No Mud, No Lotus

No mud, no lotus.  This thought from the Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh should be the mantra for anyone going through difficult times.  God doesn’t purposely put us in the mud, I don’t think, but if we can observe, or even encourage, the lotus to emerge from it, then we have the possibility of happiness. I don’t really expect you to make the connection, but this is the thought that came to me while practicing the accompaniment for a piece that is new to me, Gerald Finzi’s Lo, the full, final sacrifice.  It’s a substantial and difficult piece for choir and organ, and the accompaniment was feeling muddy indeed.

I am still not quite hearing all of the beauty and power that this work promises, but there is one moment – one beautiful lotus – that emerged from the mud as I practiced.  It comes near the end, a few measures of such poignancy which spoke to me as clearly as any words could about longing for God’s presence. Beginning around 10:40 in this recording by the Truro Cathedral Choir, at the words come away (sweetly reminiscent, incidentally or not, of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night song, “Come away death”):

Lo, the full, final sacrifice – Gerald Finzi

Finzi was avowedly agnostic and a pacifist.  Working in 1946, he set words of St. Thomas Aquinas, as translated by metaphysical poet Richard Crashaw (text is below). With its references to a ransomed Isaac (from the Biblical story of Abraham and Isaac) and the mythical assertion that pelicans would wound themselves in order to feed their own blood to their young, it is a text rich with the imagery of sacrifice. You might well imagine the potency of these images of sacrifice in post-war England. Traditional images of Christ as Paschal Lamb and Shepherd and simple references to food, bread and manna are woven together as well in this ode to the mystery of the Eucharist.  Agnostic?  Really?

Two different things came to mind as I was practicing the Finzi this week.  They might be related, but you would have to peek into my brain to help me figure out how. First, I heard a sermon this past Sunday which asked us to more fully embrace the line from The Lord’s Prayer, our daily bread.  The preacher spoke about our daily need for new bread.  Yesterday’s bread may have been good for that time, but might not be nourishing us anymore.  It was a suggestion to live more comfortably with change.  Second, I was reminded how a great ending can fully redeem even a mediocre story. Lo, the full, final sacrifice is a story of goodness coming from pain, of triumph over bleakness (though this is far from being a mediocre work, even if still muddy for me). It is the power of those final few minutes, I think, which redeems the jagged dissonances of the first 10 minutes.

A glorious ending.  Is that the connection?  Living comfortably with change so that we can move towards a glorious ending?  Living in the mud sometimes, so that the beauty of the lotus is all the more eloquent?

Lo, the full, final Sacrifice
On which all figures fix’t their eyes.
The ransomed Isaac, and his ram;
The Manna, and the Paschal Lamb.

Jesu Master, just and true!
Our Food, and faithful Shepherd too!

O let that love which thus makes thee
Mix with our low Mortality,
Lift our lean Souls, and set us up
Convictors of thine own full cup,
Coheirs of Saints. That so all may
Drink the same wine; and the same Way.
Nor change the Pasture, but the Place
To feed of Thee in thine own Face.

O dear Memorial of that Death
Which lives still, and allows us breath!
Rich, Royal food! Bountiful Bread!
Whose use denies us to the dead!

Live ever Bread of loves and be
My life, my soul, my surer self to me.

Help Lord, my Faith, my Hope increase;
And fill my portion in thy peace.
Give love for life; nor let my days
Grow, but in new powers to thy name and praise.

Rise, Royal Sion! rise and sing
Thy soul’s kind shepherd, thy heart’s King.
Stretch all thy powers; call if you can
Harps of heaven to hands of man.
This sovereign subject sits above
The best ambition of thy love.

Lo the Bread of Life, this day’s
Triumphant Text provokes thy praise.
The living and life-giving bread,
To the great Twelve distributed
When Life, himself, at point to die
Of love, was his own Legacy.

O soft self-wounding Pelican!
Whose breast weeps Balm for wounded man.
All this way bend thy benign flood
To a bleeding Heart that gasps for blood.
That blood, whose least drops sovereign be
To wash my worlds of sins from me.
Come love! Come Lord! and that long day
For which I languish, come away.
When this dry soul those eyes shall see,
And drink the unseal’d source of thee.
When Glory’s sun faith’s shades shall chase,
And for thy veil give me thy Face. Amen.

Peace,
Sonya

* * * * *

Where I’ll be:
July 31 and August 14 – organist/choir director for the 10:00 am and 5:00 pm services at St. John’s (Norwood), 6701 Wisconsin Avenue, Chevy Chase, Maryland. Maybe you’d like to come and sing with the Summer Choir there? 9:15 a.m. rehearsal.

July 31-August 12 – organist for Christ Church, Glendale (Ohio) during their residency at Canterbury Cathedral (U.K.)

September 4 through November 20 – organist/choir director at Chevy Chase Presbyterian Church (1 Chevy Chase Circle, Washington, D.C.) while their Music Director is on sabbatical.

Save the Date: Friday, September 9 at 7:30 p.m., Let’s Dance! Music for Two Pianos (no actual dancing is involved). Sophia Vastek and Sonya Sutton play music of Manual Infante, Witold Lutoslawski, Benjamin Britten and Sergei Rachmaninoff. Contact me directly if you would like to receive an invitation.

* * * * *

This blog represents my attempt to put thoughts together on various things that seem to connect – in my mind anyway. More often than not new ideas first involve reaching back to what was and I can only hope that the prehistoric San cave painting at the top of this page inspires all kinds of new connections between old and new.

Feel free to pass this message along to anyone who might be interested. You can simply subscribe (look for the “Subscribe” button at the top of the post) to get a reminder of new posts, or you can register with a user name and password in order to comment. If a community conversation comes out of this, all the better. We have so much to share and so much to be grateful for.

Sheer Silence

I love that idea…the sound of sheer silence.  These are words found in the Bible’s  1 Kings 19 which I was asked to read during a service at a conference a few years ago.  I enjoyed lingering over those words as I read them to a large group of musicians, who by and large appreciate silence more than most people.  There is the irony of silence having any sound of course.  And I like the word “sheer”, which could be synonymous with “utter” or “complete”, but could also have a hint of the word’s other meaning as something transparent, allowing light to come through.

I’ve written before about the potential for understanding that comes with silence – during a pause at the asterisk in psalms or during meditation.  We hear so much in the silence. Musically, it is the rests that give power and shape to the notes.  Musicians know that a musical rest is anything but restful.  Something is happening during that time – the music gathers force  from, or empties into, a rest.

It’s a phrase that also calls up for anyone of a certain age the 1966 Simon and Garfunkle hit song The Sounds of Silence.  The silence of those lyrics becomes something ominous, a sign of complicity, and that’s the silence that Elie Wiesel, Holocaust survivor and author, wrote about.  His obituary in The Washington Post on July 5 began by saying that no one was better able to grasp “the terrible power of silence…He understood that the failure to speak out, about both the horrors of the past and the evils of the present, is one of the most effective ways there is to perpetuate suffering and empower those who inflict it.”

But he saw the possibilities for silence to be useful too.  In a 1996 interview Wiesel said: You can be a silent witness, which means silence itself can become a way of communication. There is so much in silence. There is an archeology of silence. There is a geography of silence. There is a theology of silence. There is a history of silence. Silence is universal and you can work within it, within its own parameters and its own context, and make that silence into a testimony. Job was silent after he lost his children and everything, his fortune and his health. Job, for seven days and seven nights he was silent, and his three friends who came to visit him were also silent. That must have been a powerful silence, a brilliant silence. You see, silence itself can be testimony and I was waiting for ten years [to speak out about his experiences in the Holocaust], really, but it wasn’t the intention. My intention simply was to be sure that the words I would use are the proper words. I was afraid of language. 

Wiesel made the case for silence, and more specifically, people’s despair at God’s silence in the face of suffering, as proof of God’s existence. In our protests against that silence he found the potential for redemption. With all of the chatter that surrounds us now, competing for our attention and sometimes confusing us with inaccurate or twisted information, living with some silence might be welcome.

How do we move then towards the sheer silence that allows the light of understanding to come through the powerful, brilliant silence Weisel wrote about?  And move us away from the silence of fear or disbelief or complicity?  Are we brave enough to seek the silence that creates the space we need to actually hear what has been said? A silence that just might help us find the courageous words we need to say?

Peace.
Sonya

* * * * *

Where I’ll be:
June 12 through August 14 – organist/choir director for the 10:00 am and 5:00 pm services at St. John’s (Norwood), 6701 Wisconsin Avenue, Chevy Chase, Maryland. Maybe you’d like to come and sing with the Summer Choir there? 9:15 a.m. rehearsal.

July 31-August 12 – organist for Christ Church, Glendale (Ohio) during their residency at Canterbury Cathedral (U.K.)

September 4 through November 20 – organist/choir director at Chevy Chase Presbyterian Church (1 Chevy Chase Circle, Washington, D.C.) while their Music Director is on sabbatical.

Save the Date: Friday, September 9 at 7:30 p.m., Let’s Dance! Music for Two Pianos (no actual dancing is involved). Sophia Vastek and Sonya Sutton play music of Manual Infante, Witold Lutoslawski, Benjamin Britten and Sergei Rachmaninoff. Contact me directly if you would like to receive an invitation.

* * * * *

This blog represents my attempt to put thoughts together on various things that seem to connect – in my mind anyway. More often than not new ideas first involve reaching back to what was and I can only hope that the prehistoric San cave painting at the top of this page inspires all kinds of new connections between old and new.

Feel free to pass this message along to anyone who might be interested. You can simply subscribe (look for the “Subscribe” button at the top of the post) to get a reminder of new posts, or you can register with a user name and password in order to comment. If a community conversation comes out of this, all the better. We have so much to share and so much to be grateful for.

 

Living Fruitfully

 

(updated from a post that first appeared in 2012)

Fruitful:  1a: yielding or producing fruit  b: conducive to an abundant yield                                   2:abundantly productive, e.g. a fruitful discussion

Those who went to a church that follows the lectionary last Sunday heard a reading about the fruits of the spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) – fruits known as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.  Characteristics that any of us, whether we go to church or not, would want to build into our lives I hope.  To look back and see a life of fruitfulness as defined in Galatians would be a life well lived in my opinion.  Culturally, however, we’re given many more reasons to crave success over fruitfulness, and a multitude of ways to measure that success.  Money, and all that it can buy.  Power, and all that it can influence.  Perfection, and all the envy it can inspire in others.

Fruitfulness doesn’t require any of those things.  It is lasting  and produces yet more fruit.  It requires a cooperative effort – i.e. it will occur within the context of some kind of community –  because something or someone else has to be changed by those fruitful efforts. Fruitfulness is surprising.  It happens when the results of our life and vocation touch others deeply, creating opportunities and allowing the unexpected to happen.

Success, on the other hand is competitive, requiring clear goals with clear results. There is less room for surprise, except perhaps the unpleasant one of goals not being met.  Your quest for success can change things, but when does a single-minded goal of being successful ever actually help anyone else?

You have not chosen me, but I have chosen youto bear much fruit, so Jesus told his disciples.

I am currently re-reading Michael Pollan’s Botany of Desire for perhaps the third or fourth time. It is one of the most fascinating, mind-bending books I have ever encountered.  Pollen studies four different plant forms – the apple, the tulip, marijuana and the potato – and looks at their evolution from the plant’s point of view.  He makes the case that plants, in the choices that evolution has given them to feed needs and desires of other life forms, have chosen to both succeed and be fruitful.

Plants, as far as we know, don’t make conscious decisions about helping or hurting other parts of their environment.  They simply want to live.  Is that enough for you – to simply live, at any cost to your environment?  Goats just want to live, but they destroyed the once verdant Greek countryside.  Salmonella and ticks and viruses just want to live, too often at human expense.  Do your daily choices help others to flourish – like the apple and potato?  Or does your success sometimes hurt others – as with marijuana and salmonella? Perhaps your efforts simply create a beauty that has unmeasurable healing properties – like the tulip or music.

I don’t ever pretend to know what God actually wants, but I’m pretty sure that when our lives help others to flourish, then God is well served.  And I do believe that choosing fruitfulness is a welcome idea in a world that could benefit from some new ways of measuring success.

Peace.
Sonya

(Perhaps some of you saw the 2009 PBS documentary based on Pollan’s book.  I had not even heard of it until this week.  Here is a preview: PBS “Botany of Desire”)

* * * * *

Where I’ll be:

June 12 through August 14 – organist/choir director for the 10:00 am and 5:00 pm services at St. John’s (Norwood), 6701 Wisconsin Avenue, Chevy Chase, Maryland. Maybe you’d like to come and sing with the Summer Choir there? 9:15 a.m. rehearsal.

July 31-August 12 – organist for Christ Church, Glendale (Ohio) during their residency at Canterbury Cathedral (U.K.)

September 4 through November 20 – organist/choir director at Chevy Chase Presbyterian Church (1 Chevy Chase Circle, Washington, D.C.) while their Music Director is on sabbatical.

Save the Date: Friday, September 9 at 7:30 p.m., Let’s Dance! Music for Two Pianos (no actual dancing is involved).  Sophia Vastek and Sonya Sutton play music of Manual Infante, Witold Lutoslawski, Benjamin Britten and Sergei Rachmaninoff.  Contact me directly if you would like to receive an invitation.

* * * * *

This blog represents my attempt to put thoughts together on various things that seem to connect – in my mind anyway. More often than not new ideas first involve reaching back to what was and I can only hope that the prehistoric San cave painting at the top of this page inspires all kinds of new connections between old and new.

Feel free to pass this message along to anyone who might be interested. You can simply subscribe (look for the “Subscribe” button at the top of the post) to get a reminder of new posts, or you can register with a user name and password in order to comment. If a community conversation comes out of this, all the better. We have so much to share and so much to be grateful for.

Found in Translation

Somewhere the original harmony must exist,
hidden somewhere in the vast wilds.
In Earth’s mighty firmament,
in the far reaches of swirling galaxies,
in sunshine,
in a little flower, in the song of a forest,
in the music of a mother’s voice,
or in teardrops – 
somewhere, immortality endures, 
and the original harmony will be found.
How else could it have formed
in human hearts –
music?  

It must be somewhere, the original harmony,
somewhere in great nature, hidden.
Is it in the furious infinite,
in distant stars’ orbits,
is it in the sun’s scorn,
in a tiny flower, in treegossip,
in heartmusic’s mothersong
or in tears?
It must be somewhere, immortality,
somewhere the original harmony must be found:
how else could it infuse
the human soul,
that music?

These are two translations of the poem titled Muusika by Juhan Liiv (1864-1913). Though I think both versions are startlingly beautiful, one of the translators wondered if in fact the poetry has somehow been lost in translation, hoping that the reader would be able to intuit what the translations had lost.  The Estonian language it seems, like all languages, has unique and barely translatable ways of saying things, and I found the comparison of these two translations fascinating. Look at how much is found in Liiv’s words.

The poem came to my attention because of a setting by Estonian composer Pärt Uusberg (b. 1986), which I urge you to listen to here:

Muusika by Part Uusberg

Juhan Liiv was born into the extreme poverty of 19th century serfdom in Estonia. Physically weak and mentally ill, he died from pneumonia after a conductor pushed the ticketless poet off a train, causing him to walk home in freezing weather for two weeks.  Liiv’s hardships, as with so many artists, translated into insightful understandings of the world around him, and his poetry, though often gloomy, expresses great love for his country.

Music – Muusika – is a vital part of Estonian identity, as movingly told in a 2008 film called The Singing Revolution.  As the documentary shows, music played an important role in the largely peaceful protests in 20th century Estonia. Before and after World War II Estonians used a tradition of communal singing to see them through the darkest days of oppression by the Nazis and then the USSR.  Not just as a comfort, but as a subversive way of maintaining their culture and of uniting their people.  The film showed the people of Estonia coming together to sing in ways that ended up thwarting the Soviets’ attempts to force the Estonians to submit to their authority.  I don’t know if the film is available on Netflix, but I recommend trying to find it.

Yet another reminder of the ways that music and poetry connect us across time and space, capturing in sound and words our capacity for wonder and our innate yearning for freedom.

Peace.
Sonya

  *   *   *   *   *

Where I’ll be:

June 12 through August 14 – organist/choir director for the 10:00 am and 5:00 pm services at St. John’s (Norwood), 6701 Wisconsin Avenue, Chevy Chase, Maryland. Maybe you’d like to come and sing with the Summer Choir there? 9:15 am rehearsal.

June 13 through 17 – The annual conference of The Association of Anglican Musicians, an organization that has been a source of some of my closest friends, supportive colleagues, and an inspirational reminder of all that is good about The Episcopal Church. We meet this year in Stamford, Connecicut.

* * * * *

This blog represents my attempt to put thoughts together on various things that seem to connect – in my mind anyway. More often than not new ideas first involve reaching back to what was and I can only hope that the prehistoric San cave painting at the top of this page inspires all kinds of new connections between old and new.

Feel free to pass this message along to anyone who might be interested. You can simply subscribe (look for the “Subscribe” button at the top of the post) to get a reminder of new posts, or you can register with a user name and password in order to comment. If a community conversation comes out of this, all the better. We have so much to share and so much to be grateful for.

Hello Summer. Hello Death.

In an excellent sermon I heard this past Sunday, preached by The Rev. Sari Ateek, we were reminded that God doesn’t need us to be worthy, just open to the ways that God will work with, and in, our lives.  Let’s face it, we’ll never actually be worthy of anyone’s unconditional love, but as Christians we are asked again and again in the New Testament to die to self and be born again as we attempt to become worthy.   Not once in a while or just during Lent, but every day.  As one Lenten hymn reminds us, So daily dying to the way of self, so daily living to your way of love.  (The Hymnal 1982, No. 149, v.2).  Every day we have the chance to be new, to be better, to let our old selves die and find new life.

Perhaps this in part explains why I am feeling so fortunate to be conducting performances of Brahms’ Requiem this week.  You might have noticed that requiem settings are most often performed as part of November’s season of remembrance or during the Lenten time of tombs and yearnings for Easter’s resurrection.  But as summer beckons?  New life has already come.  The evidence is in every garden and graduation ceremony and requiems don’t fit. Unless, perhaps,  as a reminder that resurrection of our souls happens whenever we open ourselves up to the possibility of change, even in the heat of summer.

Johannes Brahms (1833-1897), proud German, avowed humanist and ambivalent Christian, wrote his largest work based on the Catholic Requiem mass for the dead, but with the hope that it would be music that brought solace to the living.  The title of “German” comes from its language – a German text, rather than the traditional Latin, but  Brahms wished that it could have been called Ein menschliches Requiem (A Human Requiem).  He would be pleased to find that this work has been described as a meditation on mortality from a humanist point of view.

Brahms very likely began composing this music as a response to his sorrow at the death of his dearest friend, fellow composer Robert Schumann, and he continued working on it between the years 1857 and 1868, during which time his beloved mother also died. He not only eschewed the traditional Latin of requiem settings, but also the traditional liturgical texts, compiling his own from the Bible.  He notably failed to ever mention Jesus.  Perhaps he hoped that his Requiem would transcend any particular religion.

Though known to be a gruff misanthrope, Brahms concentrated on themes of everlasting joy in this music.  The word Selig (blessed) begins and ends this Requiem, and the choir frequently sings about Freude (joy).  There is no fire and brimstone in Brahms’ views on mortality, only hope. As if Brahms is giving the listener permission to live in hope, without the rigors of belief.

There is an expansiveness to his thinking, and it is expressed in the music through the large ranges for the singers, luxurious sounds from the orchestra, and sweeping musical lines.  As a young musician said to me in a recent conversation about Brahms’ music in general, even the briefest of his pieces seems to encompass the entirety of life.  Its richness and complexities and confusions.  Its joys and sorrows.

Walking into summer, limbs bared to the sun, arms outstretched as we slough off old ways and open ourselves to new life. I’m well aware that mourning the death of one we have loved is not the same as dying to self and being born again. But thinking about Brahms’ Requiem made me intrigued by a possible connection.  Some part of ourselves dies when a beloved one has died, and we slowly learn to find new life in some way for that relationship. When I planned last fall to perform Brahms’ Requiem with a choir made up of those working at The World Bank and IMF I could not have guessed how right it would feel now, on the brink of summer, to let parts of me die as I welcome the changes of new life.

Brahms’ Requiem, Movement 7

Peace,

Sonya

Where I’ll be:
May 22, May 29 and June 5 – organist/choir director for the 9:00 am, 11:15 am and 5:00 pm service at St. John’s, Norwood, 6701 Wisconsin Avenue, Chevy Chase, Maryland. Experienced choral singers who would like sing with the choir there, come at 10:30 for rehearsal before the service.

May 31, June 2 and June 6 – performances of Brahms’ Requiem with the World Bank/IMF Chorus and orchestra, 1:00 pm each of these dates. United Church (G and 20th) on May 31. For performances at the World Bank (June 2) and IMF (June 6) visitors will need to get free passes by contacting worldbankimfchorus@gmail.com and allow a few extra minutes to get through the security checks at these institutions.

June 12 through August 14 – organist/choir director for the 10:00 am and 5:00 pm services at St. John’s, Norwood. Come and sing with the Summer Choir there. 9:15 am rehearsal.

June 13 through 17 – The annual conference of The Association of Anglican Musicians, an organization that has been a source of some of my closest friends, supportive colleagues, and an inspirational reminder of all that is good about The Episcopal Church.  We meet this year in Stamford, Connecicut.

* * * * *

This blog represents my attempt to put thoughts together on various things that seem to connect – in my mind anyway. More often than not new ideas first involve reaching back to what was and I can only hope that the prehistoric San cave painting at the top of this page inspires all kinds of new connections between old and new.

Feel free to pass this message along to anyone who might be interested. You can simply subscribe (look for the “Subscribe” button at the top of the post) to get a reminder of new posts, or you can register with a user name and password in order to comment. If a community conversation comes out of this, all the better. We have so much to share and so much to be grateful for.

Evensong

During a recent time of transition, as I questioned so much about my vocation, I realized that I was attending the Anglican service of Evensong quite often. Christ Church (Georgetown), St. Francis (Potomac), St. Thomas (Fifth Avenue, NYC), Washington National Cathedral and Christ Church Christiana Hundred (Delaware) became scenes of gentle healing, much needed and quietly strengthening.  For the uninitiated, Evensong is that afternoon offering to our ears, hearts and minds of prayers sung by a choir on the listener’s behalf.

I recalled that during a sabbatical in 2013 I had attended Evensong twelve times in seven different churches or cathedrals over a 3 month period. I was inspired by the most glorious music, written for God, sung beautifully by well-rehearsed choirs as part of a liturgy.  Not a performance, but performed well. While I simply listened, I worshiped. I was able to absorb the beauty of the architecture around me, admire the composers’ craft, and appreciate the shape that liturgy takes in the hands of musicians who have practiced many long hours. On a good day liturgy can come together to create flow – a psychological term that describes a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of an activity. In this case, the activity for me was participating in liturgy as a listener.

Recently, I pulled Gail Godwin’s 1999 novel, Evensong, off the shelf to re-read. I’ve always loved her writing with its artful descriptions of simple joys and complex emotions. She intimately knows the Episcopal church, and writes perceptively about the broken people who are all around us. Who are us.  In Evensong she writes about those living in and passing through a small North Carolina town. Each character in some way has been abandoned, mostly by a parent or spouse, but also by their friends, schools, and yes, even their churches. I hadn’t noticed this theme the first time I read the book, but it was quietly apparent this time around.  God hadn’t abandoned any of Godwin’s characters, of course, but each sometimes felt alone in their earthly abandoned states.  And it would be unrealistic to think you might not question whatever grains of faith you had during those times.

“I’m beginning to think that the times when you lose your faith are the times of your deepest blessing. . . . It is the dark night of the soul. The mystics have written about it. You’re at your very lowest, you have no further to fall, everything is dark and then you can kind of be quiet and see what is speaking to you out of the darkness. . . . I would be more worried about the person who never lost her faith.” — Gail Godwin, from an interview in 1999.

I don’t think anyone feels particularly blessed in their aloneness, but perhaps that is the gift of Evensong. Finding an understanding of the difference between loneliness and aloneness, you can be quiet…experience what is speaking to you out of the darkness, and actively listen for wisdom, reminding you that you are not alone after.

The traditional canticles sung during Evensong are Mary’s Magnificat and Simeon’s Nunc dimittis. The link below is to one of my favorite settings, by Tudor court composer Orlando Gibbons.  Both Mary and Simeon are alone in their prayers, speaking to God in the darkness…and listening.

Peace,

Sonya


Where I’ll be:

May 22, May 29 and June 5 – organist/choir director for the 9:00 am, 11:15 am and 5:00 pm service at St. John’s, Norwood, 6701 Wisconsin Avenue, Chevy Chase, Maryland.  Experienced choral singers who would like sing with the choir there, come at 10:30 for rehearsal before the service.

May 31, June 2 and June 6 – performances of Brahms’ Requiem with the World Bank/IMF Chorus and orchestra, 1:00 pm each of these dates.  United Church (G and 20th) on May 31.  For performances at the World Bank (June 2) and IMF (June 6) visitors will need to get free passes by contacting worldbankimfchorus@gmail.com and allow a few extra minutes to get through the security checks at these institutions.

June 12 through August 14 – organist/choir director for the 10:00 am and 5:00 pm services at St. John’s, Norwood.  Come and sing with the Summer Choir there.  9:15 am rehearsal.

* * * * *

This blog represents my attempt to put thoughts together on various things that seem to connect – in my mind anyway. More often than not new ideas first involve reaching back to what was and I can only hope that the prehistoric San cave painting at the top of this page inspires all kinds of new connections between old and new.

Feel free to pass this message along to anyone who might be interested. You can simply subscribe (look for the “Subscribe” button at the top of the post) to get a reminder of new posts, or you can register with a user name and password in order to comment. If a community conversation comes out of this, all the better. We have so much to share and so much to be grateful for.

Going Home

I know something about immigration.  My father immigrated from India, my first husband came to the U.S. from Poland, my brother immigrated to Sweden, my in-laws were part of the Great Migration that so many African-Americans made from south to north in the 1940’s and 50’s, and the German and Scottish immigrants that make up my maternal half are well documented by a genealogically-minded uncle.  Immigration represents the most radical form of leaving home, and I saw, as these family members got older, how much childhood homes tugged on them.  Some part of them longed for a home they hadn’t been part of for a long time.

Going home is a theme that inspires a lot of literature, including St. Luke’s tale of the prodigal son.  A carefree young man leaves home, making his father sad and his brother angry, living a wastrel’s life, and then warmly welcomed back home when he tired of his dissipated life.  It was  story used in 1884 by a 22 year student named Claude Debussy, who entered the prestigious competition for the Prix de Rome with a brief work, L’enfant prodigue.  It was a challenge for him to compose a piece of music that was conservative enough to please an academic committee and yet still expressed his growing interest in a new musical language that incorporated the exoticism and folk sounds he had encountered in his travels.  An artistic language that came to be known as impressionism.  I’ve long wanted to do Debussy’s little one-act opera, which might more properly be categorized as a cantata, or more evocatively as a scene lyrique, and I will be joined by a wonderful cast of singers (Mary Shaffran, Andrew Brown, and James Shaffran) in a performance this coming Sunday at 7:30 p.m. at Bradley Hills Presbyterian Church.L'Enfant Flyer

What I love about Debussy’s work, besides the shimmering hints of a musical style that would soon mature in works such as Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune and Clair de lune, is the prominence of a missing figure in St. Luke’s account…the boy’s mother.  Surely she anguished over her son’s absence as well. This is a rare chance to hear this beautiful little gem and I hope you’ll join us on Sunday at 7:30 if you’re able.

The prodigal son does go home, celebrated and fussed over with great joy and feasting.  After all of his travels and experiences, I wonder if he really is able to be at home though.  The longing for a childhood home I have seen in my own family members was always accompanied by a realization that they couldn’t actually ever really go home. Either because places and people changed, and what they remember as home didn’t exist anymore, or just as surely because they themselves had changed and weren’t the same person who once lived in that home.

We might feel sad at this inability to go back, or we might find peace when we look more deeply inside ourselves to find home within.  After all, at birth we are given a home of flesh and blood and mind.  We are told then that at death we are welcomed into an eternal home with God.  In between, our earthly homes are really shaped more by the people we love rather than the places we’ve lived.  So the prodigal son may have found home, upon his return, in the warmth of his parents’ embrace, but he will soon take his prodigal experiences with him to new homes.

 

Peace,

Sonya

Where I’ll be:

April 24 – performing L’enfant prodigue, Debussy’s one-act opera, with Mary Shaffran, James Shaffran and Andrew Brown, at Bradley Hills Presbyterian Church, Bethesda, 7:30 p.m. ($15 suggested donation)

May 22-August 14 I will be serving as a sabbatical replacement for the Music Director at St. John’s Norwood, 6701 Wisconsin Avenue, Chevy Chase, MD

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This blog represents my attempt to put thoughts together on various things that seem to connect – in my mind anyway. More often than not new ideas first involve reaching back to what was and I can only hope that the prehistoric San cave painting at the top of this page inspires all kinds of new connections between old and new.

Feel free to pass this message along to anyone who might be interested. You can simply subscribe (look for the “Subscribe” button at the top of the post) to get a reminder of new posts, or you can register with a user name and password in order to comment. If a community conversation comes out of this, all the better. We have so much to share and so much to be grateful for.

 

Both Sides Now

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for confusion, and a time for understanding.  
                                                    –Ecclesiastes 3

(Ok, I admit the last line is mine, but I think King Solomon would approve.)

The opposite of a correct statement is a false statement. But the opposite of a profound truth may well be another profound truth. – Danish physicist Niels Bohr

A book about math and science that a friend recommended as highly readable had been languishing on my bedside table for a couple of years now.  I can’t begin to explain why I picked it up as my “beach reading” for a quick trip to Florida a few weeks ago, but The Universe and the Teacup by K.C. Cole had me with its subtitle: The Mathematics of Truth and Beauty.  The author suggested ways that the realm of physics offers us the opportunity to understand how we might avoid those often impossible choices between one valid truth and another.  Not mourning or dancing, but times for mourning and dancing.  Seeing different truths gives us a deeper insight into a problem, just as mourning and dancing offer us a fuller understanding of life.  Cole gives the example of light – at once a wave and a particle.  Life, she reminds us, can be explained by biology as much as by novels and poetry.  Or as Joni Mitchell wrote, clouds are ice cream castles in the air one moment and the next, simply something that block the sun.

Both Sides Now – Joni Mitchell

A young friend gave me permission to share excerpts from an opinion piece she wrote for her high school newspaper recently.  I was moved by her ability to articulate the practicality of impracticality.  That doctors and poets are equally responsible for moving humanity forward in our search for understanding.

So We Beat On: Why Art Matters by Sophia Higgins

Here’s the truth: Life isn’t fair.  Or perfect, or quantifiable by any metric.  There are people who live under bridges and in war zones and with heroin addicts for parents.  People are unequal and things often don’t go as planned.  That’s just the way things are.  We exist to alleviate suffering…Doctors and the Mother Teresa’s of the world keep us living…but there’s still a group of people whose purpose is not so clear.  Of what use is the poet, the musician, the painter?  Poetry doesn’t keep you alive.  A song can’t cure disease.  Art is what we survive for…it finds meaning beyond the suffering…connecting people in the most basic expressive way, [creating something that touches] you despite a gap of space and time.

Art is pointless

The fact that a “theory of everything” in physics remains elusive just might reveal the limitations of having any single point of view.  Perhaps understanding requires us to stay open to contrasting perspectives and truths.  K.C. Cole, in The Universe and the Teacup quotes 20th century theoretical physicist Victor Weisskopf:

What’s beautiful in science is that same thing that’s beautiful in Beethoven.  There’s fog of events and suddenly you see a connection.  It expresses a complex of human concerns that goes deeply to you, that connects things that were always in you that were never put together before.

Symmetry and proportions are often our guides through the fog as we search for meaning and beauty. As Cole writes, “symmetry therefore lends a satisfying concreteness to the vague sense that there is beauty in truth, and truth to beauty.” Could the symmetry of seeming opposites create different perspectives and definitions which take us to those deep truths we yearn to understand?

Peace,

Sonya


Where I’ll be:

April 17 – Church of the Redeemer, 6201 Dunrobbin Drive, Bethesda MD, playing for their 10:30 am service

April 24 – performing L’enfant prodigue, Debussy’s one-act opera, with Mary Shaffran, James Shaffran and Andrew Brown, at Bradley Hills Presbyterian Church, Bethesda, 7:30 p.m. ($15 suggested donation)

 *   *   *   *   *

This blog represents my attempt to put thoughts together on various things that seem to connect – in my mind anyway. More often than not new ideas first involve reaching back to what was and I can only hope that the prehistoric San cave painting at the top of this page inspires all kinds of new connections between old and new.

Feel free to pass this message along to anyone who might be interested. You can simply subscribe (look for the “Subscribe” button at the top of the post) to get a reminder of new posts, or you can register with a user name and password in order to comment. If a community conversation comes out of this, all the better. We have so much to share and so much to be grateful for.

 

 

 

 

Joy in Sadness

You’ve probably heard music written in a minor key that ends with a final major chord which lands on the ears like a ray of sunshine coming through the clouds. That kind of moment in music is known as a Picardy third – taking a minor chord and raising the middle note to create a major chord – and it certainly has a place in music-making.  Sadness to cheerfulness.  A happy ending.

Recently, while preparing Bach’s Fantasy and Fugue in G Minor, BWV 542 for a concert, I found myself grinning during a particularly favorite passage near the end of the fugue. I felt such joy shining through the minor key.

Sun through cloudsIt’s not a big step for most of us to think about the possibility of joy coming after sadness goes away.  I think we have a harder time thinking about experiencing joy IN sadness. Not so much finding that the dark clouds have moved away and the sun is back in full force, but those magical times when diffused rays of sun come through the dark clouds.  Perhaps when someone we love has died and we are mourning their loss, yet feeling grateful at the same time that they were ever part of our lives. Or when someone we trust betrays us, feeling fortunate to have new insights into what true friendship looks like in contrast.  Perhaps something doesn’t work out the way we hope, yet we have enough wisdom to find gladness in the possibilities of our future.

In yoga, a set of principles known as niyamas offer the prescription of santosha as a way of finding joy through contentment with what is.  Not what could or should be, but an embrace of the place where we are now.  Dark clouds and all.

I am no Pollyanna about finding rays of sun through the darkest clouds.  It would be unrealistic, not to mention unkind, to expect victims of tragedy to find joy in their pain. Maybe, just maybe, in that case we can find ways to be the diffused light so desperately needed by others in our world.  It seems like very little, yet perhaps we can simply cling to what makes us human by continuing to pursue understanding and beauty.  And that brings me back to Bach’s great fugue in G minor, even ending, as it does, with a Picardy third. 

Here is what this Holy Week holds for me:  playing for a Maundy Thursday service at Episcopal High School in Alexandria, attending the Good Friday service at Washington National Cathedral, and for the first and perhaps only time ever, worshiping  with my husband on Easter Sunday, also at Washington National Cathedral.  Having experienced Holy Week in some sense already this year, I am grateful to learn that I still care about being in church and am gingerly walking my way through the Triduum.

Peace,

Sonya

This blog represents my attempt to put thoughts together on various things that seem to connect – in my mind anyway.  More often than not new ideas first involve reaching back to what was and I can only hope that the prehistoric San cave painting at the top of this page inspires all kinds of new connections between old and new.

Feel free to pass this message along to anyone who might be interested.  You can simply subscribe (look for the “Subscribe” button at the top of the post) to get a reminder of new posts, or you can register with a user name and password in order to comment.  If a community conversation comes out of this, all the better. We have so much to share and so much to be grateful for.

Seven Divided by Three

A composer-friend wrote a piece for me a few weeks ago.  A lovely choral work that sets the Easter text by Charles Wesley, Love’s redeeming work is done.  My friend, Rob Lehman, thought the text would bring some comfort during a difficult time in my life, and having friendship take the form of a new creation was deeply moving.  An early Easter present:

Love’s redeeming work is done, fought the fight, the battle won, Death in vain forbids him rise; Christ has opened paradise.

Lives again our glorious King; where, O death, is now thy sting? Once he died our souls to save, where thy victory, O grave?

Soar we now where Christ has led, following our exalted Head; made like him, like him we rise, ours the cross, the grave, the skies.

I had told Rob a few years ago that I loved pieces in 7/8 time, and he promptly wrote a sparkling setting of the wonderful 19th century American text, How can I keep from singing, for me…in 7/8 time of course.  When I called to thank him for this new work a few weeks ago, I reflected on why 7/8 is so appealing to me, wondering aloud if it is because performing a piece in 7/8 time requires a musician to divide seven into three parts – albeit three unequal parts.  2+2+3 or 3+2+2 or even 2+3+2.   We know the importance of three in our thinking.   Spiritually it’s the Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Ghost.  Personally it might be the trinity of friends, family and work that makes claims on our time and affection.  The power of three makes itself known in all kinds of ways in our lives. The three little pigs…Goldilocks and the three bears… three people walked into a bar…bad things happen in threes.

But 7/8 time is the reminder that the three parts of something are never equally present at any given time.  Spiritually, there are times when we walk more closely with the Son, depend more on the Father, or are more aware of the Holy Spirit working in our lives. Certainly, friends and family and work play unequal roles at various points in our life. Which isn’t to say we don’t need a balance of these three parts, just that they can’t be equally important at any given moment.

I wrote about 7/8 years ago, describing the dance I felt inherent in that time signature. Not a waltz, or any other kind of dance you would see in the ballroom, but a dance where varying parts are made into a whole. A woman responded, then, writing that she had multiple sclerosis and nothing made her happier than being held by her husband as they danced together in graceful awkwardness. That’s why I love 7/8 time.

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Where I’ll be:

Sunday, March 13

first…Bradley Hills Presbyterian Church, substitute organist for their 10:30 am service and then…Chevy Chase Presbyterian Church’s annual Bach Marathon which runs from 2:00-7:00.  I’ll be playing two of my favorite preludes and fugues during the 4:30-5:00 time slot.

This blog represents an attempt to continue putting thoughts together on various things that seem to connect – in my mind anyway!  More often than not new ideas first involve reaching back to what was and I can only hope that the prehistoric San cave painting at the top of this page inspires all kinds of new connections between old and new.

Feel free to pass this message along to anyone who might be interested, and if a community conversation comes out of it, all the better.  We have so much to share and so much to be grateful for.

Peace,
Sonya