a period of a few months, some of them especially with the musicians in mind. Some info on the musicians: Ingrid Jensen, a multifaceted player and one of the leading voices on the trumpet, brings her trademark fire, energy and lyricism to this project. Noel Borthwick, gifted guitarist, Cakewalk CTO and producer of this project, lent his distinctive sound to the music, and was the hardest to book for this recording 🙂 Johannes Weidenmuller, a highly sought after bass player on the New York scene, was an integral member of the Kenny Werner trio for many years and also worked with John Abercrombie, Joe Lovano, John Scofield and innumerable others. Drummer Adam Cruz a regular with Danilo Perez, has played with David Sanchez, Tom Harrell, Chris Potter, Paquito D’Rivera, and recorded with Chick Corea (Origin).

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Some enjoyable (and informative) reading on the trials and joys of producing a CD at Noel Borthwick’s blogThese production notes on the creative/production timeline of the CD ‘One Of Us’, were written by Noel and reference a gamut of topics ranging from the project’s ‘Conception’ to ‘Delivery’.  Methinks it feels pretty darn close to a birthing process, labor included 🙂

My upcoming quintet CD has been sent to mastering, whew! (It was recorded last summer in NY). Being witness to another series of mixing sessions was a great learning process for me – not entirely fun I admit – my respect & admiration for all the sound engineers out there has grown infinitely 🙂 Dan and Noel did a great job, and I can’t wait to hear the finished result. Have just started on the artwork for the CD digipak – should be interesting. Will keep you posted on how things are moving.

From the Discover blog: Why do songs get stuck in our heads?

Having a song, tune, or commercial jingle stuck in one’s head is a phenomenon known as having an earworm. Most people have had an earworm at one time. The experience is harmless and unrelated to both obsessive-compulsive disorder and endomusia, the hearing of music that is not really there. Certain songs—simple, repetitive, or oddly incongruous—have properties that act as mental mosquito bites in that they produce a cognitive “itch.” The condition also arises when people struggle to remember forgotten lyrics or how a song ends. To scratch a cognitive itch, the brain repeats the song, which then traps the hapless victim in a repeated cycle of itching and scratching. Everyone has his or her own list of demon tunes that haunt. Earworms occur more often among women, musicians, and individuals who tend to worry. (OK, so that makes my brain a perfect haven for earworms). Earworms also vary across situations, striking when people are tired or under stress. How can you make an earworm go away? Thinking of something else or actually listening to the song in question are thought to help, but there is presently no research evidence showing what works best. Fortunately, most episodes eventually dissipate on their own.

I’ve had the pleasure to  serve as Interim Choir Director at St. Pauls in Newton, MA since fall. If you are looking to attend a Sunday or a special service during the Advent/Christmas season, please drop by. (View schedule and location). Led by the dynamic and oh-so-cool Revd. Gretchen Grimshaw, the music leans toward jazz, mixed in with some gospel and traditional choral styles. And although we don’t have a large choir, (it’s affectionately known as the little Big choir), they’re tremedously capable, having withstood some mean choral arrangements of mine in the past. I will be at this church until the Martin Luther King weekend, which falls on Jan 18th.
P.S. the choir welcomes new voices!

I was in Mumbai (formerly Bombay, the name I find hard to discontinue using since I knew it as such for most of my life) during the month of November, on a vacation to visit family and friends. During this time, we visited our favourite haunts including the majestic Taj Hotel where we lunched at the Golden Dragon restaurant. I distinctly remember how impressed I was by the rich decor, classical ambiance and spaciousness of this century old structure. A few things were different I sensed, compared to my last visit seven years ago. There were more people for sure – milling in the lobby and at the entrance, with hundreds more just outside the periphery of the Taj, a spill over from the squeeze of visitors to the Gateway of India. Just outside the lobby, at the foot of the gleaming marble stairs, was a solitary narrow metal detector that visitors had to pass through before entering the hotel. It looked ugly, out of place in these surroundings, and hardly seemed effective. Once inside the hotel lobby, we tried to capture some video footage on our camcorder of the enormous room with the stunning chandelier and artefacts, but were politely asked to refrain from doing so, as we would be “offending guests”. (Had the staff been instructed to curb people from filming the interiors for security reasons, or was it truly because we might offend the sensibilities of guests and intrude their privacy, albeit in a fairly public place?)

TV reportsA few days later, we were enjoying an exquisite Indian buffet spread at a restaurant in another 5-star hotel a few kilometres away at an area popularly know as the Juhu beach. There was an outdoor wedding reception taking place on the beachfront. We saw headlines flash by on the restaurants big screen TV – there had been shootings at the main railway station in Mumbai, then at the Metro cinema in South Bombay. Within minutes, the channel was showing raw footage of the aftermath of gun attacks at Leopold’s Cafe. We thought it might be gang-related, but Leopold’s was hardly the kind of venue for assassinations of this sort. It was essentially a tourist hangout, and its clients didn’t didn’t seem to be sort who might be involved in trouble of this nature. Within few minutes we heard that the Taj was under attack, Continue reading

Hookah Menu at Tony da Dhaba

I’d mostly seen this ancient pipe being used by people in Indian villages, but it appears that it is a trend gaining popularity among college students in urban areas today. Hookahs are widely being offered in cafes and restaurants in Indian cities, with the tobacco offered in an assortment of flavors. Students come in groups and sit for hours peacefully gurgling communal pipes in casual surroundings. Here’s a hookah menu hanging at a popular ‘dhaba’ restaurant on the outskirts of Bombay. (This place also served served ’emu tikka’ btw).

Incidentally, one of my upcoming performances (20th November) will be at a restaurant in Pune called the Shisha Jazz Cafe, ‘shisha’ being a common term for the hookah in the Middle East. For reservations call 20-65200390.

It’s 2008 and New Year’s greetings and best wishes to all! Heard a brief interview on NPR this morning with Eric Weiner whose book is on my reading list, called “The Geography of Bliss: One Grump’s Search for the Happiest Places in the World“. Besides referring to the World Database of Happiness, he mentioned a trip to Bhutan where a man’s suggestion for being happy was to set aside a few minutes a day to think about death.

In the East, the cycle of birth and death can be table talk, linked figuratively to the waxing and waning of the moon, and change of seasons. Dealing with adversity differs among people and nations. Growing up in India, it was not uncommon to hear people when speaking of their problems, end their speech with a ‘What to do?’. (Kya karega?). The phrase adorns the end of every monologue that has to do with recounting a problem or ‘situation’ and is accompanied by a shrug of the shoulder. If pressed for time, a Jaguar will not get you to your destination faster than the lowly auto rickshaw in Bombay’s crawling, leaden traffic. What to do? The telephone has been dead for over two days. What to do? Resignation, an apology that one can’t have control over all things in life. Just saying it insulates one from obsessive worrying – sort of a tension exhale. Apparently the phrase is infectious too. I had to do a quick double take and rewind when I heard it casually uttered by John McLaughlin while I watched the DVD Remember Shakti – The Way Of Beauty. There was an upcoming tour, and he was trying to locate L. Shankar the violinist who had strangely disappeared for several months, to no avail. Finally he engaged the talents of the mandolin prodigy U. Srinivas. And then he said “What to do?” With a shoulder shrug. It was strange to hear an Englishman say that – but then John in many ways is even more a desi than I am. He’s spent several years of his life in India, immersing himself in the classical music, spirituality and culture of the country. Speaking of him, I need to revisit more of his amazing works from the 70’s. Also check out his latest DVD: The Gateway To Rhythm, which explains the system of ‘konakkol’ (the art of vocal drumming and rhythms from South India).

[This travel article was published in the November 2007 issue of the Qatar-based feature magazine ‘New Era’.]

Central Park, NYCIt is late afternoon, and I’m writing this article on a muggy, fall day in New York City’s Central Park. I’m seated on patchy grass after finding myself a hotspot (thanks to free wi-fi in the park), catching up on e-mail and news. I arrived here on the comfortable Acela train from Boston, three and a half hours of super-smooth travel that skirted the Eastern seaboard with barely a whisper. Since my arrival, I’ve been drawn into a gritty, urban state of mind, while savouring the ability to keep walking for hours, being simultaneously assaulted and lulled by the sights and sounds of Manhattan. In contrast, the park is an anticlimax – a green cocoon of quiet; free of exhaust and the taut energy that wraps the avenues outside. The purpose of my visit? None really. I have no appointments to keep, no deadlines to meet. I’m staying at the New Yorker Hotel, in midtown Manhattan. Built in the art deco style of the jazz swing era, it was one of NYC’s premier hotels and hosted famous big bands such as those led by Benny Goodman and Woody Herman during its heyday. Unfortunately it stands in various states of disrepair today, but its location is hard to beat, offering an almost instant access to several key tourist spots and vistas in the city core. Situated a few blocks north is Times Square and Central Park, and to the South, Lower Manhattan and the Village with its interesting, funky neighbourhoods such as SoHo, Chelsea, Little Italy and Chinatown. Continue reading

Christ Church Cathedral on Rue St. Catherine - the only church in Canada to sit atop an underground mall. The dramatic view from the street of the office tower's façade reflecting the church has become a city icon[This article was published in the August 2007 issue of the Qatar-based feature magazine ‘New Era’.]

Attending the MontrĂ©al Jazz Festival in Canada has been a musical pilgrimage of sorts for me since emigrating to the West in 1994. A musical marathon, this festival spans eleven days and nights in the summer, turning the Western hemisphere’s largest French-speaking capital into an entertainment mecca for everyone from aficionados of pure jazz to its musical offshoots. By providing entertainment and plenty of other distractions to approximately two and a half million people, this festival overshadows both Canada Day and the Fourth of July, two big holidays in North America, with the European ambience strong enough to make one forget about anxieties south of the border such as war and terrorism.

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Received an IM this morning from my brother with a ‘Happy I-Day’ greeting (Independence Day that is). I’ve never really been patriotic, and had no political leanings when living in India. For some reason, today my mind flashed back to my school-going years in Bombay. I recall rising up early every August 15th to witness the flag hoisting ceremony on the school grounds, (which required compulsory attendance) after which we would sing the national anthem Jana Gana Mana (ok, I admit I tried to re-harmonize this every way I could when I played the accompaniment at the school assembly). After prayers and announcements, we would file in an orderly manner toward the school auditorium where a sweet ‘boondi’ laddoo,  glistening with sugar and ghee, nested in a thick dark green almond leaf would be handed out to each kid. Seated crosslegged on the mosaic floor, we’d pick at this round gob of indulgence with our fingers, settling down as the room darkened, to watch an English movie. It would have to be a chaste film with a harmless story line, preferably with nuns in it. No westerns, murder plots or hollywood glam. Continue reading

[This article was published in the June 2007 issue of the Qatar-based feature magazine ‘New Era’]

When asked to name someone who has had a major influence in their lives, most people choose to mention a mentor figure – a teacher, sports coach or counselor. Having had a succession of piano teachers in my learning years, I can attest to their influence not only on my musical growth, but also in areas personal and psychological.

I began learning the piano at age six. In the years to follow, my teachers were chosen for me. If at all there was an interview, it was the teacher who had the final say in choosing the student. Understandable. For the most part, they were wonderful human beings, but their undemanding teaching methods (at least where I was concerned) and indulgent style left me unchallenged and I carried a certain void with me.

Recognizing the need to be challenged, I set out to find a teacher in my early teens. I was already in love with the piano, working zealously and enjoying practice as much as I did performance. Impatient to move ahead in my musical growth, I welcomed criticism, objective observation and discipline. My ideal teacher would be someone who would recognize my musical aptitudes and deficiencies, while shaping a curriculum that would bring out the best in me while setting a high standard of goals.

If you want to study music privately, recognize that you are a free agent, and can and should interview prospective teachers. As a teacher, I encourage students to query about my teaching methods & lessons before they sign up. Just as you might seek the opinion of two or three doctors on a medical issue before accepting one diagnosis and treatment over the others, I see no reason why a student shouldn’t take trial lessons with a few teachers before deciding on whom to study with eventually. Continue reading

New Era, May 2007[This article was published in the May 2007 issue of the Qatar-based feature magazine ‘New Era’. View as PDF.]

“My memory is shot” you mutter to yourself despondently, as you try to retrieve a speck of information from the dark recesses of your mind. And it’s not the first time you’ve experienced this mental blackout.

You’re trying to play from memory a solo piano work comprising sixty-four A3-sized pages – covering thirty minutes of performance time. But why bother to go through the arduous task of putting to memory something you’re better off simply reading? Here are a few reasons: It is protocol at some music competitions & festivals to perform without a score. If you ever arrive at a social event, and someone invites you to perform, you can do so, even you don’t have the score on hand. Besides you’ll be guaranteed to impress your audience, as there seems to be a false assumption by listeners and critics that if a piece is not memorized, it is not being played to it’s fullest potential.

Oh well, I’m happy to break the rules since I’m hardly the convention-bound teacher. I’m not in any way demeaning the practice of memorization; in fact a fair amount of my classical repertoire had been put to memory in my younger days. Some pieces require total virtuosic treatment – where the body is physically almost one with the instrument. I recall playing some etudes by Karol Szymanowski, (involving bi-tonality and plenty of crashing dissonant chords) in which the notes traveled at lightening speed, the performance wrapped up before I even knew I hit the last chord. I certainly couldn’t read and execute these pieces simultaneously. In this case, memorization totally facilitated my performance. Continue reading