World Musician Guy Mendilow, Part 2

by Kerry Dexter /
Kerry Dexter's picture
Nov 20, 2009 / 0 comments

Guy Mendilow is a musician who is passionate about exploring sounds across cultures. He is world citizen himself, growing up following his professor father’s assignments from Israel, where he was born, to South Africa and the United States, and also living for a time in Brazil. On his latest album, Skyland, Mendilow includes music that mixes ideas from those cultures, Yiddish songs from a guest vocalist, Cajun accordion and bamboo flute from regular band members, and his own overtone singing along with a range of other instruments and styles. Recently, he has been exploring the music of the Sephardic Jews, itself a mix which includes Arabic, Turkish, Hebrew, and Spanish elements, and that’s featured on the recording as well. The five band members and two guest artists create a collection which is, as Mendilow prefers, focused on meaning of sound before meaning of lyric. The result is a challenging and engaging mix which ends up being focused on peace. It comes as no surprise, then, that the band often partners with organizations dedicated to peace and cultural understanding.

In an earlier conversation at Wandering Educators, Mendilow spoke about the recording, and also about a related passion of his: teaching. Whether he is working with four year old children or forty year old educators, he reaches them through the principles of Dalcroze Eurhythmics, which is based on the idea that understanding of music starts with how music feels in the body. That has led led him to create workshops that are grounded in improvisation. Mendilow, who is certified in Dalcroze Eurhythmics and has a Masters degree in music as well, finds this exciting and fun. Improvisation, by definition, requires student sto come up with their own ideas -- and it also means that the teacher has to be ready for just about anything.

“These workshops are a 180 degree spin from a performance, where the focus is on me, and where so much is under my control. In these workshops, the focus is almost entirely on the participants, and you never know who is going to be in the room,” he says. “The workshop revolves around games that require participants to tune in to one another, to cooperate, and to communicate non-verbally. These games are all about improvisation, whether in movement or music, where each and every player's contribution is vital to the group, where everyone is simultaneously both a leader and a follower, and where the only way to succeed is to work together - to say "yes" in so many ways.” Mendilow sometimes gives the workshops for the international peacekeeping group Seeds of Peace. “Imagine a group of Palestinian, Egyptian, Jordanian and Israeli educators taking one of these workshops together. Even in a less loaded situation, who knows the twists and turns the group may take! As a facilitator, I must be ready for the unpredictable. It's vital that I take what the group gives me and run with it, whether or not it corresponds exactly to my workshop. So it becomes a test of my own openness and confidence in my ability to make on-the-spot decisions. In the end, so much comes down to trusting my musicality, training and experience.” Because of this spontaneity in both students and teacher, he says, “there is more room for magic.”

Part of that magic, Mendilow believes, is found in the way music allows people to learn other skills. “One of the things I love best about the teachers with whom I've been lucky enough to study is that they are concerned with more than just teaching music. They are also committed to teaching through the music,” he says. Areas such as leadership, teamwork, and the importance of one’s individual contribution to the whole are just a few of the areas where music helps children -- and adults -- grow, he points out. One way to show this "is simply to conduct individual players on and off during group improvisation, and hear how different the music suddenly becomes with parts missing,” he says. But more than the method, Mendilow believes, it’s about the teacher and the passion and knowledge the teacher has to share. “I've seen teachers who hold no degrees, no licenses, but who can nonetheless completely transform children's lives through music,” he says. “That's what I aspire to do.”

World Musician Guy Mendilow

Photo by Gretjen Helene

Through making music with his band, composing and arranging music which crosses musical borders, and sharing his passion for the sound and feel of music with children and their teachers, Guy Mendilow is committed to helping people learn music and learn about each other through music. Right now, this world citizen makes his home in Boston. The city has vibrant music and cultural scenes, it’s true, and it’s a good base for touring, but that’s not exactly why he’s living there. He and his wife Shari were moving back to the states from Brazil. “The truth of the matter is that we live in Boston because my wife has terrible aim,” he says. “We left our decision about where to live to fate, threw darts at a map of the US, and she was aiming for California. But that's another story...”


Kerry Dexter is the Music Editor for Wandering Educators.

Kerry's credits include VH1, CMT, the folk music magazine Dirty Linen, Strings, and The Encyclopedia of Ireland and the Americas. She also writes about the arts and creative practice at Music Road. You may reach her at music at wanderingeducators dot com.


Photo courtesy of Guy Mendilow.