Falling in love with all your senses

Photo by Thea Juliette Photography

I've never been a huge fan of Valentine's Day.

Like many of you, I've always felt it was a holiday hyped up by Hallmark and people in the flower business to try and get a person to feel that this was the one day of the year when s/he should really – no, really – express their love to their partner.

I also will never forget the time my British (sorry, British guys) boyfriend told me in no uncertain terms that he "would not buy me flowers on Valentine's Day" and then proceeded to take me to see Hotel Rwanda... with another guy friend of his. So, combine that with the time I got dog food in a chocolate box when I was a young teen, and you pretty much have some of the worst Valentine's Day memories you could ever have. Thanks to my current beau – who showed up unexpected on my doorstep – I have now had the best Valentine's Day ever and am still enjoying my beautiful bouquet of roses and lilies he brought me.

Photo by Clifton Photography

All this to say that you can perhaps imagine that I was not too upset when I was able to make sure I'd be doing EXACTLY what I wanted to not only on Valentine's Day itself but also on the Saturday before (we can only be so lucky as to have a year when you get two days to celebrate the day!)

Four events in three days? YES PLEASE! Saturday was a beautiful day in Temecula, and we were so thrilled to be hosting two music tastings at the incomparably gorgeous Europa Village Winery. It was one of the first wineries I visited in Southern California when I moved here 10 months ago, and they are building what will soon be one of the most ambitious – and in my opinion, coolest – projects ever! They are creating a "village" of three Europes: Italy, France, and Spain! Luckily for us, we got to sample a bit of this through our wine, food, and music choices in our program "The International Languages of Love." Our favorite pairing? Had to be the Libido Blanco from Bolero Cellars paired to "Malagueña" by Ernesto Lecuona and the Fugue from Bach's Sonata no. 2 in a minor.

Our violinist Victoria Bietz, guitarist Jeff Pekarek, and pianist Dan Bailey did an astounding job, and we are so excited to work with them again soon! Yours truly belted out a couple of numbers, as well!!

Photo by Thea Juliette Photography

Tuesday was Valentine's Day, and we found ourselves at D'Vine Lounge Bar in Downtown Los Angeles where we presented a co-hosted event with Los Angeles Wine Tasting entitled "Love Stories: Told and Untold." We paired wines from New Zealand, Italy, Argentina, and France with music selections spanning eight different genres including tango, Neopolitan song, jazz, classical, opera, folk, and more!

Photo by Thea Juliette Photography

We're in full swing with planning for the spring and summer, and can't wait to see you at our next public event on March 23rd at one of our favorite haunts: V Wine Room in West Hollywood. We're teaming up with Mikey and his team again for "The Playful Palate: A Music, Wine & Chocolate Tasting to celebrate Women's History Month." Tickets are on sale and can be purchased here.

Music: humankind's first communication tool

One of my favorite authors on the topic of sound both as it relates to business and to our experience as humans in daily life is Julian Treasure, whose TED talks on conscious listening and how sound affects us have been watched many millions of times.

In his monumental book "Sound Business," written a decade ago, Treasure notes that "of all the types of sounds, music is the one we find most fascinating" (p. 84). He goes even further in this line of thinking by bringing up the research of archeologist Stephen Mithen, who asserts in The Singing Neanderthals that "music came before language." For Mithen, Treasure writes, "the advent of language sidelined music from its original role as our core communication vehicle. Language is processed by different areas of the brain, and these have become dominant as we have concentrated exclusively on lingual communication, leaving music as a powerful tool that we now use without really understanding" (p. 85 - emphasis mine).

How totally and completely fascinating is this? If we take this at face value, prior to being something to entertain us, music was our fundamental tool of communication! How – or why – then do we then accept that it can and/or should be pushed to the background of our sensory experience, most especially in those moments of life on which we spend many thousands of dollars and many hours of planning? Doesn't doing so go against our natural sensory tendencies, tendencies that are as old as our very species?

This is certainly not to say that at every moment in life should we have music available or even that when there is music in a room or for an occasion that it must be our central focus. It is to say, however, that we must regift to music the power of our attention and award it the possibility of truly moving us and communicating to, with, and through us.

We at Five Senses Tastings hope that this comes through in our work and that our events over this Valentine's Day weekend were more meaningful as a result. We hope that those who heard and experienced our music tastings left with an expanded appreciation of the power of music – of sound – to influence our perception of our other senses, and generally to heighten our sensory experiences of a given moment in time.

The major 6th versus the minor 6th: why intervals really matter

We don't often spend time discussing something quite as specific as an interval, but perhaps we should be doing more of that! After all, intervals are the building blocks of melody and so, practically by definition, they are as important to our understanding of a piece of music as the lyrics, the composer him/herself,  or any other musical identifier present in the piece. 

The piece that made me reflect on the importance of the interval, indeed of one half note, is "Les chemins d'amour" by one of my all-time favorite composers, Francis Poulenc (1899-1963). I've known this piece for many years but haven't pulled it out in a while. As we will be presenting it in two of our upcoming music tastings, I have spent significant time with it over the last few weeks and am reminded not only of its singular melodic beauty but of the complexity and meaning of its melodic structure.

There are many intervals that feature prominently in this valse chantée ("sung waltz") but the dominant interval, at least in terms of the evocation of emotion in my opinion, is the sixth. The sixth – whether major or minor – appears often but never once repeated twice in a row. The one time you might think you are hearing two sixths in a row, Poulenc instead writes the interval as an augmented 5th. Why? In my opinion, it is because the minor and major 6th offer two completely opposing sides of the emotional spectrum: the minor gives the listener a sense of lamentation, reaching, and longing while the major 6th counters with a feeling of greater stability, hopefulness, and brightness. 

I am forever fascinated at how our music and wine pairings come together, and this is certainly no less the case than while I was writing the program notes for our February 14th event at D'Vine Wine Lounge in Downtown Los Angeles. We are pairing Poulenc's song – the only excerpt from the larger piece, Léocadia – with a 2011 Château Peyros Madiran from France (if you are wondering what a French Malbec tastes like, this is the glass for  you!). This big, full-bodied wine is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Tannat, full of structure and exhibiting notes of chocolate, mocha, and dark berries.

What is most remarkable is how this wine so perfectly works to describe and bring to life the interval we've just been discussing. The Tannat grape, as its name would suggest, is often very tannic, dark, and chewy, and can even be a bit hard or edgy. Here is our major 6th: a stable, strong, and commanding melodic presence. Cabernet Sauvignon (or Cabernet Franc) is used to soften and round the edges of the Tannat and to provide more complexity to the wine (our minor sixth). 

I think we could all stand to spend a bit more time thinking about what really draws us to a piece of music. Certainly the message in a song's lyrics are the most easily approachable element but our intervals and the melodic structure of the piece is something we can and should spend more time exploring, particularly with a glass of delicious red wine in hand!

The power of experience over stuff

Carefully selected wines, food, and music have the power to create unique experiences. These sparkling wines – one white and one rosé – are from the Boisset Collection.

I am consistently unamazed at how much more people talk about experiences than things. According to David Adler, CEO of BizBash, the market leader in event news, ideas, and resources, research shows that "today's buyers believe that experiences are the new bling," and I have found this to be exceptionally true, across generations and across the country and even the world. 

People are always looking for that "new" twist to their special events and in Los Angeles, which is an events town through and through, I find this to be even more pronounced. From real estate agents to financial planners, health coaches to those in the hospitality industry, people crave something memorable... something more than just a party with a Costco cheese plate (don't get me wrong, I'm a huge fan of Costco cheese plates) and some cheap wine from Trader Joe's (those who know me know what a complete and utter devotee I am of TJ's!).

A guest at Héritage Fine Wines in Beverly Hills listens carefully to the musical selections, each one hand-picked to pair with the wine, cheese, and chocolate served.

Most people – me included – do not consciously consider their senses on a daily basis, except perhaps to notice if they have a stuffy nose or their ears are popping after a long flight. We accept what the world throws at our senses without question and without much consideration of the fact that we do actually have the power to customize what we sense, at least to some degree.

As Julian Treasure often remarks in his speeches on conscious listening, we do not have earlids, and so entirely turning off the sounds of the world just isn't possible (even the best earplugs can't filter out the jackhammer noise from next door's rebuilding project completely – trust me, I know!). However, we do have the option of focusing on our senses and purposefully triggering and engaging them. 

Guests listen intently at a recent Five Senses Tastings event in Essex Fells, New Jersey. 

At Five Senses Tastings, we take this idea very seriously. We have all come to accept sound – or perhaps more appropriately, noise – as something that by its very nature is unspecific (and sometimes even annoying) in our lives. We have become inured to the idea that our senses, when carefully addressed one by one or in concerted unity, can center us in the moment and help to create and solidify memories.

Specifically triggering all our five senses – sound, smell, taste, touch, and sight – is our primary goal in our music tastings. We have shared it with hundreds already, and we can't wait to continue sharing this unique experience with our friends in Los Angeles. Whether you're planning an anniversary or birthday party, product launch, or client appreciation event, we can help create a special experience that your guests will not only enjoy but remember with all their senses.

Mozart meets bubbles

I've decided to start something new this year, in anticipation of something pretty darn exciting, if you ask me. I can't tell you what it is yet but every second blog post of the month will be one of our top "pairings" from our events. We've shared a few before, and we have dozens more that you'll see on our blog in the weeks and months to come. For those who still wonder what the heck a music tasting is and why it's the coolest thing to hit the events industry since (does sliced bread work here?)... read on and let us know what you think of our art of pairing wine, cheese, and/or chocolate to music. We'll start out by listing the tasting elements of our pairing and then offer a brief pairing note to explain our choices.

Event Title: "A Journey of Gratitude." We were delighted to offer a music tasting at a private home in a gorgeous penthouse apartment for a couple who were hosting an intimate social gathering for their dearest friends. Unfortunately, they had lost their vacation home in a fire, and this music tasting was a concert of thanks to their friends for all the support and love they had received during this difficult time.

After interviewing the couple, we decided to take the guests on a tour through Europe from North to South, starting in Finland with a song by Sibelius (the husband had served in Finland while in the Foreign Service) and ending in Tuscany (the couple's favorite spot to vacation) with some opera favorites by request of our gracious hosts.

Music Selection: Flute Sonata in C Major, KV 14 (I. Allegro, II. Minuet)
Composer: W.A. Mozart
Wine selection: Meinklang Prose Frizzante Rosé 2011
Cheese: Sottocenere al Tartufo

Pairing statement: This flute concerto was one of Mozart’s earliest compositions, and you can hear both his innocence and genius throughout, as well as a hefty dose of cheekiness! This rosé is deeper in color than most, which yields stronger tannins and a more herbaceous quality but the Pinot Noir grape and the frizzante offer a flowery vibrancy that pair wonderfully with the harmonic frivolity and overall playfulness of this piece.

Happy New Year from Five Senses Tastings!

After an incredibly beautiful, relaxing, and yummy holiday we're back at work! No rest for the weary as we have two events to prepare for in January and two two-event days in February within the same week, heck, within the same three days! We also finished (ok, there’s still a little bit to go) a pretty major website overhaul at the end of 2016 to make our website easier to navigate and our concepts easier to understand. What do you think?

I’ve had several people tell me they can’t wait to attend another one of our music tastings, and so I’m sorry to tell you that all our January events are private and not open to the public. We’re holding a champagne reception for Coco Haus Productions in mid-January followed by a music tasting in a gorgeous private home in Pacific Palisades on January 28th. This event is almost a year in the making, and I am so excited to see it come to fruition. I was fortunate enough to meet the lovely and welcoming Pastor Grace at the Barnard College Gala last February. This was right as I was finalizing my decision to move to the City of Angels, and she could not have been more gracious and generous with her time and contacts. A twist of fate had me subbing at the church (Pacific Palisades Presbyterian, or PaliPres) where she preaches over the summer. After I learned more about the church and the amazing good deeds it does for communities not just in Los Angeles but also around the world, I offered to donate an event to help support their work. I am honored to have my friend Lisa Eden performing with us for the first time, and we are also delighted to have pianist Laurel Sanders as well

Fear not, however. ALL our February music and wine events are open to the public, and we are thrilled to be partnering with the stunning Europa Village Winery in Temecula for two events on Saturday February 11th (4:00 pm and 6:30 pm – tickets on sale soon here). Our program “The International Languages of Love” will focus on the wines produced at Europa Village whose grapes hail from Italy, France, and Spain. We’re joined by a San Diego team of musicians this time: pianist Daniel Bailey, guitarist Jeff Pekarek, and violinist (and fellow Boston Conservatory alumna), Victoria Bietz.

We're also over the moon to be partnering with LA Wine Tasting for two events on Cupid's own day. We'll be performing an intimate night of music, wine, food, and chocolate at D'Vine Wine Cellar in Downtown LA, bringing you "Love Stories: Told and Untold." Tickets for that will be on sale soon as well, and we'll of course update you as the link goes live.

All in all, a ripping good start to the year. Can't wait to see you at one of our events soon. Taste the music!™



The Tastes of Christmas!

I will never tire of celebrating our firsts, and this was our first collaboration with the absolutely stunningly beautiful Héritage Fine Wines in Beverly Hills. Under the watchful eye of French winemaker Jordane Andrieu and his team, this bar is one of my absolute favorite haunts in Los Angeles. Cozy yet hip, this is a place you feel you could just stay for hours, and we were so glad to present our final music tasting of the year here.

Another stellar team of musicians joined us this time - no surprise here! Pianist Jacquelyn Schreiber was back with us, and we introduced two new musicians – violinist Julia Chalker and tenor Orson van Gay II – on our program as well. This program was focused on the French in many ways (how could we not, really!), and we presented some standard holiday tunes as well as some classical, jazz, renaissance, and modern pieces, making it an all-round sensory treasure-chest.


Many people told me they had never been to anything like this before or had never thought of pairing wine, music, cheese, and chocolate in such a detailed and elegant way. Every time I hear this, I am reminded that people truly do want to experience new things or even, new ways of doing old things. I often say that the elements of a music tasting are centuries old. People have been drinking wine and eating food while listening to great music for generations. It's the approach – the personalized, full-sensory and fully customized approach that Five Senses Tastings takes to our pairings – that sets us apart.

HollyTales was a huge success!

The moment we finished our first event with Mikey Consbruck and his team at V Wine Room in August, I knew I had to come back for more... and more was had! What an amazing night we had last night!

The bar could not have looked more beautiful in all its sparkle, and the atmosphere was cozy and perfect for our first Holiday event of 2016! We had a lively crowd who filled the bar with laughter and appreciation, and we couldn't be more grateful for the warm reception and words of thanks we received for our music tasting.

Mikey Consbruck, Owner of V Wine Room, Adam Monte of V Cheese Shoppe, and Catherine von Ruden of EOS Chocolates arethe most amazing partners, and we feel so grateful every time we get to work with them. Their creativity in pairing and dedication to perfection in taste pairing andelegance of presentation is unmatched. Here you see Mikey preparing some of the cheese and chocolate plates... and the final result below. Doesn't it look so delicious?

As usual the wines Mikey chose for us were above and beyond delicious, interesting, and rare and it was up to us then to rise to the challenge with the musical choices as well. Luckily with Jacquelyn, Trevor, and Andrés on stage, it was pretty easy to make anything sound amazing!

Of course we presented some holiday standards (Sleigh Ride, O Holy Night, and my new favorite, Christmas in LA by Lawrence Well and his Orchestra) but I also made sure to throw in some pieces that I know would be unfamiliar to our guests. Probably the most daring piece we played was the cello movement from Olivier Messiaen's Quartet for the end of time.

This piece is not "easy" to digest, but it was precisely this dis-ease that I wanted to highlight. I have always found one of the most rewarding things is when a guest approaches me at the end of a night and repeats back to me exactly what I had hoped to achieve with a particular pairing. Often I find that s/he even further enlightens me on the pairing, and it was no exception in this case as a gentleman told me that he would never have listened to this piece voluntarily but that the way it was presented together with the wine, cheese, and chocolate made it not only palatable but extraordinarily rewarding and meaningful to him. Couldn't really hope for anything more, could you?

As always, I can't thank the artists enough for their time and dedication to this difficult program. They are all a delight to work with (Jacquelyn and Andrés have now played with us several times), and I can't wait to welcome them to another music tasting soon!