What is True?

If you saw this past Sunday’s Washington Post Magazine, perhaps like me you were struck by the quote on the first page:

IT IS CONFRONTING THE TRUTH THAT LEADS TO LIBERATION FROM OUR PAST

Printed in capital letters as it was, it came across not like the screaming of an all-caps email or text, but rather as something solidly incontrovertible. Representative John Lewis’s words, said in connection to the Smithsonian’s soon-to-open museum of African-American history and culture, are worthy of engraving in stone.

Does it seem that people are sometimes afraid of the truth though? I don’t mean the superficial truths about someone’s appearance or revelations that are somewhat embarrassing, but those deeper truths that involve the rights and wrongs of justice.  Moral truths that affect people lives in important ways.  The kinds of truth, in other words, that force us to face our fears and require us to change.

“The truth is a beautiful and terrible thing, and should therefore be treated with great caution,” said one wise philosopher, Albus Dumbledore, to a young Harry Potter.  Is it the terrible part of truth that we fear?  The uncomfortable parts that keep us from maintaining a moral certainty of correctness? Of our superiority?  The stuff we try to sweep under the rug, sometimes with great (if temporary) success?

What better time is there than the height of a presidential election season to meditate on the word “truth”? Especially this election, with its accusations of secretiveness, outright lies, and manipulations of truth (a.k.a. polling!).  Am I right in my sense that the concept of truth is taking more of a beating than usual this time around?  That factual truths can be so easily proven in this day and age makes me wonder if we’re de-sensitized to lying.  Everyone lies after all.  But what about those things which can’t be verified with a quick Google search?

The etymology of the word “true” is telling.  Coming from a Middle English word for tree, trewe, from Old English trēowe, and Old High German triuwi, meaning faithful, it is also a word that is probably related to Sanskrit’s dāruṇa (hard) and dāru (wood).  Rootedness then is something that trees and beliefs have in common.

Before we name as true some of those deeply held beliefs which are firmly rooted in us, do remember that at one time people knew that the world was flat, that the sun revolved around the earth, that left-handed people were evil, that women are the property of men, that people of African descent are inferior.  These weren’t (and aren’t) casually held opinions.  These things were simply true. Holding too firmly to something that proves to be untrue sounds like a recipe for ridicule and disappointment.

If a truth has deep roots then maybe it can withstand the hollow lies people cling to.  What are some of the truths that we might allow to become deeply rooted in us? Truths that won’t open us to ridicule and disappointment.  Archbishop Desmond Tutu may have come closest to naming some basic truths in one of his oft-quoted sermons, and I can’t help but believe that the world would be a better place if we allowed these to take root in us:

Good is stronger than evil; Love is stronger than hate; Light is stronger than darkness; Life is stronger than death. Victory is ours, through him who loves us.

Worthy of engraving on our hearts. And if I may,  I’d like to add one more…truth is stronger than deception.

Peace,
Sonya

* * * * *

Where I’ll be:

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. http://www.chevychasepc.org

September 27 – organist and choir director for a service celebrating the institution of The Rev. Matthew Hanisian as Rector of St. Martin’s-in-the Field Episcopal Church, Severna Park, MD. 7:00 p.m.

October 5 – Millennium Stage, Kennedy Center, 6:00 p.m., I will be playing on a program with Furia Flamenco and Guillermo Christie.

Also in October, I will be playing for the High Holy Days (a first for me) for the Bethesda Jewish Congregation.

* * * * *

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.

1941

This past summer brought quite a lot of music with ties to World War II Europe into my life I noticed. This week, two pieces that I am preparing for a concert tomorrow –Variations on a theme of Paganini by Polish composer Witold Lutoslawski and a piece written by British composer Benjamin Britten in memory of Polish pianist and statesman Ignacy Paderewski, Mazurka elegiaca.

Two musical works with stories loosely connected emerged from the spring of 1941 as signs of art’s triumph over the hopelessness of war.  Lutoslawski wrote hundreds of arrangements for two pianos, which he and fellow Pole Andrez Panufnik played in the cafes of wartime Warsaw between 1940 and 1944. All of these compositions, except one, were destroyed during the Warsaw Uprising and are lost forever.  But Lutoslawski’s 1941 work, based on Paganini’s malleable tune from his 24th Caprice and used by so many other composers (including Rachmaninoff, Brahms, Liszt and even Andrew Lloyd Webber) found its way out of Poland and is much loved by piano duos.

Britten had an entirely different wartime experience.  He chose to leave England in 1939 and was harshly criticized for doing so.  He spent some of that time in California, where his publisher telegrammed him early in 1941 and asked for two piano pieces that would celebrate Paderewski’s long, multi-faceted career.  But Britten misunderstand his publisher’s request and wrote one two-piano piece, which, following Paderewski’s death in June of 1941, became a memorial work built on rhythms of the traditional Polish dance, the mazurka.  In its middle section, the confusion and turbulence of war seem to play out in music, causing one reviewer to describe the work as “a lament for Poland’s predicament: it’s tenderness is tinged with violence, and in the middle the piece seems to hang by a thread.”  But then, peace always hangs by a thread.

There were other bits of artistic news during that year of war.  The National Gallery of Art opened in Washington, D.C.  The film “Citizen Kane’ was released. And Billie Holliday recorded her song God Bless the Child.  With Holliday’s description of its obscure text as a song that came to her after fighting with her mother about money, there can only be speculation that the words are related to Luke 8:11-18 and the parable of the sower, as many have suggested.  God, so this story from the Gospels seems to imply, has sowed the seeds of divinity in each of us and our lives will be increasingly fruitful as we become increasingly aware of that holiness within ourselves.

Holliday’s own sad life serves to remind us that fame and fortune can’t possibly satisfy the deepest longings of our hearts.  Real happiness comes when our seeds of divinity bear the fruit of peace and quiet strength.  The biggest lesson of 1941 would come on December 7,  though, when this country learned it couldn’t turn its back on evil any longer.  Peace would have to wait.  Neither the quest for fame and fortune, nor the manipulations of power and domination could make anyone happy.

But if that’s just a bit too serious of an ending for this September day 75 years later, 1941 also brought us the first Curious George book.  God bless the child, and the magic of children’s books!

Peace,
Sonya

* * * * *

Where I’ll be:

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. www.chevychasepc.org

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. We are raising money for The House of Ruth, an organization that helps women and children coming out of domestic violence and homelessness. We will match any gifts made at the concert to support their good work. Contact me directly if you would like to receive an invitation.

October 5 – Millennium Stage, Kennedy Center, 6:00 p.m., I will be playing on a program with Furia Flamenco and Guillermo Christie

Also in October, I will be playing for the High Holy Days (a first for me) for the Bethesda Jewish Congregation.

* * * * *

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 History

This past week gave me the privilege of being in Canterbury, England as the organist for a friend’s choir during their fourth residency at a British cathedral. Christ Church, Glendale (Ohio) is an all-volunteer choir that has flourished for nearly 30 years under their director, Bryan Mock.  They sang traditional English cathedral music, including Finzi’s Lo, the full, final sacrifice, which I wrote about a few weeks ago. And as anyone who has done something like this knows, there is A LOT of music to prepare for a week’s worth of service at an Anglican cathedral. I got to hide out in Canterbury Cathedral’s organ loft, playing the music of Howells and Langlais and Bach, not to mention the anthems of Finzi and Elgar and Sumsion, just a few yards from the very spot where Thomas Becket was murdered in 1170.

Talk about living with history.

Just a year ago I traveled with a different choir to sing in the great churches of France, and where we held an emotional service of remembrance at the American Cemetery, near the landing beaches of Normandy.  This summer I visited the tunnels in the white cliffs of Dover and learned about their role in World War II, particularly the evacuation efforts that rescued more than 300,000 soldiers and refugees from Dunkirk.  So interesting to be on the other side of the English Channel this summer, seeing the countryside where the Battle of Hastings was fought after seeing that story depicted in the Bayeux Tapestry last summer.

As with the Finzi anthem (composed in 1946), the war’s effect on Britain was surely foremost in the mind of Herbert Howells when he wrote the organ piece Master Tallis’s Testament in 1940.  Perhaps writing as the Battle of Dunkirk was waged during May and June of that same year?  Was he trying to recall England’s great Renaissance glory during those darkest days?

I played this lovely piece as a prelude to Canterbury Cathedral’s Sunday Eucharist this week.  It’s one of several pieces that highlight the draw that the Tudor period had for Howells, and he created in this work his own testament to British culture. Sixteenth century sensibilities combine with twentieth century emotions to take the listener (and player) from the courtly to the anguished, overlaid with the British melancholy that colors so much of the music of Finzi, Britten and Vaughan Williams as well.  In fact, Master Tallis’s Testament surely owes much to Vaughan Williams.  An 18 year old Howells was at the 1910 Three Choirs Festival, sitting next to the composer during the premiere of Vaughan Williams’ orchestral piece Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis.

Two of my very favorite pieces are more deeply connected than I had realized:

Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis (Vaughan Williams)

Master Tallis’s Testament (Herbert Howells)

So many connections to make. The Battle of Hastings, the murder of an Archbishop of Canterbury, the flowering of English music and literature in the 16th century, the Three Choirs Festival of 1910, World War II, an American women in 2016 (“a lady organist! We don’t see very many of those,” so said a verger at Canterbury Cathedral). A few of the strands that create the tapestry of a life.  Some of the ways to live with history.

Peace,
Sonya

* * * * *

Where I’ll be:
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.

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.

 

 

 

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

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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.

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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.