It was the mystic Sufi poet Rumi who wrote “A lifetime without love is of no account.” Nietzsche is quoted as saying “Without music, life would be a mistake.” The word “love” can have a lot of meanings. As a child on the playground, you were teased if you said you “loved” your carrot sticks: “Do you want to marry them?!” Maybe you just meant that you were really, deeply enjoying your carrot sticks. I’m particularly fond of this sense of the word love, for a life without deep enjoyment would certainly be a mistake. Whatever our particular relationship status, we’re all free to enjoy things deeply – it could be a particularly wonderful person we’re acquainted with, or it could be carrot sticks, or anything else we choose. This is the sense of the word “love” that I set out to celebrate when I began composing my piece “On The Stream of Eternity” for the upcoming February 13th Spectrum concert, “Love, Loneliness, and the Spaces Between.”
I chose to base my piece on a series of haikus written by Ryokan and Teishin. Ryokan (1758–1831) was a poet, calligraphist, and Zen monk who lived much of his life as a hermit on the side of a mountain in Japan. His full Zen name was Ryokan Taigu, which could be translated as “broad-hearted generous fool”; he was known for enjoying life with a childlike innocence, unfiltered by concepts or ego – he was someone I could imagine saying that he “loved” his carrot sticks, and really meaning it! In 1826, at the age of 69, he met a beautiful nun named Teishin. The two formed an intense bond, often writing short poems back and forth to one another.
I tried to convey the sparse aesthetic of these haikus by composing four miniature compositions, each portraying a short poem by Teishin, and a reply poem by Ryokan.
Musically, one exciting aspect of this concert is that it features the koto, a traditional Japanese instrument somewhat similar to the harp. Here’s a video of it being performed in a traditional manner, but our particular kotoist, Jessica Stewart, has her own take on it. One interesting compositional challenge of writing for the koto is that it can’t play all the notes of our western chromatic scale; I had to pick my 13 favourite notes over about two octaves. To keep this straight while I worked, I put little pieces of tape on my keyboard, and wrote the koto string number on them. It was actually a lot of fun to see how many different chords, melodies, and colours I could create with only 13 notes. I think the sound of the koto combined with the violin, tenor saxophone, double bass, and drums is going to be really lovely, and of course the koto’s Japanese flavour very is appropriate for my subject matter.
I’m really excited for the concert, not only to hear the music I wrote, but to hear all the other great music my friends have written for the concert as well (watch this space for upcoming posts discussing each piece). Click here to purchase your tickets online. Please join us for this, the first concert of Spectrum’s second season. If you do, I hope you’ll really love what you hear.