Piano-Heaven Award Winner:

Breathing in the Moment

Michele McLaughlin

2012

 

www.michelemclaughlin.com

 

 

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Michele McLaughlin arrived on the Piano-Heaven scene after I was captivated by two pieces on two separate Whisperings Solo-Piano compilation albums. When I discovered both tracks were by Michele, I knew there and then that this was an artist worth investigating.

 

Her 2010 album, 'Out of the Darkness' was breathtakingly good. Sombre and angry in parts, feel-good and optimistic in others, this was a deeply personal album which captured the full-range of emotions experienced during a painful break-up of her marriage. At the time, I remember writing that people who channel their personal experiences into their work often produce something that extra little bit special, and so it was with 'Out of the Darkness'. I was intrigued how Michele would fair with her latest CD, 'Breathing in the Moment' as the bar had been set so high with her previous release.

 

Happily, Michele has gone from strength to strength and has created a fifteen-track album which, whilst quite different in mood, every bit matches the last release in terms of quality and melodic appeal. I was immediately attracted to the visually stunning cover of the album featuring dramatic mountains and a flowing stream, and wondered if the wonderful gift of nature had been a source of healing for Michele and indeed a source of inspiration for this new album. As I listened, the answer became apparent: a resounding 'Yes'.

 

The CD itself has soft, wispy clouds gracing it, and the album opens with the title track which follows this theme. A slow, graceful opening unfurls into a beautiful, uplifting piece that captures the very essence of living life to the full and moving forwards in life rather than looking backwards. Michele has been kind enough to explain the origins of this and other pieces on her album, and she states: "After my divorce, I decided to try and live my life in a very Zen mindset... not worry about the past, not long for the future, but just be in the moment and live in the now. Many times, when I'm feeling anxious, or stressed, I will do a sort of yoga breathing, where I breathe in slowly and deeply, hold it, and then breathe out slowly and repeat. When I find myself thinking of what I've lost, or times gone by, or feeling negativity of any kind, I use this breathing technique to centre myself and focus on the moment... hence the name 'Breathing In The Moment'. As I listen to this piece, I am reminded of the glorious countryside, the fresh air, the gentle breeze- Michele's piano-playing brings all these into the listener's home.

 

Delicate, high-pitched notes open 'The Beauty Within'. A beautiful lullaby perhaps. Michele's music twinkles like a thousand diamonds on a sun-drenched lake. Michele explains how it is easy to miss the beauty in something, whether it be in nature or in life, but for the more acute observer, the beauty is there if one is prepared to look hard enough. A lovely message, perfectly captured by this wonderful piece of music.

 

Track three is entitled 'Stargazing'. This piece is a whole lot of fun, with short, fast notes. I had visions of Michele being inspired by shooting stars, and bats darting across the night sky, but the motivation behind the track is not quite like that! The reader may be interested to know that this piece was inspired by Michele and her friend looking for shapes and patterns in the ceiling spackle. They had great fun doing this, and this enjoyment is clearly reflected by the joyous feel of this piece.

 

 'Cheryl's Hope' opens slowly and mournfully. This is a sad song, suggesting that whilst it is true to say that Michele has come a long way since those dark days, quite naturally, she still has her moments. As the piece develops, I feel it becomes brighter, more optimistic. The message by the end of the piece is one of hope; there is always light at the end of the tunnel. When Michele's cousin heard this song, it made her cry but it also helped her find this light- and this gorgeous piece is named after her.

 

'Sisters' tells the story of how precious family can be, and it is clear that Michele and her sibling are incredibly close. Family help one another through tough times, and I am in no doubt that is what Michele's sister did for her. There's plenty of energy in this piece, suggesting that when the two of them are together, the laughter and fun begin. As I listen, I can picture them playing together, free-spirited as children. Oh what great fun this piece is for the listener.

 

Onto the sixth track, entitled 'Into the Sunset'. Michele explains how one early evening whilst flying home from a concert in Nashville, she was captivated by a sunset that lasted quite some time as they were flying directly towards it. One could almost split this wonderful piece into three parts- the beginning of the sunset is represented by a slower tempo, but then as this marvel of nature becomes more intense and dramatic, the music follows suit. Finally, the sun sets and the tempo slows once more- symbolic of the conclusion to the day. Michele explains, "It started with light skies above and land below, with oranges and yellows in the centre. As it progressed, the sky above and land below began to darken and the colours in the middle became richer with more brilliant reds, oranges and purples. It was one of the longest and most beautiful sunsets I've ever seen, so I wrote a song about it." This lovely piece is another example of how this talented artist has been motivated by acts of nature.    

 

'The Life Cycle' opens like a lullaby; its notes twinkling like the stars in the night-sky. It's an incredibly beautiful piece, and is about the lifecycle of a butterfly. This piece of music really does tell a story. I visualise the butterfly taking flight at 1:50. "This song is about the life of a butterfly, from the moment it hatches as a caterpillar from the egg, to its metamorphosis into a butterfly, to finding a mate, to laying eggs, to death, and then the birth of the new hatchling caterpillars. It represents the cycle of life for all things... everything has a beginning, middle and end in various aspects throughout life... from life itself, to our relationships, to individual stories within our lives," says Michele. The parallels to her own life-experiences, and doubtless similar experiences for the listener, make this gorgeous piece all the more powerful.

 

'Finding Balance' is an introspective piece which, as the title would suggest, is about finding mental, emotional, physical and spiritual balance. It has quite a dark, foreboding opening, suggesting that perhaps this is easier said than done and that we have to sometimes work hard in order to achieve this. As the piece progresses, it lightens in tone which tells me that Michele has achieved what she set out to do. Finding the balance is a journey in itself- learning from personal experiences to help shape our future. I love the piece, and the sentiments behind it- I find it very inspiring. The ending is very thoughtful and is almost saying, "Yes, I have learnt from that, now I can move forward again and on to the next chapter."

 

'The Joy of Childhood' is a happy piece capturing the innocent moments of our youth. It's a free-spirited song and a lot of fun to listen to. Catchy and melodic, the listener may find themselves whistling along to this one- it's definitely a 'feel-good- piece. The track is a short one- perhaps suggesting that this oh-so-important time of our life is too short.

 

I was fascinated by the origins of the tenth track, 'Trilogy'. Apparently, Michele was struggling to complete three pieces and then in a moment of clarity blended them together into one piece. You would never know this from listening to the completed track; the end result is a seamless melodic marvel that is a joy to listen to from start to finish.

 

Track eleven is entitled 'Breaking Free'. Short, fast notes suggest a sense of urgency. Tension is in the air. Pulses are quickening. The moment has to be seized. As I listen, it is almost as if there is a chase... someone is trying to flee from something that is endeavouring to hold them back. Escape is by no means easy nor a foregone conclusion. Michele explains, "It represents the struggle of letting go of the negative things in our lives. It is about being able to break free of the negativity and break free of the things holding us back from being truly happy." It's certainly catchy, toe-tapping stuff.

 

'Nostalgia' is, as the title would suggest, a very reflective piece. It is one of my two favourite tracks on the album. In many ways, it contradicts the message of the album, but if the reader is honest, don't we all from time to time succumb to dwelling on the past when deep down we know we should move on instead? What a beautiful melody unfolds, and I am particularly fond of the part occurring at around the 3:20 mark. I can listen to this piece over and over again- perhaps I am a reflective person at heart.

 

Next comes 'Wonderment', completely different in feel from the previous track. It opens with a flurry of fast notes. There is great excitement. Michele explains that the piece is about the very special moments in life which touch our souls, moments which leave us awestruck and amazed. It's a fast-tempo piece, full of energy. Great stuff.

 

The night sky is the theme for another piece in this excellent CD- I can sense a future album all about 'Space'! The track is entitled 'The Lunar Effect'. It opens gently enough before the pace quickens, and becomes quite frantic. The moon has always had a special place in Michele's heart, and she finds herself curiously drawn to it especially when it is a full moon. She describes it as having a 'magical entity' and is fascinated by the effect it has on our actions, people's personalities and how it controls the tides.

 

'Breathing in the Moment' concludes with my favourite track of all, entitled 'Rejoice (Reprise)'. This is a very optimistic piece, capturing the happiness of the moment. Michele explains that this is how she has been feeling of late, and thought it would be fitting to end the album in this way. She describes it as thus: "the ultimate celebration of survival and happiness." The opening was similar to the final track from 'Out of the Darkness' which told of the journey strewn with many obstacles that she undertook following her marriage break-up. That final piece was full of optimism- the light had been reached- and Michele decided to rework that track for this album. I simply love it, and think it concludes the album in perfect fashion.

 

What to say about Michele McLaughlin, apart from she has done it again! 'Breathing in the Moment' is a superbly crafted album of the highest quality. Expressive, intimate, revealing- all of these and, by way of an added bonus, a joy to listen to from beginning to end. "The album is very much a celebration of my evolution these last couple of years," says Michele, and the listener will no doubt enjoy revelling with her in these celebrations. 

 

A fantastic album, 'Breathing in the Moment' is richly deserving of Piano-Heaven status. I give it my highest recommendation.       

 

S.C.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

'Breathing in the Moment'

Michele McLaughlin

 

 

 

 

 

Michele McLaughlin

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Michele McLaughlin

 

 

 

 

Listen to samples by pressing the

PLAY button.

Try Track 12, 'Nostalgia'

 and Track 15, 'Rejoice'.