Jim Murdoch
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Jim Murdoch

San Francisco, California, United States | SELF

San Francisco, California, United States | SELF
Solo World Acoustic

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Musician, surfer and composer
Jim Murdoch loves to clown around

by Jean Bartlett ARTS CORRESPONDENT

Musical performer Jim Murdoch remembers one winter day in Pacifica so clearly.

“I was surfing at the north end of Linda Mar. There were offshore winds and the waves were about 9 feet, moving slowly, very powerful and very beautiful,” he said.

“As I turned, I saw the top of a wave, spray and catch my friend within its shower. And so I wrote
‘on solstice day the sun stands still, spray blows off the winter sea,
our breath is white,
we head for home;
a good hot cup of tea.’ "
This tribute to Pacifica’s Linda Mar beach in Northern California can be found among the lyrics on Murdoch’s newly released CD ‘Waltz to the Sea.’

For many fans of Murdoch this CD is a long time coming; but for Murdoch it is an evolutionary process like so many things in his life.

“I went to UC Santa Barbara with the sole intent of studying sociology, which I did. But as fate would have it, I also took a summer class on mime,” he said.

One class led to another and eventually Murdoch took a clown workshop. Murdoch also began intense piano study. “After graduation, I worked part-time, practiced piano eight hours a day and eventually volunteered at organizations in need of musicians and/or clowns.”

Murdoch then headed to San Francisco and apprenticed with the Pickle Family Circus and had the clown time of his life. “I toured with the Circus for eighteen months and it was a great experience. It allowed me to go out on my own.”

Murdoch who has appeared locally on the Bruce Latimer show and at the Sanchez Library is known by Pacifica kids of all ages as Jimbo the Musical Clown. “I’m like the traditional European circus clown in that I don’t talk. I do pantomime, the accordion, juggling and a bunch of different musical instruments; and of course the kids participate in the show. They play musical instruments and help me fish and juggle. Sometimes they dance when I enter the room playing the ‘Libiamo’ (waltz from La Traviata) on my accordion.”

Besides accordion, Murdoch plays a variety of instruments which include cedar flute, castanets, harmonica, piano, dulcimer and guitar. When he is not under his big red nose and hat you might find him performing Celtic music at a festival or strumming guitar at a Napa winery; or even teaching flamenco to Chinese American senior citizens at a retirement community in San Francisco.

However, Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday you will find Jim working at the Cancer Center at the UCSF Mount Zion Campus.

“For the past 15 years, I have worked for a nonprofit program called ‘Art for Recovery.’ It is an expressive arts program for patients to use simple art media like water colors or marking pens to help express their feelings. My part is to play music. I play on the unit where people have had surgery. I play for those having radiation or chemotherapy. I play in the ICU, and while people are being wheeled into surgery and where their families are waiting. It’s so simple. Music just makes the place friendlier and makes it easier for people to go through what they have to go through.”

This award-winning program has touched Jim in more ways than he can measure.

“In 2006 a social worker asked me if I could work with a woman who had been in the hospital for almost a year. She was 28 years old, her large intestine had ruptured when she was pregnant with her third child and she bled out in the emergency room in another hospital. They were able to revive her and then she came to Mount Zion. Her injuries were substantial and they didn’t think she would survive; but she just kept beating the odds. Her husband had brought her a keyboard and the hospital thought it might help her dexterity and give her something to do.”

“She had taped numbers from her book to match the notes on her keyboard and was very determined. I taught her ‘Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star’ with the right hand only at first and then she learned it using both hands. She told me she had goals: to get well, to go home and to learn the piano.”

Eventually the young woman did go home but not until after she had taught Murdoch to sing “Silent Night" in Spanish and he in turn had taught her piano and harmonica.

Jim’s recently released CD travels through all the walks of his life, whether barefoot or in clown shoes, by seaside or bedside, using: tango, flamenco, Appalachian dulcimer, Celtic sweeps and even the 19th century American songbook to tell some of his stories.

"Something people may not know about clowns,” said Murdoch, “is that they are mythological figures who have been around in all cultures, forever. In other cultures their role is understood to be in spirituality and healing. They are a way to bring people back into balance, within nature and within themselves. This can be done with music and laughter, dance and/or riding a wave.”

“One of the nicest compliments I have ever received was from a young boy who asked me if I was a 'real' clown.
"You mean this is what I wear at home and I'm always dropping things and things are always going wrong?"

"Uh huh," was his tentative reply.
"Well, what do you think?" I asked.

After staring at the big polka dots on my shirt and sizing up the brightness of my nose, he swallowed hard and came to a decision, ‘I think that you are..." he informed me.”

Jim Murdoch’s “Waltz to the Sea” can be found at: CD Baby, iTunes, the gift shop at Mount Zion Hospital, in Pacifica at Blue Moon and Manor Music and on his website: www.jimmurdoch.org. - Pacifica Tribune May 16, 2007


Jim,

Thank you so so much for sending me your beautiful cd. It is a wonderfully creative work!

The "Saga of the Tamale" is delightful and "Autumn Again" brought sweet tears. And I love the flower scene on the cover. Excellent job!

Abundant Blessings, Cynthia - Cynthia Athina Kemp Scherer, Founder of Desert Alchemy Flower Essences


By Jana Pochop

Waltz to the Sea is one of those multi-faceted albums where you can't quite believe the artist pulled off playing all the instruments himself. But Jim Murdoch does exactly that with this varied and interesting batch of traditional and original tunes. Murdoch handles the cedar flute, dulcimer, accordion, piano, harmonica to name a few. Oh, and he arranges it all too.

Murdoch's album starts off with "Tara's Song," a mournful and beautiful tune played on the cedar flute. It blends nicely into the jaunty and stuck-in-your-head melody of "Erika's Reel," on which Murdoch handles both dulcimer and accordion. Already the listener can tell that Murdoch is a man of many instruments, and we're only two tracks in. The Emerald Isle gives way to "Jota," a Spanish folk song complete with castanets. I don't think I have ever typed this sentence before and very well may never type it again, but ... I really enjoyed the castanets on this piece. It's exactly what a folk song from Spain should sound like.

Next Jim throws in some vocals with a great tune about one of my favorite things ... tamales. The traditional Mexican dish wrapped in a corn husk is more than deserving of a song, and Murdoch delivers an almost epic tale about the dish. What I'm curious about is what a "tamale box" is, because it gets played on this record.

One of the standout tracks is "Appalachian Dulcimer," a medley of well known tunes such as "Oh, Susanna," "Froggy Went A Courtin'," and "Camptown Races." The combination of dulcimer and harmonica manage to highlight the melodic aspect of each tune and add an almost mournful tone to it, without making them drag. It's a good approach for this song grouping.

Murdoch is also an excellent pianist, as "Golondrinas" and "Mi Buenos Aires Querido" testify. Murdoch is trained in jazz and classical piano, as well as flamenco dance. And apparently in his off-time, he makes tamales. One well-rounded musician who made a very well-rounded record. Waltz to the Sea is recommended for those who don't mind some variety in their musical palette (or salsa on their tamales, as it were).
- Indie-Music


'Reflections on Music & Healthcare'
copyright Jim Murdoch 2008 all rights reserved

I found this hand written note inside the piano, while playing at the cancer center one afternoon,

“Today was not our best day,
sick loved ones -
worry & sadness.
I forgot for a while
while you made such
beautiful music for us all. . .
Thank you"
* * * * *

In the spring of 1995 I attended a healthcare conference in San Francisco and as I was leaving I picked up “The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying,” by Sogyal Rinpoche from a “free box” of books.

I’d seen a documentary about Tibet and a videotape of Joseph Campbell’s lecture on Hinduism and Tibetan Buddhism, so my curiosity was sparked. The purpose of the book is help westerners and particularly those who work with people who are seriously ill or dying create a meaningful atmosphere at the end of a person’s life by adapting the philosophy and spiritual practices used for centuries in Tibetan Buddhism. I had also seen a documentary about the Zen Hospice here in San Francisco. One scene showed the hospice workers sitting in chairs in a circle learning a guided imagery exercise from the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. They were learning a visualization of compassion in order to help relieve the suffering of their hospice patients. This practice of compassion is called ‘tonglen’ and is discussed at great length in the “The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying.”

The practitioner imagines a person’s suffering, breathes it in and visualizes the suffering becoming purified and transformed. On the exhalation of the breath, relief is sent. This practice for developing compassion seemed especially applicable for working with people at the cancer center. I also liked the simplicity of the visualizations. The principles could be adapted to any situation regardless of a person’s religious or spiritual beliefs. So I began doing this practice at home in the morning for some of the patients I met.

My understanding of the basic principle of this tradition is that the world of phenomena is a constantly changing network of interdependent relationships. Change is the nature of our world. Joy, happiness, old age, illness and death are reflections of these changes. The tonglen practice helps us learn to share both the positive and the negative, not to avoid suffering but to breath it in, transform it and send out relief. Rather than live in denial of this fact, we try to develop compassion because of our relationships and interdependence with others.

OJ To Joy...

In 1998 I played music for a patient, Ralph who had never had any formal musical training but wanted to learn to play the basic melody of Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy.” “How ambitious and how wonderful,” I thought. I brought our portable keyboard to his room and we figured out the tune by singing the melody slowly and then finding the corresponding note on the keyboard. We broke the song down into short phrases and within about fifteen minutes he could pick out the melody with one finger. He was in his forties and was facing a serious diagnosis. There were several very painful tumors on his head and neck and even in his throat. He had a teenage daughter and a younger son, a lot of reasons to live. “I am so thirsty but there is so much pain when I swallow. What I would enjoy most would be a cold glass of freshly squeezed orange juice. But right now it would burn too much, like drinking acid or draino . . . That’s why I wanted to learn the Beethoven song. The thought of the glass of OJ that I hope to be able to drink soon, is my “Ode To Joy.”

He told me he was a practitioner of a Japanese form of Buddhism. He taught me a mantra, which is a repetitive phrase used in a meditation practice and then explained what each of the Sanskrit syllables meant, “the symbols mean, ‘clear..., action..., heart.’ So when you are playing music on your accordion for people, you can imagine the music coming directly from your heart, which it really is because the accordion is right there on your chest and play with the clearest of intentions, directly from your heart. Then try to extend that feeling to your actions throughout the day.” I liked his suggestion very much.

“You know Ralph, there is a Native American woman, Nellie Two Bulls from the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. She is a singer and a songwriter who goes out into nature with a little tape recorder and sits quietly, listening to the sound of the wind through the trees or the sound of water flowing in a creek over the stones and creates a melody based on the sounds of nature, which she sings into her tape recorder. When she gets home, she writes words to fit that melody. We should create a melody based on the mantra you taught me.” And so we sat at the keyboard and recited the mantra softly over and over and gradually we turned it into a simple song which he learned to play on the keyboard.

When I read that Larry Dossey, an MD has an altar in his office and says prayers for each of his patients that he will see that day, I thought, “what could I do with music that would be similar?” So I began playing music on my cedar flute for a few minutes when I first arrive at the medical center, a short “morning song.” We have a beautiful glass ceiling 3 story atrium lobby with a 30 foot ficus tree growing in the center.

I sit on a bench under the tree and play a melody I made up for the cedar flute based on the sound of a mantra to Tara, a widely loved Tibetan female deity, symbolizing compassion, healing and protection. (see the audio section, 'Tara’s Song,' & have a listen) The tune has four phrases and is based on the sound of her mantra, .... ‘Om Tare Tuttare Ture Soha’ ... I play it as an invocation or prayer for healing, a kind of musical tonglen.

There are other cultures who also view music and singing as prayer. The Vedic tradition of India believes there is sacred knowledge that is heard or sung, ie music. I learned from Native American traditions the concept that music and singing are forms of prayer. Florence Nepose a Native American singer and songwriter believes, “every time you sing, you are praying.” And so I began to understand how music and especially singing can be forms prayer. Not so much to ask for something but as a way to align ourselves with the natural order of the universe.
- UCSF Helen Diller Family Fund Cancer Center


Discography

* "Yonder Shore," 2010.
Independently produced & available now at my webpage, at cd baby and amazon.com. Most of the songs are on the audio page and there are 2 bonus video tracks on the cd which you can watch here too.

"Come Along" opens the album with a melody inspired while Jim was playing the dulcimer and harmonica for a patient in the ICU at the UCSF Cancer Center. "The Heart and The Feather" features the Turkish cumbus and zils and is inspired by a story in Egyptian mythology : when a person dies his heart is weighed on a balance scale with a feather and the outcome is recorded by the sacred bird Ibis, a precursor of Hermes. Other new vocals include the title track, "Yonder Shore," exploring a search for ‘Paradise,’ and "Dusk & Dawn," a tune about heliotropism. In Greek Mythology, 4 horses pull Helios' sun chariot across the sky each day. In Jim's version, Helios' chariot is pulled by 2 horses, "Dusk and Dawn" who offer us encouragement when we may not feel like turning toward the light. "Mother of Beauty," inspired by Wallace Stevens' poem "Sunday Morning," is a new vocal with piano accompaniment. "Yonder Shore" concludes with an a cappella version of Stephen Foster's "Oh! Susanna."

* "Tara's Song," 2010, for solo cedar flute, included on FatChanceBellyDance's world music compilation cd, "Muse Melodic." Available from www.fcbd.com

* "Waltz to the Sea," 2006, Independently produced. Several audio samples are available here and the complete cd is available on my website, www.jimmurdoch.org and at CD Baby.

The cd reflects Jim's wide-ranging musical interests and eclectic sources. Original songs, traditional and contemporary melodies from Argentina, Spain, Scotland, and the Appalachians are performed with a variety of instruments that include cedar flute, Appalachian dulcimer, accordion, guitar, and piano.

"Waltz to the Sea" opens with an original song for cedar flute, and continues with a traditional Celtic tune performed on Appalachian dulcimer. The CD also includes an Appalachian dulcimer medley of traditional tunes and songs by Stephen Foster. A cedar flute rendition of "West Virginia Hills," the state song, is a tribute to Jim's grandmother, who lived in West Virginia for 94 years until her recent passing. The dulcimer and cedar flute are instruments Jim plays in his work at the University of California San Francisco Mount Zion Cancer Center, where for the past fifteen years he has performed original and traditional music for patients, staff and visitors. See the "Press" section, 'Not our best day . . . thank you'

"Saga of The Tamale," one of four original vocal tracks, adds a delicious twist to the holiday song, as it celebrates the tradition of making and gifting homemade tamales at Christmas time. Other original vocal tracks are "Beach Glass Ballade," "Autumn Again" and the title track "Waltz to the Sea." "Follow The Heron," by Karine Polwart, a young Scottish singer-songwriter honors the return of spring to the Shetland Islands with beautiful imagery, "the back of the winter is broken and light lingers long by the door."

Two beautiful tangos by Carlos Gardel and a traditional flamenco fandango are arranged for solo piano, reflecting Jim's years of training in classical piano and flamenco dance. A jota from northern Spain is played on accordion with castanet accompaniment. The accordion is an instrument on which Jim has performed for over twenty years, playing a repertoire of tunes from around the world at festivals and fairs up and down the west coast.

Photos

Bio

The beauty and power of nature, of the ocean, the northern California coast and many years performing music, dance & circus arts have fostered a deep appreciation for the preciousness of life & inspired a new collection of music..."Yonder Shore," most of which you can listen to here at the audio page or purchase directly at www.jimmurdoch.org and at cdbaby.com and amazon.com.

"Yonder Shore" is Jim's newest collection of 8 original songs and 4 traditional tunes. His love of folk, world music and literary traditions is supported by some good musical friends who contribute on a variety of instruments that include: Hawaiian slack key guitar, Turkish cumbus, zils, Hammond B3 organ, piano, wooden spoons, acoustic bass, percussion and on the bonus video tracks which are also viewable here, dance.

Originally from Montana and with family ties to West Virginia and Appalachia, Jim first performed in the San Francisco Bay Area with The Pickle Family Circus as an apprentice clown and roustabout, appearing in clown and club juggling routines. Outside the ring, he pursued a variety of interests: jazz and classical piano, accordion, movement and dance, including five years studying flamenco dance, castanets and music with Rosa Montoya (niece of flamenco guitarist Carlos Montoya) in San Francisco.

Jim performs at festivals and fairs up and down the west coast from 'Lompoc to Puyallup,' playing his own compositions, as well as traditional songs and presenting his solo clown show, "The Dogs Bark but the Caravan Moves On," (more info at www.jimmurdoch.org ) :

* Seattle's Bumbershoot Festival of the Arts
* The Los Angeles Shakespeare Festival
* The Great Monterey Squid Festival
* The San Francisco Festival of the Sea

Jim released his first CD, a solo effort in the spring of 2006, "Waltz to the Sea," a collection of original and traditional music, including songs for cedar flute, Appalachian dulcimer, accordion, guitar, piano, vocals, harmonica and castanets.

Music, Health Care & Teaching
For the past sixteen years Jim has been working as a musician at the University California San Francisco Helen Diller Comprehensive Cancer Center for the award winning expressive arts program, 'Art for Recovery,' using music to develop relationships and create community for people dealing with serious illness. http://cancer.ucsf.edu/afr/
Jim performs his original songs and compositions as well as traditional music from around the world for patients who are recovering from surgery, receiving chemotherapy and radiation treatments and for patients in the ICU and for staff and visitors. In 2008 Jim began a new song writing project. Songs from the Heart, a collaboration with patients and staff to create individual songs, based on their experiences at the medical center. See the "Press" & "Photo" sections, 'Not our best day . . . thank you.' There are more health care related stories at his web page in the 'stories' section, www.jimmurdoch.org and at the link below, 'Learning to Live in the Moment.

In October of 2005 Jim presented a literary symposium at the University of California Santa Barbara's College of Creative Studies, "A Musical Tour of The Accordion Music of Immigration in America, based on E. Annie Proulx's Novel "Accordion Crimes." Jim continues to present this music appreciation program describing the influence of immigration on traditional European and Celtic music. See the "Photo" section, 'Accordion Crimes.'

Jim has worked with the support of The California Arts Council to involve elderly people with creative projects, using music, dance, movement, oral history, video and visual art. In 2002, the San Francisco Performing Arts Library and Museum transcribed and published Jim's oral history of a Bay Area Vaudevillian, "Thelma Langston, A

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