I didn’t grow up in a musical family. I used to look at musicians who did as some sort of separate species. I pictured them singing Bach chorales around a breakfast nook in some sun drenched corner of the world. Glowing in their unwitting inheritance of a musical legacy.
My mother was a mystic. She believed in the interconnection of all things. There were no coincidences in her life. She lived in a Canadian ashram for a time, and traveled widely through Asia and Europe. Once, when she needed to make a big decision, she had a pilot friend leave her on an uninhabited island off the coast of Alaska for three days. I remember occasionally “sitting” with her in the very early mornings, curled up in her lap as she sat on her Zafu, almost certainly ruining her morning meditation.
I recently inherited her library of Sufi Mystical Islamic texts. I stacked them next to my bed. My hope must be that the reading will seep through the mattress as I sleep. Nocturnal osmotic enlightenment. Many of these books are by Hazrat Inayat Khan who is credited with bringing Sufism to the West. Before he gave it up in order to preach, he was a brilliant musician, raised in a family of some of the most renowned musicians in India.
"What makes us feel drawn to music is that our whole being is music: our mind and body, the nature in which we live, the nature which has made us, all that is beneath and around us, it is all music." - Hazrat Inayat Khan
I woke up pre-dawn a couple of weeks ago, a wintry morning, the 1st anniversary of my mother’s death. Four-thirty in the morning, I got in the car and drove to the beach that was my mother’s favorite place on earth. I arrived during a meteor storm (Seriously. I wouldn’t make that up, too corny). The first shooting star I saw was concurrent with my first step on to the beach and accompanied by my involuntary gasp. The ocean was as calm as I’ve ever seen it, the sun not yet poking up over the horizon but the sky beginning to turn pink around the edges. When the day started to arrive, and my fingers started to freeze I drove to her gravesite just a half mile down the road.
Strangely, we buried my mother in a veterans cemetery (it was the closest to her beach). The grave markers are flat, most of them with little American flags. My mom’s is covered in stones and shells that people have left for her. When they mow the cemetery the dead grass gets caught in those offerings and in between the letters carved in her marker. “Love is the Only Dance There Is” – something she frequently said. After we buried her, I found Ram Das' "The Only Dance There Is" in her library and wondered if she knew where she was cribbing that from.
So I try to clean up the space a little. I’m shivering, picking up dead grass and rearranging the stones. But the grass is really stuck in there so I’m kneeling in the wet earth, blowing the dead stalks off my mother’s grave stone. It’s dawn and I’m getting in close to the grain of the granite. Visions of meteor showers still erupting in my mind, my long Jewish body all folded over my Sufi mother’s grave, salaaming at dawn, surrounded by little American flags.
In her later years, my mom adopted Groundhog’s Day as her favorite holiday. She would draw elaborate cards, and send them out to almost 100 people every year. Detailed figures of groundhogs peeking from the earth. “AWAKE!” She wrote. “STOP HIBERNATING!" “DANCE! DANCE! DANCE!”
Making this record was a dream. Francisco Mela and Tony Scherr are musicians that I’ve been listening to with appreciation and often awe for many years. I didn’t share the music in advance with them. I made sure before handing them the manuscripts that there weren’t any words describing the music, no directions and no descriptions. With each piece, I would play through the melody alone on solo piano, and then without saying a word, we would cut a take.
I’ve spent my whole life with this music – listening to this music – practicing this music – relying on this music – struggling with this music – and – when it’s good – welcoming this music’s arrival from the quietest place in my heart. I am 42 years old as I write this. What a thrill to realize it now: I was raised in a musical family.
– Elan Mehler