Rick Cutler’s musical accomplishments are hard to list at one go: performances in many Broadway shows; scores written for radio, film and television (including the Emmy-nominated theme for Dateline NBC); playing instruments on tours for stars such as the tap dance legend Gregory Hines and pop diva Liza Minnelli… On top of it all, he has released three solo albums recognized by critics to be “exquisite expressions” of Rick’s peace of mind.
Continuing our series of exclusive interviews with practitioners of the Transcendental Meditation technique, here’s Rick’s take on how TM has changed his life.
Was becoming a professional musician a conscious decision, or a result of a natural flow of things?
RICK CUTLER: It all started when I was five and half years old. I was watching a half-time show of a football game on TV. I saw drummers in a marching band and that looked good to me! That was the beginning of the whole thing right there.
I asked my dad and he said that if I was serious about it, he’d help me get lessons. That was it: I was off and running! It was a very natural process. I never looked back. I enjoyed it from the beginning. It is, at least in this life, just who I am.
Rick Cutler’s soothing piano meditation “Notes on World Peace” from the album Sanctuaries. You can find more samples of Rick’s music on his web page.
How would you describe the feeling you get when playing musical instruments?
RICK CUTLER: Now that I know more of Maharishi’s teachings, I would liken it to touching the Absolute, the Transcendent – to some degree. If I’m working for someone else, maybe less so. If I’m playing my own music, it’s mostly in that realm.
One of the questions Maharishi’s teachings answered for me was: What happens when somebody plays music? I know from my own experience that you kind of lose yourself and wind up “somewhere else.” Up until I read some of Maharishi’s books I never really knew what that was.
Does this experiential state differ for you across the instruments? Say, when you are sitting behind your drum set versus playing the piano?
RICK CUTLER: I enjoy both of them equally. But when it comes to expressing my true Self, I would say it comes from writing music for the piano – even though technically I am better at the drums.
So it is while creating music that you mostly feel “in the zone”?
RICK CUTLER: Sometimes! (laughs) The writing can come from different places. Sometimes it is very natural and I do feel like I hit that Absolute. It all just flows. Sometimes it takes more work and I’m dealing with the Relative [the changing world of time and space – ed.] a bit more.
In reviewing your album, Sanctuaries, Jazzweekly.com said, “That sense of sanctuary his music produces is not his alone. It’s universal.” Is it your intention to offer to your listeners that peace of mind you yourself experience while playing? Or is it just an unexpected side effect?
RICK CUTLER: I don’t write a piece of music with that intention. I just write to express myself and if people find that feeling from my music, I’m really happy! Most of the stuff I write does lend itself to a more meditative mood, and it makes me feel good to hear that this is what others also get from it. This unintended side effect is beautiful!
You have led an incredible life travelling around the world with stars such as Liza Minelli and Gregory Hines. What have been the most wonderful and the most difficult aspects in this kind of life?
RICK CUTLER: The great thing about it, in a nutshell, is that I’m doing something that I love. Even if I’m working for someone else and don’t particularly enjoy the music, I always find something to enjoy about playing the instruments.
There is a ton of stress in the music business and you deal with it the best you can. Thankfully I re-found my Transcendental Meditation practice. I learned the technique in 1985 and did it for a little while. I started practicing again in 2009 after I read the book Catching the Big Fish by David Lynch. I wish I had done more reading back in 1985, because then I wouldn’t have stopped! It’s really a great tool to relieve stress, and it helps immeasurably.
I haven’t had an easy life. I’ve made a living doing what I love. At the same time, I was a single parent for many years, raising my son by myself, and that wasn’t easy. Luckily I’ve had enough consciousness throughout my life to help me get through it. Now with the added benefit of meditation, it’s way easier.
You have said that the practice of TM made you incredibly productive. Did anything change also in the nature of the pieces you composed?
RICK CUTLER: Definitely! My creativity and writing music went through the roof! I wrote a lot of new music in a very short time.
Listen to Rick talking about the role
meditation has played in his life as a musician —
So the problem with Transcendental Meditation is that it makes you too creative, so now you have too many great pieces of music to choose from?
RICK CUTLER: (Laughs) I wish I had had this problem all the time! Before meditating, it was not as easy to write. Meditation kind of opened a flood of compositions that were waiting to be written. I’m really happy this is one of the benefits of the Transcendental Meditation practice.
It wasn’t really a writer’s block, but my energy to write was not as strong. It’s like my energy now got redirected to composing.
Has Transcendental Meditation practice have an impact also on your everyday life?
RICK CUTLER: Oh yeah! I feel like I’m calmer. I’ve always been pretty mellow, but one of the big things for me is knowing that I have the technique and I can use it, knowing that I’ve had the questions answered that I’ve had been asking throughout my life.
Oh boy, how could I put it…? It’s like having your best friend always there to help you! Only that your best friend is the knowledge itself. And to always have that is a beautiful thing!