Reflections on Art and Life
I have spent the last four months composing a triptych of songs commissioned by Kate Steinbeck and Pan Harmonia, based on the poems of three North Carolina contemporary poets. Although this large-scale work was a first for me in setting such an extensive amount of text to music, I approached the composition process without fear, knowing that my film scoring training would help me approach the task in a methodical and calculated way. And so, I charted all the words on a timeline, ensuring that the music would fit within the timeframe requested by the Patron. It fit with the precision of a Swiss watch.
But as I continued to work, the words of the poems began to chisel at my soul, becoming more than a material to transform or a line to embellish. I now know every syllable and every breath of this colorful narrative and I marvel at what it signifies. Although the three poems were written by three distinct poets, they mesh into a unified trajectory, as if they were chapters of the same story, the story of healing.
But first, allow me to interject something that will become relevant. Last month I went to Asheville to participate in a townhall-style meeting to introduce this commissioning project to the local community during which the three poets read their poems and I answered a few questions about my compositional process. After the meeting, one of the poets, Sally Atkins, told me that she had spent some time listening to my music and concluded that everything I do is about healing. She left me speechless for a moment because the idea of bringing healing through my music has been a hidden hope I harbored for years. I told Sally that this is exactly what I want my music to be about, but that, given our Western mindset and strict governmental guidelines on who is and who is not allowed to use the word “healing” in our country, I tend to shy away from any such claims or hopes. But Sally insisted that I had every right to use the word and that she, a doctor of education, a professor at the European Graduate School, a licensed psychologist, and a registered Expressive Arts therapist, tells me it is OK for me to use the word.
But back to the triptych. The opening poem by Sally Atkins entitled “Dark Sister, Sing” is, in the poet’s own words, “a ceremony of forgiveness.” The beginning stanzas outline deep brokenness and fracture in the fabric of our society. Sally calls it “rubble of neglect.” The poem continues as a stately procession “in the rhythms of breath and seasons”, with each stanza reaching deeper into reconciliation and reparation.
The second poem by Valerie Foote, entitled “The Secret”, tells the story of a betrayal of a young girl whose innocence is stolen by a stranger and who fifty years later experiences a powerful flashback and a breakthrough.
The final poem by Cathy Sky, entitled “Lemniscates”, is a rich and abstract kaleidoscope of imagery from around the Earth depicting the forces of nature bringing renewal, beauty, and unity to all humankind. The last stanza of the poem contains the phrase “rubble becomes art” and it is a testament to powerful healing and transformation of a broken world.
Thus, the triptych begins with “rubble of neglect” but it ends with the transformation of rubble into art. I cannot think of a better title for the entire triptych than this vivid phrase and therefore lift it from Cathy’s poem.
Yes, this is what we, the artists, do. We gather the rubble in our hands and we make art from it. This is how we bring healing to the world around us and to ourselves.
Photo credit: Warner Photography