Mountain Melodies: The Music Never Stops

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From teacher to Buddhist monk, Larry Joe Hall’s musical repertoire proves to be as diverse as his personal journey.

By ANITA STIEFEL

The residents of Mentone, Ala., are known as an eclectic collection of folks from all walks of life – business owners, farmers, artists and artisans, chefs, poets, musicians – and even a Buddhist monk.

Larry Joe Hall fits the mold of his adopted home in more than one category, including the latter.

Hall was born and raised in Atlanta, and music has been at the center of his life since childhood. “I’ve been in bands and making music since I was 12 years old,” he says. “Growing up, my brothers and I were all drummers, but we had guitars, too.”[s2If !is_user_logged_in()]

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[/s2If][s2If is_user_logged_in()]Hall can’t pin down a specific genre for the type of music he prefers. “It’s all over the place – there is so much beauty in different kinds of music. Early on, it was rock ’n’ roll and the Beatles, of course, then I got into jazz, and it all evolved from there.”

He earned a spot as a percussionist with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, which led to a scholarship to study music education at Columbus State College, now Columbus State University in Columbus, Ga. Following graduation, he began a career teaching middle school music and the high school drumline in Gwinnett County, Georgia. All the while, Hall moonlighted in bands, playing the nightclub circuit.

“The music never stopped,” Hall says. “Teaching school was one half of the equation, performing at clubs all around Atlanta was the other. Eventually, I had kind of exhausted the drums, so I started playing guitar and writing songs more.”

Hall began reading about Buddhism while in college and was intrigued. “It always appealed to my intellect, but then I read a book by his Holiness the Dalai Lama, and it spoke to my heart.”

Buddhism is practiced by nearly 500 million people worldwide. It originated with teachings of Siddhartha Gautama, who became known as the Buddha more than 2,500 years ago. Buddhism encourages uncluttering the mind by letting go of stress and mental anguish through meditation and thoughtful action. The central theme of Buddhism is to develop compassion for oneself and others. In Atlanta,

Hall befriended a Buddhist monk who had been sent by the Dalai Lama to study western psychology at Emory University. The meeting was a turning point.

“In 1996, I quit teaching, went to India and took my vows,” he says. “Meeting the Dalai Lama and learning from him was an amazing experience. I’m so fortunate to have been taught by him personally 13 times.”

For the next eight years, Hall led a solitary life of meditation and reflection at a monastery. “When you become a monk, you intentionally separate yourself from society,” he explains. “It involved at least four and a half hours of meditation a day, and at other times, I was leading others and teaching at retreats. While you’re there, hopefully you develop something you can share, then you can go out and do some good in the world.

“Eventually, it was time to turn the page. It was time to start making some noise again,” he says. “So I came back here and started teaching at Buddhist centers and making music again.”

Hall chose to plant roots in Mentone because of its geographic proximity to the Buddhist centers he serves in Knoxville, Tenn., Huntsville, Ala., and Birmingham, Ala. He helped establish the center in Chattanooga, Tenn., and by popular request he has begun teaching a six-week meditation course each winter for his neighbors.

“I’m extremely happy living in Mentone,” Hall says. “It’s one of the most beautiful places, and the people are just as beautiful. I’ve never made friends so fast in my life as I have right here. It’s mostly honest, goodhearted folks around here. Also, in Mentone particularly, there are so many good musicians and artists and writers. There is such an amazing amount of talent concentrated right here.”

Hall believes meditation helps everyone, including making better musicians. “I think it’s important with an art form that you can connect with it at a deep level, and you mean what you do,” he explains. “It really bothers me when I hear musicians going through the motions and just mailing it in.”

Hall performs regularly at the Wildflower Café in Mentone and Vintage 1889 in Fort Payne, as well as other area venues and at local festivals. He recorded a CD he sells at his shows, but it’s clear Hall’s purpose in making music is for personal satisfaction and spiritual growth, not for fame or commercial success.

“A lot of my original songs, especially my favorites, were inspired by things I’ve read,” he says. “There’s one song called ‘Other Voices’ that was inspired by Truman Capote’s first novel and another song I wrote that was inspired by Keats’ ‘Ode to a Grecian Urn.’ When I’m strongly affected by something I read, a song usually comes out.

“As far as the cover songs I play, if it’s good, I do it, whether it’s country, rock ’n’ roll or even some old tune from the 1930s,” he says. “If I can mean the lyrics when I sing it, I’ll do it.”

For information about upcoming performances, see Hall’s Facebook page.[/s2If]