Teaching music is not my main purpose. I want to make good citizens. If children hear fine music from the day of their birth and learn to play it, they develop sensitivity, discipline and endurance. They get a beautiful heart.”
// Dr. Schinichi Suzuki
A few months ago my girlfriend approached me with the opportunity to transcribe a chant. She learned of the chant from Lydia Strand, who co-wrote it with Duncan Hilton. The chant is one Lydia used in Contemplative Action Circles as part of a community who takes seriously and integrates contemplative practice and non violent direct action.
The chant, which addresses risk, fear, and hope in the midst of both, was especially powerful in an instance Lydia describes in her own words this way
In May, I think it was May 12, 2016, there were five or six of us from this core team of the contemplative action circles who decided to support non-violent direct action and civil disobedience action in West Roxbury to stop a pipeline from going through. And that day, we decided how we were going to embody disruption was that we were going to go onto this worksite, sit in a circle, hold hands, and chant. So, I remember sitting there with my people, singing this chant, and actually needing it – actually needing that courage in the face of bulldozers and the police. And so, it became more than a theoretical practice of drawing on courage, and it became an embodied practice of solidarity and integrity with what I believe – the story of love.”
This story spoke to me; it spoken to the musician in me.
It just took me 30 minutes, or so. Just half an hour to transcribe the entire chant. But in that time I listened deeply to the combination of sound and meaning in this particular chant dozens of times.
And now, months later, the chant still comes to mind in times of adversity, times of peace, and when I actively engage my hope for the future.
“To The Hills” demonstrates the potential of music. Not only does it point toward hope, peace, and union. I believe that it is, in its own profound way, hope, peace, and union. Not only does music remind us to “lift up our eyes to the hills,” music is, at least in my own experience, a hill to which we can lift our eyes.
Throughout time, music has lifted up our eyes to something greater than ourselves.
One example is Quartet for the End of Time, which was composed in a German prison-of-war camp after French composer Olivier Messiaen was captured. The work was written on some paper and a small pencil lent by a sympathetic guard. The unusual instrumentation of the quartet– violin, cello, clarinet and piano — was written specifically for the handful of professional musicians who were Messiaen’s fellow prisoners. They premiered the work to 400 fellow prisoners and guards, and of the performance Messiaen said, “Never was I listened to with such rapt attention and comprehension.” In the midst of the deadliest conflict in human history, musicians came together to make music. Their work was in part testimonial to their experience and in part a plea to return, or to acknowledge, the beauty that can exist in our world.
Another example is one I spent most of the Fall 2016 semester analyzing. I studied the rhetorical tools John Coltrane used in his masterpiece, “A Love Supreme,” to promote peace in an era of gross injustice. He employed radical inclusion and rooted his work in the feminist principles of equality, immanent value, self-determination. Coltrane, an expert in using his Saxophone to communicate meaning, invited his audience to take a journey through four movements of his work. On his saxophone Coltrane articulates the words of his own poem of the same name as the album.
I will do all I can to be worthy of Thee, O Lord. It all has to do with it.
Thank You God.
Peace. There is none other. God is. It is so beautiful. Thank You God. God is all.
Help us to resolve our fears and weaknesses.
In you all things are possible.Thank you God. We know.
God made us so.
Keep your eye on God.
God is. He always was. He always will be.
No matter what… it is God.He is gracious and merciful.
It is most important that I know
Thee. Words, sounds, speech, men, memory, throughts,
fears and emotions–time–all related…all made from one… all made in one.
Blessed be his name.
Thought waves–heat waves–all vibrations–all paths lead to God. Thank you God. His way… it is so lovely… it is gracious.
It is merciful–Thank you God.
One thought can produce millions of vibrations and they all go back to God… everything does.
Thank you God.
Have no fear… believe… Thank you God.
The universe has many wonders. God is all.
His way… it is so wonderful.
all go back to God and He cleanses all. He is gracious and merciful…
Thank you God.
Glory to God… God is so alive.
God loves. ..
//John Coltrane, A LOVE SUPREME
Through music he invites listeners, no matter their race, to step into his understanding of the world. Coltrane went on to forge an entire new genre of jazz study, free jazz, but more importantly he inspired generations of black freedom leaders.
I often find myself teaching violin because I love the joy mastery brings. I know that every student who engages in a process of mastery will master something. And I know that skills in mastering are transferrable to an infinite array of other skills.
But I focus that practice of mastery on music because I believe music is a force for good. Music brings us together, it lifts our eyes, it makes peace.
Lest you get caught up in the particulars of scheduling or how to strengthen fourth fingers, remember why you are teaching what you are teaching. Mastery is powerful. But music is more– music is peace. And it is my life’s work.