Music and Sounds of Reflection
00:11 ZACHARY PATTEN: The Greeks of antiquity believed that music possessed the power to influence its hearer’s emotions, behavior, and morals. An ancient myth tells us that the seductively singing Sirens were outmatched by Orpheus through the musicality and beauty of his lyre and song. With music, he saved his fellow mariners from drowning. And when he ventured into the dark underworld to beg for the return of his love who had perished, it was with his song that he opened the dark lord’s eyes to empathy. The Greeks called this power ethos, which is the same word used to describe the guiding beliefs and ideals, or the character of a nation.
1:07 There are times when it’s extremely difficult to hear the signal through the noise. The noise of argument, the noise of distrust, of negativity, division, and fear. We struggle to keep within earshot of our fundamental signal, the frequency, that keeps our lives balanced and, indeed, in tune with our surroundings. Over the past several weeks, everything has changed. Person to person interactions have been rerouted through technology, and images of communities gathering together have been recontextualized. The dark clouds of concern are heavy this spring, and like the Argonauts, we try ourselves to not capsize in the overwhelming current only to watch our security, our safety, and our lives become lost at sea.
02:10 Similar to the Greeks, composer, and philosopher John Cage wanted music to be useful and meaningful. He hoped that your experience of music would introduce you to the very world in which we live. He didn’t view music and art as distractions or an escape from reality. On the contrary, he identified life with art. He saw the arts as a shining light on top of a mountain penetrating to a certain extent the surrounding darkness. He didn’t impose on art the burden of answering life’s important questions. For those questions, Cage said, would be asked in the darkness, under the dark clouds of concern, where art does not penetrate.
03:07 We hope this episode of the Tippet Rise Podcast is useful and meaningful to you, especially in these unsettling times. We hope that the music and sounds you’ll hear will serve you as a space for reflection on your path towards understanding, towards your new fundamental and noiseless signal, a signal of resolute peace. As you and your families continue to take shelter and confront challenging questions and circumstances, we hope that the ethos of music and art will help you reflect on this time, navigate the noise, and find your frequency. It will undoubtedly not be the same frequency from months ago, but that is also what music shows us. Even within a single composition, music develops, it evolves. It offers us a model for a journey that leads to a resolved cadence.
04:19 I’d like to share with you six outstanding past performances from Tippet Rise. These are some of the many compositions that reflect their time, some of them recent. The composers and performers of these works have dedicated their lives to uncovering the eternal mysteries of music. In their unique ways, these works offer us some insight into nature, into emotion, into uncertainty, into fear but also into nostalgia and beauty.
04:58 We know how vital and therapeutic are the sounds of nature. So the last thirty minutes of this podcast are yours. They’re the natural soundscape of Francis Kere’s Xylem. Nestled in a grove of aspen and cottonwood trees, Xylem is a pavilion inspired by community, conversation, and bringing people together. These are the sounds of a rejuvenating and life-filled Montana spring from the heart of this pavilion. Sounds we want to share with you. Sounds we hope will give you comfort and a space for reflection. Music and sound can allow us to imagine from a higher point of vantage, and we hope this episode will help you reflect and hear your signal through the noise.
06:03 “For me, it began with birds.” That’s what composer John Luther Adams said about his early work, songbirdsongs. On a bright blue and sunny day in 2018, Jessica Sindell, Martha Aarons, and Sandbox Percussion performed Songbirdsongs on the land at Tippet Rise. To get to the performance site, the audience walked from the Cottonwood Campus, along the Gnomon Trail, which graciously opens into a soft meadow nestled between the cottonwood outlined stream and a gently sloped hill, which acted as a natural amphitheater. The instruments and audience were spread throughout the meadow creating a spacious counterpoint and the sound of wind, the stream, and the birds embraced and intertwined with the sound of the instruments. Although this was before social distancing, the audience chairs were positioned, like the instruments, apart, facing all directions, so that every listener heard her own unique balance of the composition with the natural sounds from where it originated. This is the fifth movement, Mourning Dove, the quiet heart of the work, and a reflection on the intimacy of nature.
12:30 In Montana, we are lucky to be farther away from the noise, a little closer to the signal of awe and humility given to us through land, art, and sky. This next piece is a musical metaphor for landscape. It’s long ascending and descending lines are transmuted reflections of rolling hills. The contour of the lines meander delicately, at a walking pace, and the balanced ebbs and flows don’t so much as mark rhythmic time, but rather rock gently, cradling into timelessness. Like Mourning Dove, there’s a sense of quiet and calm in this composition; no jarring notes or dynamics to break the trance it weaves around you. In 2018 Tippet Rise Artistic Advisor, Pedja Muzijevic performed John Cage’s_ In A Landscape_.
19:49 The vast and open canvas of land is replaced with the ocean in this next piece. From his collection of piano works, Miroirs, which translates to Reflections, Ravel’s A Boat on the Ocean sonically paints the picture of an almost mystical sea vessel, as it resists its demise in the enormous and tumultuous seascape. On top of the overwhelming torrent of arpeggios and textures sits the virtuous little boat, which is represented by an enchanting and humble melody. Dedicated to a dear friend, it’s a story of perseverance in the most troublesome of times. In 2018 pianist Julien Brocal performed this hopeful piece in the Olivier Music Barn.
27:56 When art and nature intersect, they form a synergy, a sum that is greater than their independent effects. This next piece is a synergy between the Ave Maria melody and the subtlety beautiful Prelude Number 1 from Bach’s Well Tempered Clavier. As a reflection on Bach’s prelude, Charles Gounod improvised the Ave Maria melody on top of the endearing and flowing chord progression one hundred and thirty years after its creation. In 2019, after a concert reflecting on mourning, death, and the afterlife, pianist Stephen Hough offered the audience this harmonious resolution.
31:30 “The slow movement from Haydn’s Opus 20, No. 1, written in 1770, connects with human emotion more than anyone could have imagined,” said Geoff Nutall, the first violinist of St. Lawrence String Quartet. It was a looking glass through which many musicians, still to this day, behold and contemplate. Goethe said that a string quartet performance is like “listening to four rational people conversing among themselves.” The string quartets of Haydn reflect the intimacy and personal nature of true dialogue.
37:10 Through prejudice, discrimination, poverty, and misery, there was hope for an all-inclusive American community. In the summer of 1893, Katharine Lee Bates, an English teacher, decided to go on a hike at Pike’s Peak, Colorado. At over 14,000 feet high, she said a great joy came over her as she embraced the majesty of the sea-like expanse. Later, she hastily jotted down some words as a reflection on her experience in nature. Little did she know, that poem which is called America the Beautiful would serve as an inspiration for generations to come. Although the two never met, her poem was set to music by Samuel Ward and is here reflected and improvised on by pianist Jeffrey Kahane.
38:09 Immediately following is thirty minutes of nature’s sounds which not only inspire music, poetry, and art but also breathe into us a new rejuvenating breath of life as we face our greatest challenges. We hope that you and your loved ones will stay safe and healthy and that we will all meet at Tippet Rise soon. Thank you so much for listening to the Tippet Rise Podcast.
42:35 This is the start of a thirty-minute soundscape from Xylem for your own time of reflection.