Rising Music Star Daniel Gil: “Burnout can actually be part of a healthy cycle; embrace it”

Burn out happens, and it’s a great thing. Embrace the cycle. There’s the sun and there’s the moon; the day/night cycle. Wakefulness and sleeping. Both are important. Both are essential for consciousness. Embrace them both! Work ’til you burn out! Let the sun shine through you ’til you’re fried! Work as hard as possible! Then […]

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Burn out happens, and it’s a great thing. Embrace the cycle. There’s the sun and there’s the moon; the day/night cycle. Wakefulness and sleeping. Both are important. Both are essential for consciousness. Embrace them both! Work ’til you burn out! Let the sun shine through you ’til you’re fried! Work as hard as possible! Then take a break. Go to sleep. Take as long as you need. Really, truly do everything that relaxes you, let your mind sleep. Embrace the depth of joyful mindlessness. However, when the new ideas come, and they will, don’t ignore their pull. Do it! Work ’til you are completely burnt out yet again. Then take a break. Repeat ad infinitum.

I had the distinct pleasure to interview Daniel Gil. Daniel is a composer, musicologist, musician, producer, arranger and performer living in the Boston area. He is a graduate of Berklee College of Music, and has composed and performed in many genres including classical, jazz, rock, and folk. Daniel is a multi-instrumentalist and songwriter who is trained classically on the Violin, and in composition. During his travels through the worlds of traditional folk music Daniel picked up bouzouki, saz, cuatro, and the cross strung harp. He also studied jazz trombone, and was admitted to Berklee on a trombone scholarship, which he declined. Daniel has six solo Albums To His Credit. His classical compositions often incorporate the majestic scenes and beautiful melodies of his Chassidic heritage. Daniel has performed traditional Jewish folk music for audiences around the world and has played and lectured on the history and nature of Jewish Music at the New England Conservatory, Dartmouth College, Tufts University and various synagogues. He has been a recipient of grants from both the Meru Foundation and the Boston Combined Jewish Philanthropies. Daniel’s latest Solo CD, “Hava Nagila, For Real,” is a unique foray into Eastern Europe’s pre-World War I Jewish communities. The CD is comprised of songs from the Kiselgof Archive, a collection of over 1,500 folk tunes originally recorded on Edison wax cylinders during a 1909 ethnographic expedition into Jewish Eastern Europe. The songs were then transcribed by members of the St. Petersburg Society for Jewish Folk Music. Daniel’s new CD presents 12 of these songs, including the original, lost version of Hava Nagila. “Hava Nagila, For Real” is the first modern recording that comes directly from these transcriptions, and represents a part of Jewish civilization that was lost in the Holocaust. In addition to a successful solo career, Daniel leads the searing rock trio Raibard. Raibard is a trio that draws inspiration from the natural, and supernatural worlds. Raibard’s first studio album “The Queen of the Night,” was received with great acclaim. Daniel and Raibard will release their second studio album “Dark Realm of the Daylight — Bright Kingdom of the Night,” in the very near future.

Thank you so much for joining us Dan! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

You may not believe it, but I can remember when I was a baby. I remember the Yom Kippur war. I was 5 months old when it broke out. I remember the pain, and horror, and sadness permeating everything. I remember some specific scenes, the bomb shelter, the fallout curtains, but I remember the feelings. More than anything I remember the feelings. It was all darkness, as even the most justifiable war is pure darkness. Then one day I heard the music. I can remember the moment distinctly. Laying on my back in my crib looking at something that was hanging above my crib, something meant to entertain; which surprisingly, those little ridiculous things actually do entertain babies! I digress, I remember looking at this thing and then hearing R’ Shlomo Carlebach’s song “Adir Hu.” It blew my little mind, and my enormous heart. It still does. That song, that music, it taught me that amidst the darkness there is also light, and that it comes in the form of music. Since then, I’ve been a musician, and I forever will be.

Can you share the most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your music career?

When I try to think of the most interesting thing that has happened in my career, I draw a blank? Perhaps it is yet to come? So, Instead let me tell you the story of my weirdest and funniest gig. We were living in Jerusalem some years ago, and as a Berklee grad, someone gave me the numbers of Ofer, and Iris Portugali. They were running the Berklee extension school in Israel, and the person who gave me their number thought they would be a good connection for me. So, I called and left a message. A week later I get a call from Ofer and he has a gig for me! I was thrilled. What’s the gig, an Israeli artist, needed some help with English diction for an album he was recording. So, I went to Tel Aviv to meet this artist. Shows up to meet me, a tiny Yemeite Jew driving a pickup truck. He was very tan, and spoke English with a thick Israeli Yemenite accent. “So what is this project?” I asked him. Here you have to imagine an Israeli Yementie accent, “I love Frank Sinatra, he is my favorite. So, I doing tribute album where I sing Frank songs in English, and sound like him!” he answered. I thought oh man, this is going to be rich! I mean really, the accent, the weird tan, the extremely small stature and dark sunglasses that look like they were in fashion in Frank SInatra’s heyday, the middle of Tel Aviv on a hot late autumn day; I could honestly think of nothing farther from Frank Sinatra. We get in the cigarette infested studio in Tel Aviv. Infested with cigarettes, no other way to explain it. The smell, the mixing console, everywhere. I put on the cans (headphones) and so does my little Yemeni Frank, and starts up the backing track to “They Got an Awful Lot of Coffee in Brazil.” Here we go I thought. Then my new Yemenite friend, still wearing the 60’s sunglasses in the absurdly dark tracking room, opened his mouth, and Frank SInatra came out. I was stunned. He WAS Frank Sinatra. Out of his mouth Frank was reborn; Beautiful, sexy, arrogant, and with a perfect American accent. I though, well this is amazing and bizarre. Furthermore, why I am here? This guy doesn’t need me, he’s perfect. Then he rolled his R in a way that Frank never would’ve. So I stopped the recording and tried to explain that in a New England accent it’s not rolled, its flat, not ‘arrrrrrr’ but ‘aaah.” It was a long session. My new Yemenite friend was actually a very kind and super talented person. He was concerned that I would take a wrong turn and miss the Tel Aviv bus station. So, he drove me there after the session. Then he looked at me and said “I’m coming with you. I don’t want you to go to wrong place here.” Concerned for my safety in the Tel Aviv bus station at midnight, rightfully so, he walked me to the bus and waited ’til I boarded; then waved goodbye as the bus was pulling out. What a sweetheart my Yemenite Frank Sinatra turned out to be. To date, this is the weirdest and funniest gig I’ve had.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?

I am researching the Kiselgof archive. It is exhilarating to get a view into the past from such an intimate source. The musical life of a people tells the most detailed and real story of a people. If you know how to listen for it. The Kiselgof archive is special because it comes from 1909, before World War I. The Jewish communities that Kiselgof and his team surveyed in 1909 were still very much undisturbed from their foundings hundreds of years earlier. So in this ethnographic survey of music, you can hear all those years, and all the history that was still so very alive at that time. Conversely, knowing what we do now about the fate of those communities during World War II, makes the Kiselgof archive so incredibly important. It offers a real view into the hopes, dreams, and worldvision of the pre-war Jewish community, of those who died in the Holocaust. I recorded one album, “Hava Nagila, For Real,’ based on twelve songs which I chose from the first one hundred anf fifty pages of the over sixteen hundred page archive. I am now working on a new album based on the archive, which will be similar in format to “Hava Nagila, For Real.” I’m also editing my 1st Symphony, whose main theme comes directly from the Archive. I’m working on a new live program entitled Abraham’s Garden; which is a dramatized, sensory enhanced public presentation of the archival material. I’m also forming a community of people interested in this very important research via patreon; as the archive is too big for one person to handle alone, even me. 😉 The Kiselgof archive is vast, over sixteen hundred pages. It consists of Hasidic, Yiddish, and Klezmer music. It is housed in two places in the world, The Vernadsky Library in Kiev, Ukraine, and on a hard drive in my office. How I got hold of it is an interesting story, for another time and place.

My work with the Kiselgof archive is countered by my work with Raibard. The Kiselgof archive has incredible depth and mystery, but it can be emotionally exhausting to work on it. Raibard, contrarily, is so refreshing and exciting to work with, because our music is so alive right now in the present time and space. There’s such an enormous energy that works through us when we play. It’s hard to describe; feels like we are tapping into the cosmic power socket of energy every time we play together. Our latest project is the new album “Dark Realm of the Daylight — Bright Kingdom of the Night.” It’s about the dichotomy between Darkness and Light, but not how we normally think of them. In our view, Darkness is the place where you can let go and freely express you ideas and emotions, Light is the place where judgement and scrutiny limit the unique self and sow feelings of inhibition. Light is the place where we go to work, Darkness is the place where lovers meet. Light is logic and structure, Darkness is expression and beauty. Hopefully, our new album encompasses them both.

Who are some of the most interesting people you have interacted with? What was that like? Do you have any stories?

I’ve met a lot of gifted masters — Master storytellers, Gurus, Musicians, artists et al. The most interesting experience I had meeting someone was when I was a first semester student at Berklee, in Boston. I grew up in a small midwestern town; I’d never seen a homeless person before I arrived in Boston. It shocked me. We’re supposed to be a good society? We’re supposed to be advanced as a race (human race)? We have morals? What is this?! How can people be allowed, in the most wealthy epoch humanity has ever known, to live like this? I still feel this way, but unfortunately have grown more used to the existence of people who are so destitute that they don’t have a place to live, the homeless. However, back when I was a wide eyed student, I couldn’t help myself. I remember calling my father, and hemming and hawing, about why I called. We were very close and talked often but this was different, I had run out of money. I had literally given away everything I had to spend in my newly formed first bank account. My dad being the wise person that he was, just said something like, ‘that must be hard for you to see that; I understand completely,” and he put more money in my account. As I grew the tiniest bit more street smart, I started budgeting my money to include giving to the homeless, but not to the point that I had nothing left for myself. I still looked for people to give to and help, I would often sit with the person I was giving to, just being a friendly listener, which is much more important than the money. One day I saw a lady, and she was sitting with her child. They were both homeless. I was stunned. I don’t remember what I gave her, but it was significant. Some weeks later I saw her again, she was alone this time. We talked for a while, and towards the end of our conversation, I asked her, “Are you hungry? I’m going to get some dinner at a restaurant here on Newbury street, can I invite you as my guest?” She accepted and off we went. I decided that she was no longer a homeless person, but rather that she was just a good friend, who I now had the privilege of buying dinner for. We had a great time, talking and eating and drinking. She was a really interesting person, and perhaps the most interesting because I might’ve judged her as just ’homeless,’ and never learned a thing. At the end of our dinner she became sad. Life on the streets is rougher than we know; I think it was the first time anybody had treated her like a valuable human being, in many years. As we were saying our goodbyes, just before we walked away, she looked at me with the most real eyes and said, “you are the kindest person I have ever met.” I smiled and said what a pleasure I’d had in her company, and that we should do it again, and we parted. I never saw her again. To be honest I am not the kindest person. One thing is clear however, that to this human being, at that time and place, I was. This is something that I will take with me forever; that one time, to another person, I was the kindest man on Earth.

Which people in history inspire you the most? Why?

Those that kept, nurtured, and developed their humanity during the time they spent here. We’re living in history right now in the present. So I hope it’s alright, I’ll include some people who are still alive? My shortlist — Antonio Vivaldi, Vincent Van Gogh, Ralph W. Emerson, Ludwig Beethoven, Stan Tenen, the Baal Shem Tov, Homer, King David, Geddy Lee, George Lucas, Patrick Rothfuss, Zusia Kiselgof, Rebbe Nachman of Breslov, and the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King. What do these people have in common? Each had a new vision of reality that changed how we see ourselves & others. Each of them gave a generation their hope back.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

Success is power; whatever power you have, you must share and use to help the world and its inhabitants. Who is powerful? Sometimes the least powerful have the truest form of power, knowledge. If you’ve learned how to have a good relationship with your spouse, that is power, share it. If you’ve learned how to love and care for your children, that is power, teach it. If you’ve gained mastery over your body and understand health and well being, this is power, teach the world how to be whole. If you know the depths of poverty, you have power, help others attain wealth. If you know the beauty of a working mind, you have power, teach others. Whatever learning you have, is power, and if you think you don’t have power, think again.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

“What is hateful to you, don’t do to your friend.” — Hillel the Elder, Babylonian Talmud. I want to start the “What is Hateful to you, Don’t do to your friend,” movement. Kind of a mouthful, but maybe it could catch on?

All of our problems, they aren’t because people are bad. People are amazing, and do incredible things in the world! Our problems, all of them, stem from blindness. The blindness to see others for what they truly are — ourselves. We are one being at our center. This idea expresses itself as karma or what goes around comes around, but it is deeper than that. On a certain deep level of our minds, we all share one experience, while retaining our individual consciousnesses. The greater the mind, the more sensitivity they can feel for others, as their individual mind can take being connected to others experience without their individual consciousness being overwhelmed and destroyed. If you could feel a child starving, I promise you would help them, immediately. If you could only feel the depth of depravity that some are forced into, you would save them, immediately. If you could feel the sadness that hated people feel, you would stop hatred, immediately. Our greatest goal must be the development of the mind, for the sake of greater sensitivity and connection to all beings and life. Taking it positive — Living one life is incredibly rewarding, can you imagine a world where our minds our truly connected? As One? We would solve all the problems quite quickly, and the subsequent richness and depth of experience would be infinite. Who knows where we could reach!?

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

Burn out happens, and it’s a great thing. Embrace the cycle. There’s the sun and there’s the moon; the day/night cycle. Wakefulness and sleeping. Both are important. Both are essential for consciousness. Embrace them both! Work ’til you burn out! Let the sun shine through you ’til you’re fried! Work as hard as possible! Then take a break. Go to sleep. Take as long as you need. Really, truly do everything that relaxes you, let your mind sleep. Embrace the depth of joyful mindlessness. However, when the new ideas come, and they will, don’t ignore their pull. Do it! Work ’til you are completely burnt out yet again. Then take a break. Repeat ad infinitum.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

1. Decisions in the studio are permanent. There is no going back. At every step, at every turn, you lay the foundations for your next decision. It’s a giant decision tree. You have an experience or inspiration, which stems from a combination of circumstance and choice, which leads you to write some music, which leads you to record, which leads to tracking, which leads to mixing, which leads to mastering, and then release of your final product.

I knew all of this when I first started recording. What I didn’t know was that life is exactly the same way. At a certain point life crystallizes, and there is no going back to a prior state of being.

2. Performing something perfectly is the least perfect performance, because it lacks truth. The thing you are actually after is the soul; the pure expression and focus of an artist expressing their art. By making an artist perform technically perfect, you tarnish, and limit their soul and its expression. Let your art breathe, let it flow out of your innermost being, and forget everything else.

3. Open up to the wisdom of the people you are working with. The people you work with are not objects. They are highly evolved beings, with a hidden depth of consciousness that is wondrous. First, you must make an active choice to look at those around you and believe in their potential. This consequently but not surprisingly, opens their potential immediately. You will be amazed! The moment you decide to open up and believe in the person next to you, they will open up and show you just how brilliant they actually are. This brings your art to a sublime level of beauty.

4. Enjoy every blessed moment that you are creating something new in this world. A day comes, and a day goes by, and there’s nothing new under the sun, except actually there is. You and the art you create are truly new. Your art, your creation, emerges from within, from a hidden place, that is real, yet entirely unexplainable. It emerges not from ‘under the sun’ but from ‘within the moon’ of your mind and being.

5. When someone presents you with a rare opportunity to start over. Take it! Erase everything and jump at the chance to work with people at a higher level of understanding than you. Don’t be afraid to take all your previous work, and hit the erase button! Realize that it wasn’t for itself. All your previous work was to bring you to a place where you and your art could jump to a much higher level, but the price is truly letting go of what came before, and then not looking back.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she just might see this, especially if we tag them 🙂

George Lucas. George gave me back my hope when I was a child. He taught me belief in something greater than myself, and I am indebted to him for it. He gave this back to an entire generation, precisely when they needed it. Who knows where I’d be if that hadn’t happened? Do you know that there is real camaraderie between Arabs and Jews who are Star Wars fans? What decades of diplomacy couldn’t do, George Lucas and his otherworldly vision, has done, and in a way that is more real than politics. He is also one of the most giving people on the planet, he does so much, and yet he keeps it to himself, and hides his enormous philanthropic endeavors. He is a true artist, who has stayed true to himself and his vision, despite being constantly beset by the voracious wolves of Hollywood. In short, there’s a lot I could learn from meeting him. Perhaps most importantly though, I’d really like to know what he eats for breakfast.

Thank you Dan, for these profound insights!

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