June 2021 Vol. 2, No.6
Chris Farrell’s Thousand Blessings of Peace
“As a composer you need the training to underpin the freedom so you can surrender to the music”
Born in 1951 in New Rochelle, New York, Farrell’s musical journey started with piano lessons during the 5th grade with Ivan Rosenthal, who also taught him how to read and write musical scores. Farrell taught himself the difficult skill of piano tuning
by ear from a mail order course at age 18. That was before the aide of electronic tuners in use today. By the age of 18 he was tuning pianos for clients, a skill he kept up for 45 years. Today, he can work magic on any piano, taking loving care of all its needs, nurturing it to perfect pitch and tone, or adjusting the sound and dynamic to meet the standards of even the most demanding concert pianists. He repairs and reconditions, balances, tunes and tone-voices the piano for himself and others. It’s a steady livelihood to serve clients, few of whom know that Farrell is also prolific and inspiring composer with a specific mission – Sounds of Peace.
There is a joyous point when a musician becomes inseparably one with a musical instrument. Few people ever come as close to this inextricable link as Chris Farrell, a brilliant autodidact in his many musical, intellectual and technical pursuits. The resident of Pawling in the Hudson Valley of New York is the quintessential piano man whose connection to the noble instrument has practically been a lifelong love affair. He deeply embraces every essential aspect of the piano as a self-taught piano tuner, technician, composer and player. Concert pianists and famed composers such as Alan Menken, Paul McCartney, Billy Joel, Marian Anderson and Phil Ramone rely on him for the perfect tuning and voicing. Superseding his technical skills, he is also a talented composer who has recorded three albums, and literally more than a thousand tunes. Farrell is essentially not a performer, preferring the solitude of his studio to compose or transcribe music. When he has exceptionally performed a solo concert, the one and only in his life, the house was packed with fans. This humble scribe was
present for the rare occasion when the pianist stepped out into the public. We witnessed how he delighted the audience on a Steinway Grand piano with fluid passion and improvisational ease, playing his short vignettes, playfully sophisticated and passionate, yet accessible and intimate. The only other performance was at a group event at the United Nations General Assembly Hall in New York City in 2013, as part of World Interfaith Harmony Week.
“I am not in the entertainment business. I am a solo pianist who alludes through improvisation.”
He has created numerous compositions in traditional writing and familiar form, including numerous choral pieces. In the Spring of 2012, he was asked to compose the music for Michelle Obama’s Grammy Award-nominated audiobook, ‘American Grown: How the White House Kitchen Garden Inspires Families, Schools and Communities.’ He can transcribe music by hand, describing the process as, “writing the music that you hear in advance of playing it.” He was an early adopter of technical advancements such as Midi and automatic transcription methodologies, and he is a high-level Apple computer expert. He knows musical theory and can write out an entire score. Often, he simply sits down and lets the music flow organically, extemporizing his own improvisational, contemplative and intensely personal solo piano works. His improvisations are comparable to Keith Jarret’s famed Cologne Concert, to George Winston’s improvisations and Henry
Butler’s playfulness, and even of classical minimalism. The difference is that Farrell’s piano compositions have specific intent as musical meditations and practices of peace. He traverses understandings of tonality, space, and emotion, gravitating toward music as an expressive form of healing, a form of transcendental musical celebration, not dissimilar to Sufi musical mysticism. While the Sufis seek to unite listeners with the divine, Farrell’s approach is less lofty: he just wants to bring you peace and harmony.
The composer explained, “For me, music has for all my life been a self-healing, therapeutic way to address everything I faced in life. It is a sanctuary, my creative freedom to explore the dimensions I choose. It centers and nourishes me. I make music with focused intention to share with the world for healing and wellness, rooted in my own experience.” He further asserted, “I am not in the entertainment business. I am a solo pianist who alludes through improvisation.”
In June 2021, the composer will finish a monumental project titled “1000 Blessings of Peace,” literally recording a new composition daily for a thousand days consecutively. He prepared nothing in advance and made up each tune on the spot in free-flow improvisation. A major part of this project was the discipline and repetition of practice, the systematic completion of the musical journey. He stated, “Through repetition there is therapeutic value. You become engaged in the process itself, connected to the path.” Farrell recorded each of the tunes and shared them as “daily blessings” on his website with fans around the world from 67 countries. Farrell spoke to the international, cross-cultural acceptance, “Because it is instrumental, it has no words and thus no barriers.” He added, “I go to my studio every day and sit quietly, breathe and relax. I listen for something that isn’t there. I meditate. I hear it in my head and create it in real time. It’s a gift from the heart. The project is healthy for me, but I am doing it as a service.” He articulated his compositional approach, “My music takes you away from whatever is broken in your life. It starts with a seed-thought. I form a motive, create a feeling and then act freely. Then I let it flow. If it doesn’t flow, I discard it.”
He did this every day. The project started in June 2018 and continued through the pandemic and will conclude by the end of June 2021. His concept of music for healing and wellness is not categorizable, nor does it need to be. Commercial genre classifications fail. His compositional forms can be heard in everything from jazz to contemporary pop music, but his work is neither jazz nor pop, nor new age, yet it borrows from all. It is not typical traditional sacred or spiritual music, yet it is. It is not directly comparable to the form of Buddhist meditation chants, but it is of similar intent. It contains elements of classical and folk music, but it is a form
all of its own. He calls it “Sounds of Peace”, and that is just fine because music serves many human needs from the sacred to the profane, from religious practices to dance clubs. Inner peace is just as important.
Chris Farrell’s approach to music, and body of work, has led him to the forefront as one of the leading composers of this new movement of music as a form of mindfulness, positive energy, healing and peace. His free website has found followers worldwide who benefit from this form of musical therapy.
Farrell tries to bring heart and soul into his music. He wants you to feel good and bring the listener in touch with an aspect of human nature, a positive space where the music helps people through life. This time, he literally did it a thousand times. More than ever, in these hard pandemic times, surely this is what the world needs now. If you are lucky enough to already enjoy inner peace, Farrell’s music is still useful. For example, it is serene and gentle to allow reading while listening, for meditating, or in moments when the music should simply be calm and easy, yet sophisticated.
Sounds of Peace, 2008
Recorded at Imaginary Road Studios, Burlington, Dummerston, Vermont
Gifts from the Heart
Sounds of Peace, 2011
Recorded at Concert Recording Katonah Village Library, Katonah, New York
Courage & Grace
Sounds of Peace, 2012
Recorded at Snowbound Studios, Pawling, New York
Hear the music
A sampler playlist of four tracks from 1000 Blessings of Peace:
Samples from each CD:
Farrell’s Main website with the latest daily blessing: https://soundsofpeace.com/
Writer. Photographer. Producer.
Contributing writer to the Hammond Museum, Frank Matheis, is a music, visual arts and culture writer and photographer. His latest project was the book ‘Sweet Bitter Blues’ co-written with National Heritage Fellow Phil Wiggins (University Press of Mississippi, 2020). His Hammond Museum column ‘In Other Words’ features member artists in all disciplines. He is also a contributing writer to ArtsWestchester, Living Blues magazine (Center for Southern Culture Studies) and thecountryblues.com.