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Feature Article: "More Than Meets the Ear"

Local music man knows the benefits, history of music
Elk Grove Citzen: Thursday, March 19, 2009 11:24 AM PDT
By Katie Freeman - Lifestyle & Arts Reporter
This is a recent article that appeared which gives the reader an intimate look into the behind-the-scenes life of Michael Bayard.

Cavemen invented the drum, explained world-renowned percussionist and Elk Grove resident Michael Bayard.

The drum is an ancient instrument made to mimic the heartbeat, he said.

Ancient man would hollow out tree trunks, stretch a hide over the top and fasten it.

"Percussion instruments are the oldest instruments known to mankind,"  Bayard said. "They pre-date the most rudimentary form of flutes or string instruments."

He explained the history of the drum and other ancient instruments like the gourd.

Gourds were dried with the seeds inside to make a sound when shook. Early man also found rhythm in the repetitive sound of pounding stones together to make arrows, he said.

"The whole idea of rhythm and a beat may have been a forerunner to music- not melodic, but the beat,"  he said.

Bayard can play all of the 300 plus instruments in his Elk Grove home which doubles as his studio.

A piece of fake fruit is a musical instrument in Bayard's house. The faux orange sitting on a music stand sounds like a maraca when shook.

Bayard finds rhythm in everything he touches.

Even a washing machine is a percussion instrument to him. In his hit YouTube video, he uses drumsticks to play a washing machine that's off-kilter in the spin cycle. The video last had 1,334 views.

Recently, KVIE's "Rob on the Road" program asked Bayard to re-create the washing machine scene for an on-air feature story.

Other YouTube videos show Bayard playing various percussion instruments.

In fact, pretty much anything that makes a sound when hit, struck, scraped or rattled, is a percussion instrument, he said.

Bayard is a former principal percussionist at the Sacramento Symphony and basically a musical genius. As a master percussionist, he's studied and collected instruments from all over the world.

Gongs, a vibraphone, a Native American rattle and literally hundreds of other percussion instruments decorate every corner of his home.

He also plays keyboard and wind instruments - but first and foremost, he considers himself a percussionist.

Bayard picks up the Native American Rattle and shakes it for a bit, then he's back to playing the keyboard, then the conga drums, then the vibraphone, then a bass guitar. As he enthusiastically leaps from one instrument to the next, he described a time when he gave a tour of his home studio to a local news crew and a woman in the group said,  "You'd be a fun guy to have at a party!"

Bayard's childlike fascination and boundless energy does come in handy with audiences.

He gives presentations at schools and organizations through a program he founded called Rhythm Magic.

Rhythm Magic is a musical discovery program Bayard started in 1994 to introduce people, particularly children, to music. He visits six to eight elementary schools each week to give musical presentations.

After the performance and hands-on demonstration, the children have a hard time going back to the classroom, he said. They want to touch and play every instrument.

"If they didn't dismiss the kids, they'd follow me around all day,"  Bayard said.

Many children today may not know they're missing live music -  especially children in rural areas, of whom many have never seen a live performance.

"They don't know they're missing it and that's an incredible tragedy,"  he said

Computer monitors and TV screens have replaced young people's awareness of the power of live music, he said.

It's the immediacy, Bayard explained, with a live performance that a person cannot get through the computer monitor.

When they're exposed to music and getting excited about it, it's life changing.

"They're so captivated by sound - you just have to know how to deliver it,"  Bayard said.

"I'll do a demonstration on the gongs, and you could hear a pin drop in a room of 300 kindergarteners."

Bayard is well aware of the emotional effects of music.

A calming sound to one person may sound ominous to another.

One person is going to think a certain song is exuberant and another will say, "I'm so sad from that,"  he said.

Music is his life, yet the reason why music affects people differently is a tough question for him to answer.

It's full of nuance and subtely, he noted.

Bayard said he thinks people react to melodies differently because it activates "the sum total of their life experiences."

Certain sounds trigger different emotions and memories in people.

Just like smelling the cologne or perfume of a former flame can ignite memories, so can sounds.

Some music helps to inspire visual imagery.

Bayard played a chord on his keyboard.

"It's very ethereal, it kind of feels like you're flying,"  he said, eyes closed.

When Bayard plays a chord, he envisions the scenery that would match the music.

Different instruments evoke thoughts and memories.

Sometimes when he plays, he's not imagining anything - he's just trying to create a feeling in someone else- his audience.

He uses music to evoke emotions. longing, sadness and excitement are some emotions that can be evoked through music, but mostly he tries to evoke a feeling of peace and tranquility- especially with his music therapy clients.

Bayard is also a music therapist - a fairly new term with practices dating back to ancient times.

He emphasizes the importance of vibrations through live performance. These vibrations calm and re-harmonize the body, while the music pleases the senses.

Music keeps the heart rate steady, the breath deep and slow, and engages emotions - which lowers the production of stress hormones in the body, he said.

"If you can use music to get a person into a meditative state, it's very healthy,"  Bayard said.

Music is spiritual too.

Early man created a beat, as Bayard explained, and eventually it became incorporated into religious practices.

Ceremonies and rites of passage were often accompanied with music.

Even in modern times, we see a connection between music and our spirituality.

Bayard said he doesn't have favorite types of music - it depends on his mood.

A good song is one that gets stuck in his head, he noted.

Billy Joel's "Piano Man"  is in his mind a lot.

As a young man, he listened to many artists and genres. One of his favorites was Pink Floyd.

"I started to appreciate Pink Floyd because they're very symphonic,"  Bayard said.

To him, their sound was very rich, yet had a dark quality to it.

Classic symphonic music also caught his ear at a young age.

Bayard recalled the name of the music he played at his Carnegie Hall debut with the New York Youth Symphony Orchestra- Stravinsky's  "Firebird Suite."

Bayard plays almost every type of music.

For his performances, he incorporates everything that could compliment the auditory experience for his audience.

"When I do my performances they're very multi-sensory,"  he said.

Whether two or 200 people, Bayard uses sound, visual and scent to round out the music experience.

His home studio smells like incense and is decorated with foreign art.

Among his vast collection of instruments are statues, figures and other art objects from around the world.

Clearly, Bayard's music interest has opened him up to other fascinations, like art, history and music therapy.

Even though he has been playing music almost all of his life, Bayard lacks no enthusiasm for music- or insightful analogies.

"It's poetic- music is sound poetry,"  he said.

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