In my last post, I mentioned some recordings of Rosemary Brown pieces made by the young Brazilian pianist Érico Bomfim. I first heard him a few months ago, playing two nocturnes attributed to Chopin. My immediate reaction was that these were pleasant pieces, but in no way could I say they had been composed by my dear friend. Dang. I was a little uncomfortable about this, but I was involved with other projects at the time, and didn’t think much further about it until I received the recent shipment of Brown sheet music I told you about, sent by Guilherme Tavares, which included both of the nocturnes. Now I’ve had a chance to play them both and hang out with them for a while. My impression is still the same. The C# minor nocturne, constructed of block chords like the “chorale” section of some Chopin nocturnes rather than the stereotypical lyrical melody plus arpeggiated accompaniment, is very enjoyable, but I hear it as a well-crafted Brown piece with little resemblance to the work of the named composer. The nocturne in F minor is built on a typical nocturne plan, with a sinuous and rhythmically complex melody very much like what we would expect of Chopin, but somehow still not sounding like his voice. I was surprised that these nocturnes would sound so not-Chopin, since the A flat nocturne I already knew has so many of his characteristics, resembles known pieces of his, and completely convinces me. (Well, 99%.) While it’s possible, even likely, that a composer’s style would change over time, these sound more like the work of another competent composer of the same era than like Chopin himself. Still, I can’t rule out his being involved with their creation.
The F minor nocturne has been bugging me today. It’s an attractive piece, and I’ve gotten interested in it enough to want to learn it thoroughly. Why is it that although it’s constructed exactly like a Chopin nocturne, with similar turns of phrase, it doesn’t sound like him? What does Chopin sound like that’s different from this? If anyone should be able to answer, it’s me, but so far I can’t. Earlier today I was playing the nocturne and asking myself these questions, and I called out to my mother, “Does this sound like Chopin to you?” Without hesitating, she called back, “No!” from the next room, adding, “It doesn’t make me think of him.” Poor thing, she has to listen to me practicing Chopin day in and day out, so she knows very well what he sounds like. Later I played it some more, and got to thinking that measures 8-10 did in fact have a strong Chopinesque flavor, and felt physically like something he’d do. I asked my husband the same question I’d asked my mother, and he immediately shook his head, not even needing time to think about it.
Both of these nocturnes were published as being written by Rosemary Brown and “inspired by” Chopin. That seems about right to me, and perhaps as close as we can get to describing the truth.
Years ago I’d played, or tried to play, a set of six mazurkas that were included in the Brown sheet music I had in hard copies, and I’d felt that they were weak as examples of Chopin’s work. Six more came with the new collection, and I tried those right away. On a first reading, they seemed as unconvincing as the two nocturnes. Then I heard Leslie Howard playing all 12 of the mazurkas on the “Listen Beyond Today” album. They sure sounded a lot better than they did when I tried them! In fact, they sounded quite respectable, Chopinesque enough and very Polish– played with the proper rhythmic fluidity, too. And when I heard the last of the 12, in G# minor, I nearly wept for joy, because I felt I was truly hearing my friend’s voice again. That one is lovely, and it has a simple but sophisticated left hand part that I can easily relate to Chopin. I’m enjoying learning it, and as happens with good music, I’m finding more in it as I practice. Listen to it here: https://www.box.com/s/5dhe0hslmbpd81ej8zvl
As I reported last time, “paramusicologist” Melvyn Willin said that there were “the odd one or two” pieces in Mrs. Brown’s opus that he couldn’t explain as “pastiche.” There are a lot more than one or two, but I know what he meant. That 12th mazurka is one of them, as is the A flat nocturne, Rachmaninov’s “Sleigh Ride,” “Grübelei” of course, and some others I’ve noticed. We can all agree that they are good music, wherever they came from.
No matter what one thinks “really” happened, the Rosemary Brown phenomenon is intriguing and, I believe, well worth studying. What do we know for sure?
– Fraud is not a plausible explanation, for reasons I have outlined in the past and will not bother to repeat.
– The pieces are written in a variety of styles that are recognizably those of the composers named.
– There are a great many pieces; one must say that no matter how they were produced, the output is impressive.
– Quality varies among the pieces.
It is necessary to conclude that one of three things must be true:
1. Mrs. Brown was never in contact with any spirit entity, but got all of the music through somehow tapping into an ability that was beyond the ordinary but still hers alone, or
2. Mrs. Brown was given the music directly by the deceased composers, just as she said, and the clarity of the transmission was variable, with some or all of the pieces unintentionally including input of her own, or
3. Mrs. Brown was given the music by spirit entities only pretending to be those deceased composers, thus explaining the uneven quality. (These entities would still have to be excellent musicians, and very familiar with the styles of the composers.)
It’s that third possibility that gives me the willies. My friend Fryderyk has repeatedly indicated, assuming I’ve understood correctly, that he was personally involved in the Brown project, and in fact, as I’ve played and listened to these new pieces in the past week or so, he has shown up a number of times– unfortunately not clearly enough that I could ask questions. If Mrs. Brown was visited by deceiving entities, that could mean the same thing is happening to me. I do think this is highly unlikely, for reasons I’ve explained in previous posts, but I keep it in the back of my mind as a possibility, being a proper scientist and never believing that I have possession of all conceivable information.
Regarding possibility #1, I must say, I’m not sure whether to laugh or cry when people insist that the composers weren’t present and didn’t even exist. I mean, from Mrs. Brown’s point of view, Liszt and the others were right there in the room and totally obvious! (For my friends who can actually see Fryderyk when he is near me, it’s just as obvious.) If only I could have met Mrs. Brown and seen her in action, surely I could have gotten some idea whether a given composer was hanging about near her, or at least, whether someone was there. Any even slightly able psychic could have done that. Didn’t anyone try? Most likely they did, but no matter how many subjective perceptions there were, they wouldn’t have been enough to convince those who were determined to believe the whole thing was a crock. And what if the hypothetical competent psychic determined that no one was there except Mrs. Brown herself? Again, the phenomenon would still be fascinating and deserving of study. However, at least once, something happened to show even the non-psychic that an invisible someone was in the room. As described in Look Beyond Today, Mrs. Brown’s 1986 book:
“On one occasion, Liszt even came up with a ‘party trick’ to help me get through a very difficult encounter. I was going to be interviewed on television in Birmingham by a lady called Wendy Cooper. One of my previous books had just been published and the television people were calling in a computer expert who was going to use his professional knowledge to analyse my music and say whether it was genuine or not.
I felt very uncomfortable but Liszt said to me, ‘Don’t worry. Everything will be all right.’ Just before we went on the air, the studio was very busy with technicians everywhere. I hadn’t even seen a copy of my new book yet myself so I picked up the review copy which was to be flashed on screen. I looked at it, then Wendy took it back and placed it on the piano stool — they had brought in a piano because they wanted me to play some of my pieces from the composers. After putting down the book, we went and sat some distance away. There was no one near the piano at all, but I saw Liszt walk over to it and then pick up the book to have a look at the jacket. He was curious, too. He had a good look then put it down. Everyone saw the book move but they could not see Liszt lifting it up. All they saw was the book rising up from the stool, hovering in mid-air, and then sinking down again. Everyone about me was thunderstruck. I said, ‘That’s Liszt. He just wanted to look at the book.’ From that moment on, my credibility rocketed. Everyone was looking at me in a different light, and even the computer genius declared my music genuine!
Wendy subsequently wrote an article about this in the Birmingham Post in which she said: ‘In the past I have certainly been sceptical where the supernatural is concerned, and none of the mediums or clairvoyants I have met and interviewed has done anything to change my mind. Rosemary Brown has — or at the very least she has forced my mind open to the fact that there is something about her story and her music that defies rational explanation.’”
Well, an invisible being may be able to pick up a book, but a nonexistent being definitely can’t.*
Possibility #2 continues to look like the probable truth to me, especially after listening to the BBC broadcast of the obviously puzzled Mrs. Brown trying to get “Grübelei” straight. But what exactly was going on? The details, the nuts and bolts of how it worked? I’m not sure that can be answered completely, but as my own experiences have piled up over the years, perhaps I have a little better understanding.
I’ve never channeled written music, nor found myself improvising brilliantly (or at all, I’m afraid) under Fryderyk’s influence. However, over the past nearly 20 years I’ve received quite a bit of guidance about piano technique and musical interpretation from that master. I’ve only posted a small amount of that here, because I’m having considerable trouble organizing it all, and because more keeps coming in and my understanding of it keeps changing– not to mention a certain embarrassment at telling you that Chopin is sometimes my piano teacher. A few weeks ago, on September 10, I had an experience with him that I thought elucidated some of the issues about musical channeling, and it seems like time to come out with this.
Way back in the late ‘90s, I had one of the biggest thrills of my life, Chopin using my hands to play. I was an even less advanced player then, and I was pretty limited material for him to work with, but we accomplished something amazing nonetheless. It was as if he slid his arms and hands inside my own and used them himself, very directly. I still couldn’t play anything that would have been impossible for me the rest of the time, but musically the result was far beyond what I could produce on my own. He also was able to cause me to do some things quite differently from the way I had practiced them– I wasn’t simply channeling a more able version of myself (which I’ve also done at times), but rather someone whose thoughts were distinct from mine. Not long after that, I read Mrs. Brown’s description of Liszt “putting her hands on like gloves,” and I immediately believed her, because exactly that had happened to me.
A healer friend tried to convince me that allowing someone to make use of my body in that way was dangerous, and although I didn’t entirely accept her view, sadly, it never happened again. (An “evil” entity wouldn’t have cared if he was harming me, but Fryderyk stopped as soon as I expressed concern.) Years went by before there was any apparent attempt to play with me again, though I longed for it and often asked, and when it finally happened, it seemed he was using a new method. I didn’t feel anything specifically inside my hands, but there was a sense of being surrounded energetically, all over, and then there was a clear influence that one could hear and see in my playing– influence but not exactly control. I couldn’t begin to tell you how he was doing it, only that a great deal of the effort was being taken up by someone other than myself, and that I sounded quite different. That was what happened last month.
I had been struggling mightily with the Fantaisie-Impromptu, which does not respond at all well to struggle of any kind. My right arm was painful and felt locked up and heavy, unable to move fluidly enough to get anywhere with that piece. Practicing harpsichord had confused my usual piano habits and increased my difficulties, and I was badly stuck. Feeling that my invisible teacher was around, I asked for help, hoping it might be one of those all-too-rare times when I could get a clear message.
I could feel a warm energy surrounding me, and there was a strong sensation around my hands, but nothing like the “glove” effect. It was more a sense of being buoyed up, having support under me. I tried to put aside any thought of not being able to keep up with him, and I began the piece. Suddenly I went from stuck in the mud to playing it up to tempo for the first time ever, that is, something like 20% faster than my usual best speed, and with a sense of great freedom and ease, and no pain at all. The trouble was that every few measures I’d notice the impossible thing I was doing and that would stop me for a moment and break the flow. It was by no means a fine performance. Still, it was decidedly more than I’d been able to do just a few minutes earlier. My mother heard all this– if you don’t believe it, she can vouch for me!
While trying to hang on to this piece that’s at the far edge of my ability, I also had to observe what was happening and figure out why it seemed so much easier. This is the advantage of not going into trances; although I can’t let go and be completely controlled, which limits how much information can come through me, I can learn directly from what happens. This was happening awfully fast and for only a few minutes, though, and I was only able to perceive and remember certain aspects of it. The main thing I got out of it was that I should employ a much larger circular movement of my right arm, initiated from the shoulder; I think before that I was overusing just my forearm, and that was causing the pain. At any rate, as soon as I did this, the pain stopped.
The next day it turned out that I could do the same, but then I started to lose what I had gained under Fryderyk’s influence. And as I continued to practice and push toward greater speed, I found new ways to hurt myself, and had to analyze my movements yet again. At this writing, I feel that I’ve worked through most of the issues that have been holding me back on this piece, and that I’m doing at least most of what Fryderyk was trying to get me to do, as well as what my Earth-based teacher advises. We’ll see….
Who was playing the Fantaisie-Impromptu that day? We were, I suppose. I can’t exactly say that I was channeling Fryderyk’s playing; it was my own playing, but with a lot of help. My experiences of playing with him, as best I can describe them, have been like two minds using one body, like pilot and copilot. Most of the time I couldn’t have said where one ended and the other began. If Mrs. Brown’s experience was anything like mine, perhaps sometimes she was getting a clearer signal from the composers, recording their exact transmission, and other times she was getting more of the music from within herself, and maybe not always sure which was which, because they blended together. That’s my best guess at this point.
What might the composers have experienced of this? Can we assume that they came in with a finished composition in mind, and Mrs. Brown simply wrote it down? If so, did some get transmitted with great accuracy, while others had holes filled, consciously or not, by Mrs. Brown’s own ideas? Were there as many frustrations for the composers as for their scribe? If there were errors or omissions, did they always try to go back and fill in the gaps, or did they sometimes decide to leave well enough alone– and could they even perceive those errors while they worked? Were there times when the music was written in collaboration with Mrs. Brown, using her own (perhaps unconscious) input, rather like my experience of “playing with” rather than being “played through”? And in cases like that C# minor nocturne, the one that sounds so little like Chopin, did a composer just give Mrs. Brown a little push, then leave her to compose more or less on her own?
It seems to me that fairly often in Brown works, the hand moves to nearby keys that feel intuitively obvious, that is, the way one might naturally do it when improvising. There’s nothing unusual about that in an “authentic” piece, especially with Chopin. However, it’s occurred to me that the composers might have found it easier, when pushing Mrs. Brown’s hand to find the next notes, to take the path of least resistance. The mechanical process of moving her hands may thus have influenced some of the compositions. This would not have been relevant when the music was being transmitted by dictating note names, but Mrs. Brown has also described both Liszt and Chopin directly placing her hands on the piano keys, leaving her to notate what she had just played. I can imagine advantages and disadvantages of both methods, and differing effects on the final compositions. This is an area where I’d so much appreciate some details, and I hope I can get some enlightenment from my composer friend eventually.
So who composed the works of Rosemary Brown? Her name is on the pages, and I’m comfortable with that, even if the composers who “inspired” the pieces did all the composing. She still had to do the work of bringing the notes through and putting them on paper– a gigantic amount of work, producing hundreds of pieces over many years. Perhaps not so different, as she pointed out in the BBC radio program, from the many “real” composers who have felt they were simply downloading the music directly from the heavens. Although it’s not quite the same thing, I’m reminded of an episode of classic Star Trek, in which a patient in a mental hospital recites a bit of Shakespeare and announces that she has just written it. Another patient points out that it was written by Shakespeare a long time ago. “That doesn’t change the fact that I wrote it again myself this morning!” she retorts.
Even more online material about Rosemary Brown has shown up since I wrote the last post a few days ago:
In this video, The Amazing Kreskin interviews Mrs. Brown on his TV show in 1973, and she plays a polonaise attributed to Chopin– a simple but definitely Chopinesque one. The Brown segment starts at about 8:50. Although Kreskin was a magician, not a psychic, he was respectful toward his guest. Later in the program, he shows off his own piano chops with an impressive music-based trick. I always liked that guy, and now that I know he plays the piano, I like him all the better. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EcraiFro0x8
Here is a collection of additional articles about Rosemary Brown, and others regarding mediums and psychics, as well as UFO experiencers: http://metaphysicalarticles.blogspot.com/ The quote above from Look Beyond Today came from this site.
*A couple of years ago, I wrote about Fryderyk possibly moving a CD from one place to another on a shelf, but that wasn’t witnessed, and remains only an intriguing mystery.