World Musician Guy Mendilow

Kerry Dexter's picture

Guy Mendilow was born in Israel, spent part of his growing up years there and in South Africa, as a teenager toured the world with The American Boychoir, went to college in Ohio, lived for a time in Brazil, and now calls the Boston area home. He’s a musician and an educator. Skyland, the Guy Mendilow Band’s current recording, emphasizes Mendilow’s interest in sound, and in using lyrics as an instrumental color, and melds his varied cultural and musical experiences. “I encourage you to ignore the lyrics of these songs, at least at first, and see where the music takes you,” he says. With Mendilow’s own diverse background and other artists in the band who bring in experiences from Japan to Cajun country, it is an around the world journey that opens doors to listening while still creating a distinct sense of presence and shared ideas. Most of the music was recorded in an old farmhouse in the Berkshires of Massachusetts, with the band on a limited budget, working long days, and doing the engineering, as well as the music, themselves. That sense of connection and community come through in music with lyrics that might be in Spanish and Yiddish, with rhythms that might be African, Cajun, or come from the blues.

World musician Guy Mendilow

Photo by Craig Harris

“Skyland is a snapshot of the band at a particular moment,” Mendilow says. “I knew that I wanted to feature certain textures, like the berimbau [a sort of musical bow and arrow], and overtone singing [in which one singer creates several tones at once], and Andy's jaw harp playing {Andy is Andy Bergman, who plays clarinet, bamboo flute, and other woodwinds with the band]. My growing interest in new arrangements of old Sephardic music led me to want to include several cuts of that nature. And I knew that I wanted songs that were playful as well as serious, to capture some of the strange sense of humour that is such a big part of this band. So we chose those tunes that met the criteria, and even wrote one or two specifically for the album.“ One of those was a piece called Express, which is “a tune that features Andy on a truly funky-sounding three pronged jaw harp - it's hard to believe that electronica sound comes from one simple acoustic instrument!” he says.

Mendilow sees his musical mission as creating connections and opening doors for understanding across cultures. The band does that through their music in concert and on record, and through working with international peacemaking organizations such as Seeds for Peace, which helps forge connections between Israeli and Palestinian educators and students. Mendilow has also found himself drawn to giving workshops, teaching both educators and children. His father is a professor, whose worldwide assignments led to Mendlow’s early experiences living in different cultures. Still, “Oddly enough, I was never really interested in teaching until I became involved with environmental activism. At Oberlin College, I majored in Environmental Studies. That's like majoring in a study of crisis and failure. I came away with a firm conviction that, beyond green technologies and sustainable policies, so much of what was needed was a different kind of vision, one that starts with a different kind of leadership. And, the more I learned about art education in different parts of the world, from Reggio Emilia in Italy to Paulo Freire in Brazil, I became convinced that the arts had a role to play in this,” he says. “Used in certain ways, the arts can help nurture the type of leadership and self-esteem that I feel is so needed. These beliefs guided me in my first artist residencies ten years ago, and led me to my Masters in Music degree and certification in Dalcroze Eurhythmics, in which I wound up focusing on musical improvisation as a tool for cross-cultural communication.

Dalcroze Eurhythmics is a vibrant, joyful approach to teaching both music and musicality, built on the premise that music is, first and foremost, a physical phenomenon. If a person can know how an element of music feels, in their own body and on their own terms, they can develop a knowledge of it that goes
deeper than an abstract understanding. Dalcroze teaches music from the ground up,”
he explains, “adding intellectual understanding only once a student has a strong, direct physical experience. It's like treating the body as the primary instrument. Dalcroze Eurhythmics is also all about improvisation. Students in a Dalcroze session make music right from the start, no matter how much they have under their belt. Ifyou've got just one note, you can already make music!”

Read part two of our conversation with musician and educator Guy Mendilow, in which he talks about the teacher's eye view of preparing for workshops which include a lot of improvisation, how teaching musical skill and developing leadership are connected, and why this world citizen now calls Boston home.

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.