Is the mission of music to better humankind? Not necessarily, though messages in the music created by Jon Anderson (lyricist/front man for Yes) and avant garde composer Vangelis inspire us to see the world from an altruistic perspective. Remember “We Are the World”? Written by Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie in 1985, the song was influential enough to have two artist-studded releases 25 years apart.
There are those who’ll say that music, in and of itself, betters humankind. I’m one of them. And thankfully, today’s method of distribution for music has leveled the playing field, so thought-provoking indie bands are having their say—in a big way. The debut album of Six Elements, aptly named Primary
Elements, definitely has something to say, a distinct way to say it, with a couple of progressive-rock greats adding to the conversation.
Stanley Whitaker (Happy the Man, Oblivion Sun) and Dave DeMarco (Oblivion Sun, Battery Apple) join eyboardist/composer Michael (Misha) Shengaout in reminding us of powerful ideals for living expressed so eloquently in Rudyard Kipling’s famous poem “If”. You might have had to memorize it in high school—“If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you.” The poem not only sparked Shengaout’s quest for the purpose in life’s ups and downs and how to face them with integrity, Kipling’s classic was the genesis of the music.
The poem “If” set to music is the album’s centerpiece, and the band applies the same harmonic treatment to William Henley’s poem “Invictus”. (The film “Invictus” with Matt Damon and Morgan Freeman refers to the poem in the title. If you want to be the master of your fate and the captain of your soul, it’s worth the read.) The entire album advances a thought-provoking idea—that the harmonies of music can help us see the harmonies in life if we can look past the frenetic daily grind, our personal challenges and the woes of the world. Raise your hand if you think we can all use a heavy dose of that wisdom.
Rock Meets “Rach”
I’m particularly intrigued by their musical influences—shades of Pink Floyd’s sweet guitars, Peter Gabriel and early Genesis, beautifully infused with the symphonic styles of Russian composers Rachmaninoff and Tchaikovsky—proving that seemingly disparate grooves can come together to produce rich, ear-worthy harmonies. The core band, along with a couple of session musicians, all contributed a share of their soul to the album as well.
Whitaker, a cancer survivor, translates the emotional effects of his life experience into moving vocals. Jeff McGahren, who put his faith in the concept album as soon as he learned about it, unleashes his guitar talents. Misha Shengaout, on keyboards and samples, composed much of the music and lives up to his potential in many ways—this project is a dream his positivity made real. Renowned bassist Dave DeMarco sat in on the session as did Marc Norgaard on drums. The result speaks for itself.
If you’re into progressive rock, you should check out the Six Elements web site. It tells their story better than I ever could and expands on the motivation behind their music. It deserves to be heard.
Susan Hawkins is a writer for online literary magazine All Things If, a longtime fan of indie bands and a great believer in the message Six Elements hopes to deliver .