Mood is critical to music written for contemplation and to generate inspiration. The pieces must be properly written and arranged to convey exactly the emotions and energy that the composer desires; falling short in this effort can leave the listener with a sense of incompleteness. Something is lost in the listening, or the setting projected by the piece isn’t congruent with the composer’s goal. Creating this kind of music is a gamble. If successful, the listener enjoys an enriching and insight-generating experience.
With Keeper of the Holy Grail and Camelot Reawakened, Richard Shulman lays out a program of music designed to inspire. According to Shulman, these albums are part of an ongoing process “to create music which will help set the stage for a harmonious society we are all co-creating with the Divine.” That’s a tall order; though for the most part enjoyable and noticeably moving at times, the albums don’t quite deliver on that program. Both albums suffer from being too smooth and over produced. There is a vanilla aspect to the orchestration and especially the singing in Movement V (“Remember the Love That We Are”) on Camelot Reawakened, that tends to anesthetize rather than inspire.
Finding the right setting seemed crucial to properly absorb the meaning and message of Shulman’s music. My 90-minute train ride into and out of work each day works wonders for setting me in a contemplative mood. The hills, farms, and forests of north-central Maryland never fail to settle and clear my mind. Using the commute to listen to and absorb Keeper of the Holy Grail and Camelot Reawakened put me in the best position to appreciate Shulman’s efforts. Despite the time and (for me) the best setting, I never could quite capture the mood that the liner notes stressed.
Considering the music alone, without examining the larger goals of its presentation, both albums have enjoyable moments. The brass section is very effective on Camelot Reawakened to build the emotional level of the music. “Releasing the Past / Healing” (Movement IV) is a stand-out piece in this respect, especially in the transition from the bright, ringing horn play in “A Royal Processional” (Movement II) and the light-hearted “Celebration” (Movement III). One can see how the assembled symphony is greater than the sum of its parts by listening to the movements in succession. This was the only point where I could get a sense of where Shulman was heading.
The piano is (unfortunately) much more dominant on Keeper of the Holy Grail, combining with the woodwinds to blur most of the emotional impact. Piano, flute, and strings pile upon themselves layer by layer on pieces like “Sacred Core” to smother the listener. Only a few pieces really stand out distinctly enough to communicate some of Shulman’s message. He scrubs off the accrued layers on “The Holy Grail (The Divine Mother)” by effectively blending the piano and string section. The result is soft and enveloping without being suffocating or sickly sweet. This provided the feeling that Shulman wanted, but that’s only half of the picture. Getting a sense of the divine was still lacking. Only “The Descent of the Dove / Holy Spirit” came close. Its soft mix of keyboards and woodwinds conveyed some sense of the soft, spiritual feeling that Shulman was looking for. This wasn’t sustained through the entire album, leaving the feeling transient at best.
It’s a lot to ask from an album – summoning up the sense of a divine presence in 45 minutes or so of conscientious listening. Camelot Reawakened and Keeper of the Holy Grail don’t quite achieve this goal, but the albums still have some merit strictly in the earthly appeal of the music. The high points are worth seeking out on each album, but don’t expect a transformational or truly inspirational experience. Maybe those results are just more than one can expect from a couple of CDs.
(RichHeart Music, 1997)
(RichHeart Music, 2002)