Nature is a primary inspiration for the music of musician Richard Noll, and those influences can be heard on his debut album, Peaceful Being. “Most of my early music came to me as I sat with my wooden recorder in the mountains or along the rivers and streams of Northern New Mexico,” says Noll, one of the few recording artists who primarily plays recorder.
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“Sometimes I was next to a gurgling stream or a waterfall or a lake, other times on top of a mesa with the vast sky, perhaps watching the clouds and the weather change, waiting for a sunrise or a sunset, listening to the birds, following the flight of a hawk, meditating, at peace with myself and my surroundings. When a new melody came to me, I played it, over and over, so that I would remember it later at home. I was responding to the natural world around me, and I was communicating back, offering my flute song as a tribute or a prayer.”
More information on Richard Noll is available at his website (richardnoll.com). His Peaceful Being album is available as a CD at select stores or as digital download tracks at a variety of online sales sites such as CDBaby, Amazon, iTunes, Google Play, eMusic and many others. The music also can be heard (and Noll can be followed) at many major streaming platforms such as Spotify, Pandora, Apple Music, Google Play and more.
“I collected eight of my songs for Peaceful Being that I felt were soothing, meditative songs that could inspire, uplift and nourish a listener,” explains Noll. “I believe these songs can be supportive during times of reflection and inner process, as background for yoga, meditation or other daily practice, during massage or other bodywork sessions, to create a meditative energy for groups, or offered wherever calm and spacious music would be appropriate.”
Although this is Noll’s first solo album, he has been intimately involved with recording music for the past 20 years and is best-known as a contributor of his recorder music and vocal harmonies to the early albums recorded by his wife, Shaina Noll. He contributed even more to her later albums — to arrangements and production, creating the album artwork, even recording and editing the music. Shaina’s albums, when listed chronologically, are: Songs for the Inner Child, Bread for the Journey, You Can Relax Now, Resting in the Now and the song “A Place For You Here.” On Richard’s Peaceful Being, Shaina returns the favor by singing wordless vocalizations on three tunes and playing piano on “Early Spring.”
On Peaceful Being Noll plays alto and tenor recorders, an electronic wind instrument (the EWI 4000s), and electronic keyboards for creating piano, percussion, Indonesian gamelan-like tones and other instrumental sounds. “Even though I play transverse flutes from time to time,” explains Noll. “I concentrated on using the recorder on this album since many of the pieces were composed on that instrument. Of course recorders are a type of flute, an internal duct flute, and I generally play them in the style of a native or indigenous wooden flute.” Special guests on the album include Shaina on piano and wordless vocalizing on three songs (joining with Richard’s vocals on one of those), and Gwen Franz on viola.
The title of the album, Peaceful Being, can be understood in two ways: feeling peaceful, or as a peaceful person. Noll says, “The meaning that emerges depends on whether the word ‘being’ is understood as a noun or a verb.”
Noll lived near Santa Fe, New Mexico, for 33 years and did extensive hiking and camping throughout the state in the mountains, mesas, arroyos, deserts and river valleys. He explored ancient Native American dwellings and sites, and became familiar with the Pueblo and Hopi Indian cultures. “The Pueblo Peoples often did rain dances in the summer as an
answer to drought conditions,” Noll explains. “On my own I discovered the correlation between soulful music and rain one time when I was alone on top of a mesa where there were some ancient cliff dwellings and I was looking out across a valley a considerable distance to the mountains beyond where I saw a small raincloud with thunder and lightning. I sat down and started playing flute music to that rain cloud and, as if in a dream, it moved down the mountain, across the valley and up onto the mesa where it drenched me with rain. I named that piece of music ‘Calling the Rain’ and it is the first song on this album.”
There is other material on the album featuring Noll playing his recorders in the style of Native American wood flutes — the title track “Peaceful Being” and “Nightfall.” Noll remembers, “I was sitting by a waterfall along a small stream in the mountains in New Mexico when I wrote ‘Peaceful Being. It evokes for me the lush, spacious and nurturing presence of the pristine Earth, and the quality of being alive, nourished and supported by Nature. Another song, ‘Nightfall,’ celebrates twilight, the transition from the light of day to the dark of night when the diminished light softens the edges of all things as the shadows take over, and I feel a sense of mystery and wonder. I composed this as dusk fell while camping at a river in the Gila Wilderness in Southern New Mexico.” Noll explores a somewhat different sound on “Early Spring,” which marries alto and tenor recorders with piano and voice, “celebrates nature awakening after a long winter.”
Four pieces on the album were written by Noll after he moved to the Pacific Northwest United States a decade ago. “I wrote these at my home in Washington State which overlooks the Salish Sea, dotted with islands. Off in the distance, rising above the water is a vast stretch of the Cascade Mountains on the mainland featuring Mount Baker towering above them,” says Noll. “Open Heart,” which features an alto sax melody and a tenor sax harmony both played on the EWI plus a viola countermelody, captures “the waking of my heart, falling in love, being inspired and feeling free of isolation.” “Grace” (“human life is enhanced with a touch of the divine and a sense of wonder”) features a keyboard-created gamelan sound. One of the most spiritual compositions on the album is “Invocation” featuring a tenor recorder solo. “The music is a prayer-like request for inspiration and blessings.” The longest tune on the album at nearly 13-minutes is “Inner Journey,” which Noll was inspired to compose during an inner journey of his own, with the hope of musically taking listeners on an exploratory journey of their minds, spirits and psyches. The song has a simple, repetitive piano theme running throughout that suggests the repetitive drumming often associated with journeys or altered states. “A native shaman,” Noll states, “taught me the value of altered states of consciousness for seeking expanded awareness, inspiration, healing, or greater understanding of life.”
Noll has always loved music. “I first learned to play a recorder in elementary school. But I began playing the recorder enthusiastically, often in nature, when I lived in Connecticut while attending Yale Divinity School, studying Christianity, Hinduism and Buddhism. It was there that I began practicing yoga and meditation, as part of an exploration in mysticism. These practices became part of my daily life and inspired my recorder and flute playing profoundly. I played my flute as a way to commune with nature, like a nature mystic might, exploring the ‘Mystical’ alive in the natural world. I communed with that ‘Spirit’ within myself and in nature through my flute playing. Whenever I went out, I carried a recorder with me in my backpack and played wherever I could, including wilderness areas, hotels, public parks and schools.” Noll once performed at an ashram concert on-stage with renowned jazz harpist Alice Coltrane. Noll has long admired other musicians such as Paul Horn (especially his Inside album), Paul Winter, Michael Hoppe, R. Carlos Nakai, Michael Whalen and Pharoah Sanders.
“Playing the flute and recorder has always had a spiritual quality for me,” explains Noll. “When I play out in nature, or perform a piece I wrote that feels inspired, it seems like a meditation or a prayer. I hope listeners of my album might absorb those feelings and find the music useful for their personal exploration and growth.”