Thursday, May 29, 2008

from Firenze

Sound is hidden under words,
and words are hidden under sound.
When one perceives the words,
one does not perceive the sound underneath,
and when one perceives sound,
one does not perceive the words underneath.
When the poet perceives the words,
the musician perceives the sound underneath.
The mystic perceives even in that sound
a Word which was God.
Hazrat Inayat Khan

Tuesday, 27 May 2008

I’ve just arrived in Florence. I am to be here in Italy for the next month, a kind of a complicated trip due to the confluence of different factors. In the middle is the retreat and the tour that I am doing with the choir from the diocese of Monterey, starting on the 16th, which will take us to Camaldoli, Assisi, Florence and Rome, singing Masses and performing concerts. But I have come early first of all to celebrate my friend Stefano’s wedding. He and I met back in 200 through a woman from Florence named Chiara that I had met while at Shantivanam. She had told that she wanted to introduce me to someone when I was to be coming through Florence after India that Fall. And the rest is history. We’ve stayed in more or less good contact over these years and spent some nearly ecstatic times together especially during my last two visits to Italy, sharing a love for India and all its trapping, especially yoga and meditation, he being a devotee and translator of Abhishiktananda. I was quite honored to have been asked to preside and preach at his wedding. Then I have about five days to myself here, to do some work in preparation for what lies head and also hopefully to take a few classes to improve my Italian. Then my family comes and we will spend a week together at a house my Dad rented in a city called Tavernelle. And then comes the time with the choir. In between then I get a few days at the motherhouse, Camaldoli, hopefully to be there on the feast of Saint Romuald. I think it will all go pretty fast considering all the little pieces, but I am glad to have scheduled in solitary time all throughout as well.

We did three fund-raising concerts for the Monterey choir before I left. With the dropping in the value of the dollar against the Euro and the increased cost of gas, the folks are paying a lot of money for their two weeks in Italy. So I am glad we were able to do something to offset the cost a little. And the three concerts at home in California are also going part of the whole experience for them. The first one was at Holy Cross a week and a half ago. It was a great turn out and a very receptive home-town crowd, which is not too big a surprise. But even I was surprised at how well we did together, and how exciting the program is. Sr Barbara kindly offered to do all music I had written and we put a program together that covers a little of everything, including my “difficult period,” except for from my first three collections recorded 25 years ago and now (gratefully) out of print. As it is, we really cover a range of styles. After the dulcet peace of the Gregorian Benedictus Es that we sing at the start of the program, to hear the choir break into four-part harmony on “There Is A Light,” for example, is a powerful moment and a thing of beauty. The second concert, in Paso Robles, went okay but we struggled with the acoustic in that carpeted church, not being able to hear each other, though the crowd was well pleased afterward. Our last stateside one Sunday night at the Carmel Mission was fabulous, a wonderful acoustic and a very responsive full house. Though––I hope someone in the choir is reading this––the choir was a little overexcited and kept rushing the tempi and at times seemed to be shouting rather than singing, all in all we did awfully well and I think the concerts in Italy are going to be tremendous. Certainly given the style of some of the music that we are singing they will be a bit of a surprise to the Italian audiences, my guess is that they will love it as they have enjoyed John and my performances here in the past. They are more discriminating listeners than most American audiences and often have a deeper appreciation both of tradition and new expressions of it.

After the concert on Sunday I had that kind of overwhelming experience again, when folks are so moved by music that you know that they are changed. I was telling a friend the other day that when I say people are “moved by music,” I really mean literally “moved”; at times you can see it in peoples’ faces, full of surprise and gratitude and a kind of incredulity, that they were one place before a concert and are in another place after. With the release of the “greatest hits” album out of Singapore and this retrospective of my chorale music that the choir is doing, I am filled with a sense of gratitude and wonder myself, that somehow in spite of myself something beautiful, some things beautiful, came out of me. As I also have been saying to folks recently, perhaps because of the era from which I come, it is somehow engrained in me that you can change the world with a song, the whole world. I suppose for better or for worse, but I am counting on and committing myself to the “for better.”

In the midst of it all I am thinking about and slowly picking thinking away at my two talks for NPM (the National Pastoral Musicians conference) on the way home, and I shall probably share some tidbits from my background reading along the way.

Oh yeah, and I posted some pix of the fire that our friends Dan and Nicole sent out. The Summit Fire, it is called, and apparently the authorities were pretty sure it was going to raze Corralitos, including my cabin and the homes of my friends and neighbors along the way. Before I left a friend called and said that they thought it was contained enough for now, but that it would probably not be fully extinguished until early autumn. It was pretty sobering for us all.