Sunday, January 2, 2011

The Sacredness of It All

I had the opportunity to view the movie Howl, referring to Allen Ginsberg's poem of the same name.  The film is really three themes woven into one tapestry: the story of the obscenity trial focused on the publication of the poem, biographical information about Ginsberg (taken mostly from an interview with the poet) which serves to elucidate much of the personal references in the poem, and the poem itself, set to animation inspired by Illuminated Poems, a collaboration between Ginsberg and Eric Drooker.  It had been some time since I had read or heard the poem Howl, but what struck me once again was the final section of the poem, which the author actually called Footnote to Howl. 

One word dominates Footnote, and that word is 'Holy'.  Perhaps Ginsberg was being a bit absurd or provocative in the specific things he dubbed 'holy', but the overall theme that comes across to me is that everything is sacred and nothing is excluded from having innate worth.  It is a sentiment with which I wholeheartedly agree.  Certainly, different things have different value, and different people will value some things more than other things.  Beyond personal preference, though, beyond opinions and market analysis, I feel a sense of grounded calmness when it sinks in that everything in nature, and every person, and everything that every person creates, has an intrinsic quality of holiness.

My bachelor's degree was specifically focused on "sacred music".  As a pianist, I spent a great deal of time practicing, just like any other classically trained musician, but I also spent concentrated time studying "the use of music in sacred settings" and "music intended for worship, specifically in a Christian tradition."  It is remarkable that it was never driven home to me how sacred all music is.  That it is music is enough.  I suppose more accurately, that it is is enough for it to be sacred on some level.

On my senior piano recital, I programmed a piece by John Cage called Water Music.  There was some piano playing involved, but it also included the sounds of water being poured into containers of varying sizes, and a radio -- sometimes on an actual station, sometimes sitting on the static between stations.  At one moment, the only sound was that of the radio, which was playing some kind of instrumental electronic dance tune as we all sat and listened within the context of this unique performance of Cage's piece.  Then, a voice in the midst of the electronic sounds came across the radio and into our focused listening in that recital hall.  It said, "Do it ... Do it doggie style."

And then the piece continued with me dealing cards into the piano or whatever part of the piece came next, but that moment was profound.  There was laughter and perhaps embarrassment, our high brow artistic expectations challenged by something that bordered on vulgar, which was perhaps perfectly in line with what Cage would have relished.  Yet holy.  On some level, sacred.  I didn't necessarily think so at the time.  Nor did one of my professors, who thought that it made something of a mockery of the college recital environment.  My perspective has evolved since that time.

Over the past year, I have spent innumerable hours pondering what music I should be writing.  What will get played?  What will excite a performer?  What will fit what a film producer or advertiser is looking for?  What will compel people to listen?  As if the approval of a certain number of listeners was actually the goal.  One of the most inspiring aspects of our upcoming relocation is that it gives my mind a bit of a reset.  I really want to write music that is inspiring to me, music that expresses something compelling to me, music that is personally satisfying.  In the act of creating, I am engaging in divine work in a very human way.  And whatever I create will be worth my creating.  On some level, sacred.  Intrinsically holy.  Like you and me.

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