Have you ever had a professional massage? Have you ever done yoga or meditated? If so chances are you’ve heard the music of Dean and Dudley Evenson. Their Soundings of the Planet record label has been producing mindful music since the late 1970s with the mission of “Peace through music.”
Says Dudley of the now-billion-streamed music: “In the early ‘90s country singer Naomi Judd called us to order our music. She found it helpful in dealing with her liver disease and for years she bought our CDs to give out to people she met on her tours.”
We caught up with Dudley to talk to her about the origins of her relationship with her partner and co-writer Dean, how their music projects grew into a global business and what the duo is up to now.
American Songwriter: Can you describe the day you and Dean met?
Dudley Evenson: In 1968 after traveling around the world and living in Japan, I moved back to New York City and was working as a photographer’s assistant. I lived in a fifth-floor walkup in the East Village and was used to going across the hall to the vacant apartment where I would unwind with stretching and yoga. I was surprised one day with the door opened and there standing before me was an unusual-looking man. His bright eyes gleamed behind his John Lennon glasses. He had more hair on top and no beard. I apologized for trying to break into his apartment and invited him over for tea.
Dean Evenson had just gotten his Masters’ degree in Molecular Biology but had come to the Big Apple to pursue music and recording. We became fast friends and eventually decided to get married and explore the world together. In 1970, we merged Dean’s interest in audio with my interest in photography and purchased one of the first Sony Portapacks sold in New York City. That portable video technology changed our lives and we spent the ‘70s traveling in a converted school bus videotaping the emerging consciousness of that era.
AS: Can you describe the first original recording Dean made in the desert and how you went about selling it?
DE: In 1979 we landed in Tucson, Arizona and we were asked to record a Ram Dass lecture with permission to sell the tapes. When we got 50 orders we got the idea to start a record label to distribute that tape and also the peaceful music we had been exploring. During our years of making those early videos, we had no way to distribute them since people didn’t have video playback decks. We knew we wanted to learn about distribution to share the media we were creating so we figured why not offer our music through the new audio cassette format?
Dean had been playing flute since age 10 and had performed and experimented in many genres from classical to folk and rock. He had learned his chops as a recording engineer in New York working with Atlantic Records artists like Eric Clapton, Roberta Flack, Mose Allison, and others which gave him familiarity with the music industry. Another aspect of our lives found us deeply immersed in meditation and yoga. People of our generation were searching for peace and many found that music could help them find their inner peace.
We had also been inspired by Native American wisdom, about caring for nature and respecting “Mother Earth.” We very much wanted to share that message so one night Dean camped in a desert canyon and at dawn set out stereo mics to capture on tape the morning birdsong. He brought the nature sounds back to our makeshift studio and we played music over it. Dean played silver flute of course and I played an open-tuned harp. We called that tape Desert Dawn Song. It was one of the first five cassette tapes we released when we founded our label Soundings of the Planet in 1979. Our mission was Peace Through Music.
AS: How has your audience grown today and who are some of your biggest fans?
DE: Our earliest fans were massage therapists, yoga practitioners, and everyday people who needed to relax or deal with pain or health issues. We sold our first cassettes at swap meets and later sold CDs at arts festivals and mind-body conferences and we received immediate feedback about how the music helped people through challenging times. In the early ‘90s, country singer Naomi Judd called us to order our music. She found it helpful in dealing with her liver disease and for years she bought our CDs to give out to people she met on her tours.
Television personality Iyanla Vanzant is another fan whom we met at a mind-body conference. We used to play our music and meditations before her lectures. We also taught workshops and shared our music at Walter Reed Medical Center with combat veterans suffering from PTSD and wounds of war. The music helps people deal with stress and it touches people from all walks of life. These days after years of selling our CDs directly to the public at festivals and wellness conferences, we are reaching even further with streaming.
People all over the world are now discovering our music which is often listened to over and over again by those wanting to create a peaceful soundtrack for their lives. It also helps that we have been very prolific with over 90 albums and videos produced. A few years ago, Dean Evenson reached over a billion streams on Pandora alone. Add that to Spotify, Amazon, Apple, YouTube, and other services and we are touching millions of people without even leaving home.
AS: What do you love most about the music you and Dean create together?
DE: Our music comes from our deep love and the spiritual connection we have. We each bring a completely different gift to the music and we really do have fun together. We marvel that we don’t have to tour but we can just stay home and record our music to send out to the whole world.
Because of Dean’s musical background, he has done collaborations with a wide range of outstanding musicians such as Tim Alexander (Primus drummer), Scott Huckabay (trance guitarist), Li Xiangting (Chinese zither player), Tom Barabas (Hungarian pianist), Deobrat Mishra (Indian sitar master), and he even performed with John Denver on several occasions. But when Dean and I play, it’s just smooth and sweet. We play almost every night after dinner and of course, we’re always making new music recordings to release through Soundings of the Planet.
AS: Can you tell me about your most recent release—its origin and sound?
DE: Monet’s Garden, our most recent album, was inspired by our journey to France a few years ago before everything closed down. Dean has always been a big fan of impressionist master Claude Monet and we probably saw every Monet painting hanging in Paris. We then took the train north to Giverny where the painter lived for 40 years.
We stayed in a renovated inn one block from his home and we spent many days in his flower and water gardens making field recordings and documenting the glory of spring with video and photography. When we returned home, we watched the videos and let them inspire us as we recorded our music of flutes, harps, and singing bowls. We have continued to immerse ourselves in the life story of Claude Monet and have learned how much our own lives run parallel to his.
We recently released a movie called In Monet’s Footsteps with Dean & Dudley Evenson. We just learned it is nominated for Best Score Short Film (Documentary) at the HMMA (Hollywood Music in Media Awards).
AS: What do you and Dean believe are the healing qualities of music?
DE: There are many aspects to consider. For us, the beauty and peaceful quality of our music has been beneficial for many people. The music creates a soundscape for a person’s life so they can “just be,” and it can enhance whatever healing modality they are involved with. When we did research about how music can support the healing process, we discovered a few simple considerations. The slow pace of the music helps entrain the bodily systems to more natural rhythms.
A goal in healing is for a person to let go of their busy mind and disengage from their troubles so music that doesn’t have repeated refrains that engage the mind can be most helpful. Dean often speaks of music as a carrier wave of intention. He also adds the Earth Resonance Frequency under the mix of our relaxation music. This sub-audio frequency of 7.83 Hz. is the same frequency that our brains emit when on the cusp of the Alpha and Theta brainwave state and we are calm and relaxed. When people listen to our music, they may also pick up on the feelings we are imparting through our music and they may have a sense of the love and beauty we are sharing as we play together.
AS: What do you love most about music?
DE: We love all kinds of music yet there are certain styles and genres that we enjoy for different occasions. Music can get us up and dancing or allow us to go to a deep inner space. Music can take us out of our minds and into our hearts. As musicians, we appreciate that music allows us to express ourselves and also to connect with others. We love it when we find collaborators who can just play together without planning. Music is a magical doorway and for us, it has given us a gift of purpose in so many ways.
We encourage people whether they have a musical background or not to get together and play music or sing just for fun. In our modern society because of recorded music and the infinite ways of listening to music, we have become passive listeners rather than active participants of music. We recently launched the Peace Through Music Foundation fulfilling a longtime dream of ours. We will be encouraging musicians to share stories of how they are using music for social and planetary benefit. We look forward to networking with all kinds of musicians regardless of genre and culture.
All photos courtesy Dudley Evenson, Soundings of the Planet