“What I am I must become is the title of a poem by Nancy Wood, based on the Hopi tradition. It’s been haunting my mind for the last few weeks as I work on a commissioned piece for the Amherst Middle School – it seems to apply not only to these young teens in their fine chorus, but to me as well.
The three movements of the piece are in process of becoming as they grow, day by day. My vision of what the texts imply becomes more detailed with each work session. And I am certainly not ‘set’ as a composer after all these years: I will keep ‘becoming’ until the end.
I’ve had several recent jolts to my consciousness of living and thinking and developing. I attended a lecture on Mind-Body Connections at the local Community College, which gave me a new way to describe a chorus: it’s a “neuro-biological system”. This means that each individual is a part of the whole; each separate nervous system is connected to all the others. Our brains aren’t just ‘tofu in the head’, but include our whole information-gathering body. And the body doesn’t end with the finger-tips or toes: when we’re in relationship with others, we are intimately connected into one nervous system. We feel not only our own emotional engagement, but are fed by all the others in the room. It’s non-verbal communication at its best, with elements of meditation, of mindfulness, and of creating not only sound, but positive emotions.
My Qigong guru is offering a weekend course called “Soul Work”. The brochure tells us that “Feelings are the language of the soul.” There are two traditional paths for this work: one is through immersion in nature, the way of many indigenous peoples. The other is through human relationships in community: discovering wholeness through ‘kindness and care for ones’ self, and love and compassion for others.
And my pastor sent a message titled “You are the beauty that you see”, based on writings by Jim Burklo. It’s about our perceptions of beauty, in ourselves and others. If you see beauty around you, you reflect it. This, not your outward appearance, is what makes you seem beautiful to others. Our minds do not work like computers: there’s an unpredictable asymmetry wired into us that lets us find beauty in surprising, mysterious forms. We are what we become through the way that we perceive others.
Finally, next month I’ll be working with Conductor Allison Fromm, presenting the Joyful Noise Chorus, made up of adults with physical and neurological challenges the American Choral Directors Conference in Chicago. As I wrote in a Choral Net note:
”I love working with the Joyful Noise Chorus, because they demonstrate with every breath WHY choral singing is such a necessity for us human beings. It's not only that it releases our emotions, or satisfies our hunger for meaningful sound, or teases our minds, or brings back memories: it's rather that it unites us in a realm that is not bounded by our physical selves. We use our bodies, minds and hearts to create a kind of group that scientists describe as a 'neurobiological unit'. Our brains are not 'us'; our bodies are not 'us', our voices come closer to being 'us'; but the whole inner being is apparent in our song. Through our generous listening and tuning, we enter the world of the spirit, where we really can become 'one'. This experience is too often short-circuited through [other preoccupations], but it is immediate and overwhelming with a group like Joyful Noise.”
Who are we? What are we becoming? Do we see and hear beauty around us? Do we honor our own feelings and those of others? Do we feel the interdependence when we sing in a group? Are we newly energized by creating choral sound? Can we base our lives and our daily behavior and our music-making in this perception – that we really are one people, one human race, and that our purpose is not only to create beauty but to reflect it around us?
What I am I must become. Indeed.