I’m Back…

Long ago, in a more innocent time, I wrote a post about the potential for procrastination to feed our creativity. I was writing then, as well, to let my readers know, after more than 150 posts, that I was going to take a break and work on some other writing projects. I wrote that final post on February 27, 2020.

As we know, these seven months later, a lot changed immediately after I wrote at the end of February. A lot. I was then coming off of four very intense years of working in eight different churches as an interim music director. I had not had a Sunday off in more than 2-1/2 years and I planned to take February through August off from working in churches and concentrate on writing a book that I thought might be in me. I also had two other part-time jobs, I was going to be taking a choir to sing at St. David’s Cathedral in Wales, and had some concerts planned with my duo partners.

I did not need a pandemic to shut down the entire country in order to find the necessary discipline to work on a book. Thank you, but it wasn’t necessary to be forced to stay home and have all of my freelance work dry up. We can go back to normal now. Really.

My light-heartedness is really only a cover for all the sadness that I feel for those in our world who are suffering so much loss – of health, loved ones, income, seeing family, travel plans, confidence in our government, optimism for the future, all those celebrations of life and death that need us to gather in person…there is such heaviness in feeling loss all around us.

And in the face of loss, we have to look for cracks where the light can come through. There is no choice except to find joy where we can.

I did indeed work on a book. It is a memoir, something of a hybrid that combines memory, reflection, and observation. I have sent my manuscript out to readers who have helped me further shape my thoughts, and its currently out in search of an agent. That seems crazy, but we’ll see what happens.

Meanwhile, I also got caught up with the music of a composer from early 20th century France. Her name is Mel Bonis, and I was really taken with some of her piano music which has been gathered under the title Femmes de Legende. I ended up writing (very) short stories to go with these seven pieces, and putting together an audiobook, which is supposed to come out on Audible one of these days. In order to do that, I also needed to create an actual book, which is essentially my script for the audiobook. I intended to wait until it was available on Audible before sharing it with anyone, but that process is taking longer than I have patience for, so here is the first chapter and a link to the book. Let me know what you think. If nothing else, I learned a lot and had a great time working on this.

Difficult Women…Legends Revised (book)

Chapter 1 (audio)

We have no choice except to find joy where we can, and we also have no choice except to be creative in these strange times. What I see are people cooking more than ever, gardening more bountifully, staying in touch with friends and family more lovingly, talking to their neighbors more often, and finding new hobbies. In my neighborhood, families are out walking together all the time, the sidewalk chalk art is more prolific, and the birds seem to be singing more beautifully too. Maybe that last one is just my imagination, but I’m paying attention to things I hadn’t before, and I’m finding all kinds of light coming through the cracks.

I hope you are too.

Have you voted yet? (speaking of cracks, and much-needed light).

Sonya

Thumbing Your Nose

Easter fell on April Fools Day this year, and one of my musical colleagues handed out bulletins to the choir that had Christmas carols listed for the hymns. I’m guessing that chaos and consternation ensued! There were surely plenty of unfortunate jokes told as part of sermons all over the world as well, and so it doesn’t feel quite as unseemly as it might to suggest that we were celebrating Jesus thumbing his nose at death on Easter.

Thumbing his nose? Where on earth did that kooky expression originate? No one really knows, but possibly in 18th century Britain, and really, could it be anything except British? It’s a phrase which implies contempt, but with a good dose of humor, not anger. Someone who does the actual thumbing is expressing a measure of confidence, of resilience, of freedom. To do it literally is childish and disrespectful, I suppose, but metaphorically it can be empowering.

No composer thumbed his nose at authority more beautifully than Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, whether at the dominance of his father over his career and life decisions, or at the Archbishop of Salzburg who employed him and demanded simplicity and brevity above all from the young composer’s works for the church. Mozart did attempt to comply in the several Missa brevis settings he wrote for Salzburg Cathedral, but you can’t shake off the feeling that he chafed at these restrictions on his creativity.  The Missa brevis, K. 194 that will be sung at St. John’s this Sunday (accompanied by The Artaria Quartet) is short, it’s true, and he sets the long texts of the Gloria and Credo with great economy, simple textures, and spare instrumentation, as the Archbishop demanded, but the drama of opera is lurking just below the surface of those liturgical texts. It is like a barely-contained gremlin bumping against the walls of its sacred box.

When one person protests she is often called a troublemaker or crazy, or, very rarely, a prophet. In Mozart’s case, history calls his protests genius. When many people protest oppression, however, it becomes a movement. Personally, I’d like to avoid being labeled as crazy, and “genius” or “prophet” aren’t attributes I can claim, which leaves being part of a movement for me. The goal for any protest is justice, and that’s the only movement that really matters. What are the goals of justice, after all, except those of truth and love, often defined as the cause of freedom? Maybe Mozart’s music will plant a little seed of protest in your own heart against small-mindedness and the control of conformity.

Perhaps you will find the exuberance in Mozart’s sacred music inappropriate to the words of a usually somber Kyrie eleison or Agnus dei, but I hear an authentic expression of joy in these and all parts of the sung Eucharistic celebration – Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, Benedictus, and Agnus Dei. Joy is as close to freedom as I can imagine. Thumb your nose at injustice then, because true joy cannot be born out of oppression.

Peace,
Sonya

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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 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.

 

 

Joy

Where do you find joy, when so much right now seems joyless? The news, and the traffic, and stresses of modern life, together with all of our fears about global warming and warring factions and humanity’s willful cruelties conspire to rob us of joy. We could turn off the news and stick our heads in the sand, but ignorance doesn’t bring joy. We could shut down conversations and proclaim that the other side is wrong, but disconnecting from relationships doesn’t bring joy. We could sweep unpleasantness under the rug and hope no one notices the lumps, but evading truth doesn’t bring joy. So where do we find joy?

A few years ago I came across a story about a 110 year old Holocaust survivor and pianist, Alice Herz-Sommer, who died in 2014, just a few days before a short film about her, The Lady in No. 6, won an Academy Award.  In accepting the Oscar, the film’s director, Malcolm Clarke, said that he was struck by Herz-Sommer’s “extraordinary capacity for joy” and “amazing capacity for forgiveness.”

In the midst of an insanity that would cause most of us to lose hope – a family torn apart, a husband sent to Dachau, she and her son to Theresienstadt – she found joy in music.  “Beethoven is my religion” she said.  “He gives me faith to live and to say to me: Life is wonderful and worthwhile, even when it is difficult.”  She credited Chopin with keeping her alive in the camp, as she pulled upon the reserve of strength which Chopin’s etudes had built within her.

Alice had every reason to lose hope, and instead found every reason to hold onto it.  If her choice to find beauty and joy in a harsh world seems naïve, does feeling damaged, angry or vengeful seem like a better choice?

“It is up to us whether we look at the good or the bad. When you are nice to others, they are nice to you. When you give, you receive.” Simple words from a Jewish Holocaust survivor, so very reminiscent of another Jew, as recorded in the Gospel according to Mark.

“Music is God,” Alice tells us in the film. What is beautiful is of God. She believed in the power of music, and believed that being joyful is a choice which any of us can make. At her darkest hour, she chose to look for beauty, and in finding it where she could, hope was possible.

Where there is hope there can be joy. Leonard Cohen reminded us that “there is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.” I doubt that Alice was blind to the horror around her, and if we are living in times which seem to encourage ignorance, disconnectedness, and evasion of responsibility and truth, look for those cracks where the light gets in and just maybe that is where your joy can be found.

Peace,
Sonya

2014 Oscar winning short documentary

* * * * *

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 for which we can be grateful.