Interview by Dale Allen Hoffman
“Being Asheville” article for “The Indie, ” January 2007
Coming Home to Spiritual Awareness through Music
I don’t know exactly when it was that I first became aware of the music of Richard Shulman, but I do remember where. I was up from my home in St. Petersburg, Florida visiting my family in New Jersey. It was sometime in the mid 1990’s and I was in one of my favorite spiritual bookstores, on South Street in Philadelphia, just across the river. I saw a commotion near a tape deck in the store as this woman was waving a cassette through the air telling everyone “You’ve got to hear this!” It was something called “Ascension Harmonics” from a guy named Richard Shulman. After listening to about 20 seconds of music, I was convinced enough to buy the tape, my first in years, because they were sold out of CDs. So that you know, I played that tape until it stuck to my tape deck’s heads and rollers so bad that I just threw the whole deck into a dumpster and drove straight to Crystal Connection in Indian Rocks Beach, Florida, to order the CD-and a few of his other ones. And I have been listening ever since.
How did you get started in music?
Well, I started out with the usual piano lessons when I was seven. I joined a rock band in high school. One of the rock bands I was in became an experimental jazz band. I got to the University of Rochester in the fall of ’69 and started discovering jazz. The reason that I went there is because they owned the Eastman School of Music and Chuck Mangione was there. He was teaching there for a couple of years. I got to be in a big band conducted by him and I got to be in a small group with him. It was a very intense but good experience. He was very insistent on certain qualities that are necessary in a good jazz player and for a long time he never took out his horn. But at a certain point, the rehearsal band that we were in was so lame that he finally took out his flugel horn and said “No, play it like this!” When he started to play, he was right next to the piano and what I recognized was that he had a tremendous presence when he played. It was that presence that showed me something. So, one of the things that I have learned in life is that when you see something, you can create it for yourself.
One of the other things that he was very insistent on was the groove. When I wasn’t playing in the groove, he let me know! It’s not that I got so much better then, but I really learned what was necessary. I learned “Okay, what is the standard here?” And I didn’t meet the standard for quite some time but I learned what it is. I guess you’d call it a standard of excellence. At that time, Marian McPartland would come twice a year to Rochester and play for six weeks at the Downtowner. During the day, she would come in and teach these jazz piano master classes, so I had the privilege of being in those classes. So those were major influences.
As a jazz player, after I graduated from the University of Rochester with my music courses taken at Eastman, I moved to Buffalo and started a Masters, first in piano and then it became a Masters in composition. Frank Foster, the great saxophone player who played with Count Basie, was flying in once a week to teach a jazz class. I had a great arranging teacher at Eastman named Rayburn Wright. He was a great teacher in that he didn’t judge what the students wrote, but what he did was, he could tell you if it was gonna work or not. So he didn’t put his value judgments on it, it was just, the music either works or it doesn’t. So he taught us technically how to write better arrangements and how to be better musicians.
I had other teachers who were more judgmental about what music was appropriate to write. For a time I was quite intimidated by some of those other teachers and it took me some time to find my own voice. That is an ongoing process which continues to this day, to find and to listen to my voice and express the Divine which comes through me, which is of course my greatest joy. Now it doesn’t really matter if somebody who purports to be an authority likes it or doesn’t like it. But it’s nice that people do like my music!
How did you become such a bright light in the New Age and spiritual music genre?
Well, in 1981, I moved to New York City, having left Buffalo, to make it in the jazz business and to make it as a jazz piano player in New York. I had a girlfriend in New York at the time and I had a realization that what we were doing wasn’t love, and I wanted to know what love was. It wasn’t long after that that we ended up breaking up, and that same week I found a spiritual teacher named Hilda Charlton. Hilda really embodied a tremendous love. Through her and other teachers, I learned about meditation and I started meditating and started a much more serious spiritual practice. At that time, whereas my music had been about emotional expression, now it became about expressing the Divine. So, as I gradually learned meditation, I learned how to play music for meditation.
What can you tell me about your musical soul portraits?
There was another important healer that I worked with, a man named Ron Young, and he showed me that I could create “musical soul portraits” for people. The history of that is that we were trading healing sessions for piano lessons. Well, he stopped practicing the piano, so the trade seemingly had to end! But I didn’t want it to end, so I said “How can we continue to trade?” Ron said “Come play for my clients”, so I did.
It was shown to me that I had this ability to tune in to a person and ask for music for the highest good for them, and hear music that was for them and play it, and that has developed. That was back in 1986 and I’ve done hundreds of them. Now I can tune into either an individual, a couple, a family or a group. At almost all of my concerts, I go through that process of asking “What is the music that would best serve the highest good for this particular group?” I will usually tell the group that that’s what I am doing, and I tune in.
Those are some of the most magical places in your shows!
It’s really my higher self and the person’s or groups higher self working together.
Do you still do the individual, couples and family soul portraits?
Yes. I actually just did one two days ago!
Can you describe your process of centering and allowing this instantaneous creation of music to flow through you?
It’s a combination of setting intent and releasing anything else and trusting and allowing that the energies and the music that comes through, having set the intent for the highest good, is the best thing. It’s about trusting what comes and then doing my best to play it. In my centering process, I ground, which means that I send roots to the core of the earth and to the great central sun and beyond so that I am connected beyond Creation, through all Creation. I do this so that whatever needs to be available is available. That’s a brief thing that I do, which I call “making my connections”, and I got some of that from Ron Young. It’s not me healing anyone but it’s this connection which resonates with the connection that each person has also with their own Divine self. By my tuning in to that Divinity within me, I’ve connected to the inner-outer. Most people aren’t aware of the connection that they can make with the core of the earth and the entire cosmos.
That is an action to take to make that connection, but there’s also a connection within, in which I connect with my soul, my higher self and what I call my mighty “I AM” presence, which is the Divine presence within me. Making those connections, like I’ve said, it’s not me that is doing any healing work on anybody, but the Divine within me resonating with the Divine in another person or in a group. Of course the Divine knows exactly what the person needs and can translate it into perfect music for them. So my job is to be a good secretary!
What spiritual teachings or teachers have resonated strongly with you?
Well the quick list would be Yogananda, Hilda Charlton, Mary, Jesus, Ron Young, St. Francis, St. Claire, and an experience I had chanting the Sh’ma in the Jewish tradition, which is where my roots are. There was also a man who was known as Daskalos-His actual name was Stylianos Atteshlis. He was known as The Magus of Strovolos. He was a miraculous healer who lived on Cypress. There have been many others, there’s A Course in Miracles and all the teachers around that. I have received teachings through words, through experience, through music, and through the process of life.
Music itself has been a great path of learning for me and if I could express what I’ve learned through music and through learning what forgiveness is, those are two very important pieces of my puzzle. I have had a lot of teaching through following inner vision, and I’ve had a lot of spiritual adventures in that realm. Most recently I’ve been enjoying Michael Ryce and finding his teaching quite useful for me.
The expression of the Divine through music, the great masters of music have expressed something to me that is helpful in my life, helpful in my tuning in to the inspiration of my vision of life. My soul had resonated with, and I have recognized, certain teachings along the way as I have come across them synchronistically. They have been what I needed and they have come from many people and from many situations, sometimes challenges as well.
How do you feel about what’s happening right now with human consciousness?
I feel a time of tremendous opportunity. It’s a time of taking responsibility, for myself and each one of us, for the consciousness within ourselves, which includes the overall consciousness of the planet and the consciousness of humanity. Since each of us is a focal point within the consciousness of humanity, each step one of takes toward greater enlightenment, greater love, greater expression of truth and of the Divine, it up-levels the consciousness of humanity, and that’s really how I work. I work through working on myself, and through the music that comes forth as a result of that.
What brought you to Asheville?
In 1998, having left Woodstock, New York, I felt a strong pull towards Asheville and also to Mount Shasta, California. Through various reasons, I ended up in Asheville. I was working on a project called Camelot Reawakened: A Vision Fulfilled. I didn’t realize why I was pulled here, but one of the reasons was because of the community that is here and has been continuing to develop here. One of the other reasons was that Robert Hart Baker, who was conducting the Asheville Symphony, agreed to perform the Camelot Reawakened orchestral piece. He agreed to help me put it on and, of course Asheville has a pretty good orchestra. Mount Shasta has about 5,000 people, so they don’t have an orchestra there. So, I’m glad I came to Asheville because I was able to have the experience of putting on that concert and creating the recording. It was recorded and filmed at Diana Wortham Theater on January 12th, 2002.
What’s in the near future? Do you have any current projects?
I’m doing a project with a vibes player named Paul Babelay. We’re working on a recording. I also have re-established my jazz group, the Richard Shulman Group. We’ll be playing April 1st at the Unity Church of Fletcher. I also have a new healing recording that I will be releasing and I am doing a lot of songwriting right now. I also have a choral piece I am going to be working on. There are lots of little things that haven’t yet grown into big things. There are lots of seeds being planted for performances, recordings and for new compositions.
I am really excited about the community that is continuing to gather here in Asheville and the Divine expression that is continuing to emerge. I am really happy to be a part of that because I’m in a place right now where I’m open to the next wonderful projects. I totally encourage everyone to find their personal vision and the dream of their hearts because to express it will be a benefit to everyone as well as to themselves.