A Rose By Any Other Name

In the past couple of years I have taken on a few adult piano students, and found that I enjoy teaching piano now so much more than my younger self ever did. One of my students has been working on the Debussy prelude Voiles. It’s a beautiful piece, perfectly capturing Debussy’s ethereal language of whole-tone scales and glissando-like figures.  I had always known this piece to have an English title of “Sails,” and was surprised to learn that is only one of many meanings of the French “voiles.” It can also mean “veils,” or “shroud” or “fog.” Debussy was purposely vague about the title, but it changes the music completely.  Are we playing music that evokes a sun-filled day on the lake or a foggy world seen from behind a veil? You decide:

Voiles – take one                Voiles – take two

Or maybe it’s a foggy day on the lake!  Words matter. How we interpret something changes everything, as we well know from the proverb of the glass half-empty or half-full. Sorry, Mr. Shakespeare, but I respectfully disagree.  A rose that’s called a latrine-blossom probably won’t smell as sweet.

This Sunday at Church of the Epiphany we’ll hear one of the newer additions to the lectionary in the Episcopal Church, the canticle A Song of Wisdom. Christians have inherited a patriarchal theology, but the church does try sometimes to widen the scope of our understanding, and we find that even small words, like pronouns, matter.

Wisdom freed from a nation of oppressors a holy people and a blameless race.  She entered the soul of a servant of the Lord, withstood dread rulers and wonders and signs…She was their shelter by day and a blaze of stars by night…

Wisdom

It was over a year ago now that I finished writing about Bach’s Goldberg Variations, tying each of the 30 variations to a personal quality that I found worthy of cultivating. In the final movement, the opening Aria returns, now seemingly imbued with the wisdom gained by a lifetime of experiences. Wisdom is so very different from being smart or academically gifted. It’s slow, thoughtful, and simple. Wisdom is learning to not respond immediately, temporarily walking away from a difficult moment, knowing that the answer will come. It’s being quiet and listening.

My own name is a variation of Sophia, Greek for wisdom. I don’t claim to have an abundance of it, but I so admire it in others. For me, wisdom has been gained when I’ve tried harder to see both sides of an issue, or even when I choose to take a walk instead of answering emails. When I let wisdom come to me instead of trying too hard to find it.

An interesting side-note about Voiles – in French, the masculine “le voile” means “veil” and the feminine “la voile” means “sail.” Debussy left out the defining article in his title – a tiny, but clarifying word. Creatures are largely divided into male and female, but recently society has been allowed to admit that there are some people in between that clear division. Time and the urban dictionary will find the right words for us to express this in-betweeness in our everyday language. Meanwhile, we can push gently (or not) against cultural taboos and boxed-in thoughts. Remembering that words really do matter feels to me like a step towards wisdom.

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 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 for which we can be grateful.

 

 

Time

Behold, I tell you a mystery; we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet.

From the 15th chapter of I Corinthians and used by Handel in his Messiah, these are words that often echo through my brain and which have inspired a couple of different postings. Unlike music, which is ruled by timely precision – rhythms, meters, tempi – and unlike the world we live in where timing can be everything and time usually feels like a scarce and valuable commodity, these words imply a less concrete, more expansive sense of time.

Perhaps, like me, you have been sitting on Metro, waiting for the single track to become available so your train can move, when you hear the operator assuring passengers that we will be moving momentarily.  “In a moment” – a phrase of breathtaking elasticity.  The train conductor’s vague sense of time brought to my mind’s ear the words above from Messiah, sung of course by a rich baritone voice.

A humbling moment for me was in sixth grade when our creative writing teacher, an amazing woman named Frances Sandmel, asked our class to write about time.  I was stumped, completely and utterly drawing a blank.  My more clever classmates came up with wonderful ideas that Mrs. Sandmel then cobbled into a poem which we read as a class at a very 70’s kind of happening, with musicians from the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, in a garden at the William Howard Taft Museum. The essential idea of her creation was that time equals change.  My young classmates wrote about time as mold growing on bread and the instant between a soldier standing and falling to the ground after being shot (our world included a war in Vietnam on television every evening after all).  Of time as a baby becoming a grandmother.

In other words, time is a twinkling of an eye and also a moment, because change happens at the speed of light as often as it does over an expanse. We talk about time standing still, and time flying.  We experience time in slow motion and yet decades of our lives seem to go by in a flash.

I believe that God exists simultaneously in the past, present and future, and that we would do well to find ways of doing the same. Would that we could live with a deeper knowledge of our connections to the past, while having the energy to satisfy our present needs and desires, and at the same time fly on the wings of our hopes for the future.  Seeing time this way just might take some of the edge off of our worries about not having enough of it and allay our concerns when time isn’t moving fast enough for those things we care most about, whether personal matters or on issues of justice and social change.  Those times when we need help to remember that the arc of the moral universe is indeed long… but only in human terms.

No surprise that Bach provides some useful wisdom about time in his Cantata No. 106, Gottes Zeit ist der allerbest Zeit – God’s time is the best of all times.

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

November 6 – 4:00, playing for John Rutter’s Requiem with the choir of All Saints Episcopal Church, Chevy Chase.

* * * * *

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.