September 2008

Reviewed by Rupert Thomas II

Water Bear/In the Moonlight

Songs have their own personalities: they woo us, entice us to sing in the shower and sometimes even smack us in the proverbial face.  Water Bear’s In The Moonlight goes a step further and assigns forenames to each track.  This is a method the band calls Name Music.  The violin-heavy tunes unfurls into timeless instrumentals wherein a name is given a body through note and pitch.  With a track list slightly favoring femininity, even Henry VIII — cleverly absent from the list — would savor the beauty and persona of each song before slicing to the next.

The idea behind Name Music is both simple and complex.  Letters are assigned a pitch on the violin, and each score is confined to those letters within its given name.  Each band member adds his or her own flavor, creating a depth of personality and a sound that’s as alive as flesh and blood.


Bryan Rowe is not only a musician; he is a poet. Although Songs of the Soul arrives minus any lyrics, the words are illustrated through Rowe’s classically sculpted piano playing. It is a masterwork about life, death, and the renewal of the cycle. The record takes us through the seasons of the Earth – spring, summer, winter, and fall – as it relates to birth and the end of our years. It is an album that chills the heart with overwhelming feelings of loneliness and painful acceptance; in the end, we are left wanting to hold our loved ones next to us, to savor each of those precious moments.

Derek Jensen: What I have heard from you thus far seems to transcend the classical music category in the sense that I hear traces of jazz and soundtrack scores in there. You seem to compose your music without any stylistic boundaries while other classical composers may feel confined. Do you feel a sense of liberation when you write these pieces?

Bryan Rowe: The sense of liberation I feel is simply the product of what I have been feeling or focusing on “inside” and then hearing and seeing how that focus translates into music, the sole expression of those feelings and thoughts. I am, as any other human being, an amalgamation of all the experiences I have lived.  I never feel confined by any form or structure of music, but there is an underlying, logical construction of my music that is perhaps influenced by the classical genre. As a child, my parents listened to all types of music – I inherited their vinyl collection – every genre was represented.  I love soundtracks of movies, particularly those of Morricone and Barry. So all of those musical sounds, coupled with ones I call definitely “Rowe” do represent me as a composer who is naturally influenced by a wide spectrum of genre, including jazz.

Jensen: How do you convey your feelings through the writing of music?

Rowe: There is not much of a plan when I compose. What pours out of my being is essentially the expression of what I am trying to convey.  The piece, “I Lament You,” was written upon my father’s passing just a few years ago. I cannot  express to you how “deep” that piece goes for me.  Sometimes it is utterly painful to hear or play it, but that is what the music is about; it is the conduit of my emotions and experiences.  The music I just wrote for my daugther’s wedding expresses the joy and euphoria of falling in love and the celebration of committing one’s self to another.  The music is grand but dance-like.  So there is no magical formula.  I simply compose what my mind and heart collaboratively decide to convey based on what has influenced me emotionally.

Jensen: There is pain but also acceptance on Songs of the Soul. If you don’t mind, please tell us the story behind the album.

Rowe: Songs of the Soul was recorded in a single take with no music in front of me.  I mention this because the collection expresses an emotional outpouring of  “loss” and “forgiveness” and is based on life events.  The first release of the album was based on my experience of the ending of a marriage and the stages of emotion that naturally accompanied that part of my life.  So it is easy for the listener to comprehend why I titled pieces as I did.  The second release of the album, just last year, was motivated by the losses of my grandmother, mom and dad, and father-in-law, all within 18 months.  Through that span of time, dealing with parents’ illnesses, caring for them, and literally experiencing their deaths was gut wrenching, just as the divorce was for me in the ’90s.  I thought it appropriate to re-release the album with new artwork that expresses the intimacy and personal tragedy of losing someone, and in my case, four important people in my life.

Jensen: Songs of the Soul was recorded in the ’90s. How have you evolved as a musician since then?  

Rowe: When I listen to Songs of the Soul and compare it to the music of Spiorad or even the recent wedding music for my daughter’s wedding, there is for me a marked sense of evolving and maturing into a composer in which there is a sense of “getting to the point” of the music, putting that melody out there and being more economical in my use of notes to do just that.  Living through what life has presented me since the ’90s has naturally contributed to my bank of experiences; so without question I am still evolving into my own as a composer and pianist. And, these life experiences have, I believe, refined my skills as a builder of melodies that  express more intimately than ever those experiences that I have been blessed with by life itself.

Jensen: Growing up, was it always classical music for you? What other forms of music hooked you in during those years?

Rowe: As mentioned previously, my parents always had music playing in the house.  My dad was a very gifted guitar player; he loved Chet Atkins.  My three brothers and I, together with my father, had a band called The Impossibles. We played everything from the Everly Brothers and Nat King Cole to the standards of the ’60s and ’70s.  I even spent several summers during my college years as a cocktail pianist so I had all of “popular” repertoire memorized since I was a child.   My parents were also committed to the family attending church; all of the boys sang in choirs as children and continuing through our high school years. So I was naturally influenced by the music of the church, hence my classical bent.  While I enjoy classical music, I always thought, and still do, that I wanted to pursue my own music, never abandoning the classical background and the music that I grew up listening to and playing as a child with my family band. All of those experiences still contribute and are an integral part of  my evolving as a composer and musician.