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Delving into sound

Kimberly Nicoletti

SILVERTHORNE – Sometimes the pursuit of music is so profound it becomes a spiritual path.

Take, for example, Benjy Wertheimer and Michael Mandrell. They invoke sacred tones with their fusion of North Indian, West African and Celtic music.

“For me, it’s a spiritual practice,” Wertheimer said. “One of the fundamental things about (Indian, African and Celtic music) is they all have profound emotional and spiritual elements.”

Classical Indian music has always had a spiritual underpinning. The Sanskrit word “nadadrahma” means “sound as God.”

“The effort is to evoke the divine through music,” Wertheimer said. “The nadadrahma developed to invocate moods in the listeners even as much as in the artist.”

Mandrell sees the same spirituality in Celtic music.

“It’s a bridge to spirituality,” Mandrell said. “Celtic music taps into that for me deeply.”

“There’s a certain kind of light, rhythmic liveliness that’s shared between Indian and Celtic music,” said Wertheimer. “They feel almost as if they were related way, way back in time.”

Mandrell began studying Celtic music in college in the 1980s. The expressive, rich, melodic sounds drew him in immediately. The tradition allowed him to expand his guitar playing, using his guitar as a mini orchestra on which he could compose intricate pieces with different movements and feelings.

Wertheimer, a native of Boulder, fell in love with Indian music when he was a junior in high school and heard Zakir Hussain, one of India’s foremost percussionists, perform.

“I was first drawn to Indian classical music because of the hand percussion techniques,” Wertheimer said. “It was the most amazing percussion I had ever heard by so many degrees of magnitude. I was exploring realms that I never knew were possible.

“It’s very demanding. I practiced eight to 10 hours a day. It’s as rich and deep of a tradition as Western classical music.”

But it differs from the Western classical tradition in its improvisational style.

“Indian classical music follows along the way nadadrahma is supposed to move,” Wertheimer said. “There’s a rich tradition of improvisation in both backgrounds (Celtic and Indian).”

Because his music helps connect people with a higher source, Wertheimer plays concerts for yoga communities and was a contributing composer for the Zakir Hussain Rhythm Experience, along with Mickey Hart of the Grateful Dead.

Wertheimer is a founding member of the internationally-acclaimed Ancient Future world fusion music ensemble and has scored music for the NBC series “Santa Barbara.” He has recorded music for Master Card and the Nature Company commercials and has opened for such artists as Carlos Santana, Paul Winter and Narada Michael Walden. He plays the tabla, congas, guitar, keyboards and esraj (a 19-stringed Indian instrument resembling a small sitar, but played with a bow).

Mandrell honed his open-tuning guitar chops in the early 1980s on the Texas folk circuit, performing with and opening for such artists as Nancy Griffith, Lyle Lovett and John Gorka. He co-produced the world fusion group Taos’ CD “The Deepening Edge,” released nationally on Blix Street Records. His latest self-produced CD, “The Great Spiral Dance” blends original guitar compositions with flutes, East Indian percussion, Uillean pipes and other ethnic instruments.

Both musicians live in Portland, Ore., and tour nationally.

“The live show is a global world tour,” Mandrell said. “It takes audiences many places in the world. It ranges from beautiful, ethereal, dreamlike music to a very upbeat, fiery tabla and guitar duet. Anyone who enjoys acoustic music will enjoy this show regardless of whether they’re familiar with Indian music.”

“Their blend of music together is very inspiring, fun and very uplifting,” said Mary Pat Cropper, a yoga teacher at Free Spirit Yoga in Silverthorne who attended a yoga workshop with Wertheimer. “I have a feeling they’re going to be harder to book down the road. This is a great opportunity to see these guys in an intimate setting.”


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