Interview w/Eleanor Kleiner of The Whispering Tree (Creativity Q&A)

Go Call The Captain (CD on Amazon)

The Whispering Tree Rocks the Rockwood: Review of live show

It has been my pleasure to know Eleanor Kleiner since 2004. We worked together at a library in Westchester, NY, and just formed an easy friendship. I grew to know her as an extremely creative and talented individual, full of life and an open mind an heart.

I knew she wrote her own songs, sang and performed, and it was during the year (or so) we worked together, I got to hear her first band down in a ratty bar (the best kind) in lower Manhattan. She was great then.

Now, forming her band The Whispering Tree in 2007 with her husband Elie Brangbour, she SHOULD be on the verge of a nice breakout. They just performed at the Falcon Ridge Folk Festival and got a lot of great (and well deserved) feedback and attention.

I asked the El’s (Eleanor and Elie) if they’d like to take part in an interview. I firmly believe in supporting the arts in all ways, and this is a band I’m really enjoying.

1. The Whispering Tree is your band with your husband Elie. How would you describe your music? Give us the pitch that would make me want to book you.

Our music falls under the umbrella of folk/rock, with a focus on songwriting and vocals.  Keyboard Magazine says we “tastily combine wistful folk, mellow rock, and pinches of gypsy jazz and bluegrass into a compelling compilation of tightly written tunes” and Lucid Culture describes our music as “Plaintive, moody and often downright haunting.”

2. On your website, you told about your solo trip to South America and a ritual that led you to the name of the group. Can you tell us a little more of the journey to the name, and has your experience since added other depth/nuances to the naming?

Well, we wanted something earthy and distinctive sounding, and simply put, we both love trees.  I also feel like plants (and all living things) have consciousness.  I participated in an Ayahuasca ceremony in South America a few months before I met Elie.  Words are not adequate to describe the experience, but Ayahuasca is an ancient, shamanic brew comprised mainly of an Amazonian vine.  It’s used for healing and to gain insight into life, the universe, and basically the nature of reality.  So when the name “The Whispering Tree” popped up in our quest for a band name, it seemed really perfect to me because a.) it sounds good, b) I credit Ayahuasca for bringing Elie and I together – and c.) we love trees.

3. Where do you find your inspiration?

I guess the most obvious place is from my personal experiences, from relationships and observing others.  Then there are other times when inspiration just pops out of nowhere, those tend to be the best songs.

4. You’ve started to write about your process on your blog. Can you summarize your basic process in writing/composing?

I’d say the basic process goes something like this: inspiration hits and I’ll come up with a snippet of a song, some combination of melody/lyrics/chord progression, and then I try to build from there.

5. What is your collaboration process with Elie? With the other members of your band?

The collaboration with Elie varies.  Sometimes he’ll help develop one of my snippets, maybe I’ll be stuck on where to go for a chorus and he’ll come in and help the song go in a new direction.  Other times he’ll come up with a riff, or a chord progression and I’ll come up with the melody and lyrics to go with it.  He composes in a wide variety of different genres – from blues to prog and metal, so that versatility is really helpful.

Once a song is pretty much finished we’ll play it for the band; sometimes we’ll have a very specific idea of what drum and guitar parts we want, and other times we’ll just play around with them and see what comes up.

6. You sometimes just go out as a duo instead of a four piece. Do you have a preference?

Musically I prefer playing with the full band; there’s a fuller, stronger sound with drums and bass and it’s easier to arrange our songs for a full band.  Logistically, it’s a lot easier to just pack up a keyboard and guitar and travel as a duo, we’re also a lot more exposed as a duo, which makes for a much more intimate performance.  It’s a lot more challenging to make a song work as a duo as opposed to a full band,  and I think our writing has changed since we started performing more frequently as a duo.

7. Question for Elie: you met El in London (London, right?). What drew you to her musically? What was your musical background?

Well, I was drawn to her as a person before I was drawn to her musically! The relationship started and then we realized that we could write together so we gave it a shot. My musical background at the time was more of a rock band type bass player. I had played in a few rock/metal bands and only shortly before meeting Eleanor did I start playing with singer-songwriters. I had to explore some new musical avenues then, and I’m glad I did

8. If you could collaborate with an established artist you admire, who would it be, and what do you think the two of you could offer each other?

I would love to collaborate with Blitzen Trapper – I love their lyrics, melodies and harmonies, and arrangements.  They’re songs have great backing vocals and I think our voices and styles would complement each other.

9. You tour a lot. Can you describe a couple of experiences on the road for us? Funny, scary, touching?

(I’ve been staring at this question for awhile and I can’t come up with an answer, Sorry Stu!) *Stu Here: I can add one thing she told me after coming back from a tour: one place they played she got hit on, a lot. She said it was flattering, but…you do have to see the El’s together. Pure love in action. 

10. You could meet President Obama: one on one, he has to answer any question you have: What would you ask him?

Haha…How do you reconcile yourself with working inside such a dirty, filthy machine?

11. Anything you’d like to add about the music?

You can listen to all of our songs on our website,

I would also highly recommend signing our mailing list, starting this fall we’re going to be living full-time in an airstream trailer, travelling around the US and playing as many shows as possible…and if nothing else, it will make for an interesting newsletter!

Thanks for reading!

You can follow The Whispering Tree on:

Twitter: @whisperingtree

Facebook: The Whispering Tree Fan Page

Fiddler On The Roof (Ultimate Blog Challenge #10)

Ultimate Blog Challenge

I believe in Arts In Education (AIE).  I believe that arts integration into core curriculum is a proven time tested model  of success for the students. There are so many different types of learners, and when the arts are used in a classroom, the chances of engaging, connecting to the material, making outside of the classroom connections, and deeper understanding can be achieved. 100% successful? Nothing is-nothing is perfect. While many seem to fight the idea of Arts having any real importance and that it has no place in the classroom, the truth is it’s been there for a long time.  Maybe not named as such, but it’s been there.

I bring this up because I saw AIE in action yesterday. An exchange student from Venezuela had the lead in his school’s production of “Fiddler on the Roof.”  Yes, he played Tevye. Eight months ago, he spoke NO English.

I met him and his host family at Poetry Out Loud, a National Recitation Contest a few months ago.When you say someone is electrifying in meeting them,  that was DJ. He captivated the poetry audience, and he did so again in his role in Fiddler.

The arts helped propel his learning and understanding of English. The arts built his confidence (which I understand was already high to begin with) to sing FOR THE FIRST TIME in a show. He learned new life lessons along the way in both poetry and musical theater…and that is probably only the tip of the ice berg for him. I wish him all the success he can handle in life.

When I was the Chair and Special Projects Manager for American Voices for the NYC Department of Education, I saw AIE in full bloom. Yes, it was our mandate to infuse Theater Arts in core Social Studies curricula, but what made it real was seeing it in action and hearing students responses first hand.

The most gratifying comment I heard was from a student in The Bronx. The unit was based in the 1920’s and was integrating  Jazz  and the play “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” into the lesson plans. After the Social Studies & Drama teacher collaboratively taught a class together, I asked the students for some feedback on this unit of study (which is one of the ones I helped write). One girl said “This is the first time I actually like Social Studies. I wish we could do this more.” Paraphrasing a bit, but that was the gist of what she said. Many agreed with her, and I heard that again and again, in written form and from feedback from the teachers involved.

These are only two examples. I have many more from my years as both a NYC Drama Teacher and as a Teaching Artist.

The Arts are Alive, not just for entertainment purposes but for a deep level of education. Please support Arts In Education.

Arts Education Partnership
National Endowment for the Arts
Americans For the Arts

What are you doing to support the arts?

Tale Spinning: an experiment in writing (my other blog, working with the A to Z blog challenge. Enjoy)

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