Alan Smallwood

In an earlier marriage my wife at the time chanted the Nichiren-Buddhist mantra “Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo”.  She was going through a particularly rough stretch in her life and she would go off and chant in our guest bedroom every day for a couple of hours.  She would always emerge from these sessions a different person – calm, centered, and quietly joyful.

I supported this practice at first because I saw that it worked wonders for her and over the couple of years that she chanted, I grew to love the sound of her voice pealing through the house, its mellifluous vibrations casting its positive spell over both our lives and probably even helping our plants to grow and be happy as well.

I think it was the thing I missed about her most when we parted.

Several years afterwards I began to work with a young musician named Alan Smallwood who came into my life at just the perfect time and brought to me in musical terms exactly what I seemed to be missing in my life.

As a musician, I had no real formal training.  Most of what I knew came from playing in bands, singing in folk groups and conducting student choirs.  I did study drums for several years with a fine teacher as a kid, but that was about it.

So there were many holes in my understanding and knowledge of this amazing world of music and consequently there were many holes in my music.  Alan Smallwood, several years younger than I, filled these holes with his genius, his fascination with the then developing new technology of synthesis and became my musical director and arranger/orchestrator for many of the musical projects that I created.

It’s possible that I taught him a few things along the way.  He would probably tell you that today in his humble, sometimes self-deprecating manner, but what I really remember from the association is all that he taught me.

‘Woody’, as we lovingly called him, was always a flurry of energy.  In normal life that energy would spill out in a myriad of ways sometimes verging on a kind of scattered turmoil; however, when he would sit down at the piano or with his beloved Polymoog Synthesizer, he would turn into a concentrated force of magical wonder as his music poured forth out of his mind and fingers.  He would transform before our very eyes into the boy genius that we all knew him to be.

He taught me how to arrange for a rhythm section.  He taught me synthesis programming.  He taught me how to rehearse a band and get the most out of my musicians and he taught me how to write for musicians and challenge them and trust them.  Did he know at the time that he was teaching?  Probably not.  I learned by osmosis, by watching the kid do his magical thing.

As we both evolved as musicians we began to drift in and out of each other’s lives more and more as I got into the Industrial market and Woody went off to work as a side man with the likes of Lou Reed, Edgar Winter, David Clayton-Thomas of “Blood Sweat & Tears” and also with Marilyn McCoo, Eartha Kitt and Della Reese.

For a couple of decades then we hardly saw each other.  He made the root of his living doing radio and television commercials with a jingle house here in NYC and that was a world that I never really ventured into, so our lives didn’t really touch.

But I always knew we were intertwined through the music that we had shared and especially the understandings of music that he had taught me.

Over the past year, “forces” have seemed to be bringing us back together.  A phone call here, a possible gig here and there that fell through or got postponed, but nothing really concrete.  Just enough to get him back into the back of my mind.

Then one day I received an email from him with a single song MP3.  He, still in his humble fashion, suggested that this piece of music might interest me since I was doing this ‘Inspirational thing’.  It was cut #2, Winds Of Change from his album called The Far Reaching Sound.  I sat mesmerized listening to this beautiful work from my old friend who had obviously grown even more as a musician over the decades.

I immediately wrote him back and said, “Send me the whole CD immediately!”

He did, of course, and Watchfire Music has now added Alan and The Far Reaching Sound to our roster of great music.

Woody’s  CD explores the merging of music with the Nichiren-Buddhist mantra  “Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo”.  In his own description, “the mantra is sung in a similar fashion to traditional chanting.  These songs present an aspect of the chanting experience while also taking the listener on exotic musical journeys.”

His description, for me, is totally accurate.  The CD has found a continuous home in my computer for the last few weeks now and gets played nearly every day filling our home with its most special music and beautiful chant.

Many of you, our loyal customers, are Christian-based people.  Here I ask each of you to keep an open mind and an open heart to the truths of existence.  Give this music a listen.  Don’t let ‘religion’ be constrictive.  Expand your thought and stay open to truth in all forms – in language, style and music.  We can all get inspired in a myriad of ways.  Here’s one of them.  Check it out.  It certainly works for me.

Chanting.  Try it.  It’s enchanting.


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