This article first appeared in the July 17, 2014 edition of the Vermont Standard.
By Dillon Walsh
Sonny Saul, an accomplished piano player who runs Pleasant Street Bookstore in Woodstock, says his daughter Luette Saul was exposed to music at a young age.
“Her mom is a good piano player and singer also and I remember Luette sat on our laps when she was a little baby and sang. We sang and she sang. The story I always tell is Luette learned to sing before she could speak,” Sonny said.
The early introduction to music was the spark that started a lifelong involvement with music and singing for Luette.
“I started playing piano and then I got into singing when I was an early teenager. My mother was really into opera and I just sort of suddenly decided opera was the most important thing in the world,” Luette said. “Mostly I think it was having the combination of a musical family and then suddenly discovering it.”
Sonny, who has composed instrumental pieces previously, had a new idea for original compositions while in yoga class.
“I was doing some yoga classes and thinking about how mantras are close to music and they’re not music. And thinking, ‘What is the difference there?’” Sonny said. “The mantra music that I’ve heard a lot in the classes was really for me almost intolerable. I really didn’t like it. I thought it’s not an untouchable tradition. I might try it.”
Dissatisfied with what he’s heard, Sonny decided to create his own take on the classical mantras. The result has been seven mantras from the ancient Indian tradition set to original music for piano and voice. When it came to figuring out who would sing the recordings, Sonny had only one person in mind.
“I think I had a few then I was hoping Luette would like them, and that would help me decide, I’ll do some more,” Sonny said.
Sonny and his daughter Luette would end up recording at their friend Bob Merrill’s studio in Pomfret. Earlier in June, the father and daughter duo performed them live for the first time at ArtisTree. Luette, who teaches voice at Bates College, says that she’s collaborated with her father previously, but this is the first time they’ve worked on his original work together.
“We’ve done a lot of singing, a lot of jazz tunes. But this is the first of my singing his original music,” Luette said.
Part of the appeal for Luette was working with someone she knows so well.
“Because this is my father, I don’t mince words maybe as much as I might with another person. I sing a lot of new music so I’m used to people bringing me music and it was nice to be able to say, ‘Hey, this is really hard. Can we change this to this?’” Luette said.
Sonny explains the music was inspired by the classical mantras, but they aren’t the same as classical Indian music.
“I respect the Indian classical music and that’s great — but this is very different. It’s sort of inspired by the mantras in a way to try to get closer to what they are and think about them a little more,” Sonny said.
Both Sonny and Luette hope to collaborate again. Sonny says he is working on new material, and Luette says that regardless of the material, she thinks it’ll work as long as they find places to perform like ArtisTree.
“It’s all about finding performances venues and places that are appropriate,” Luette said.
Luette finds places like ArtisTree a major factor in performing in the area her father lives in, which provide exclusive performance venues in Vermont towns who in the past, might not be known for such places.
“This is why it’s really cool to just come down the street and perform here and have an audience and do this kind of thing which is so esoteric and kind of different,” Luette said. “We don’t have to go to Boston or NewYork to find it. I get to come here and perform and hang out with my dad. It’s worked out really well.”
To hear the seven classical mantras recordings, visit www. pleasantstreetbooks. com/ index. php/music-by-sonny-saul. Those wishing to purchase a CD of the recordings can visit the store in Woodstock.