With the exception of Music, I grew up without much interest in spirituality.The famous quote by Charlie Parker, “I am a devout musician,” applied to me.Christianity left me cold growing up, but I did study a little Buddhism in my forties to try to understand my teacher at the time, Chinary Ung.He had grown up a Buddhist in Cambodia and was a marvelous composer, but some of the things he would say were a real mystery to me.
So I read about Buddhism, and later Taoism, and found them intriguing.I found their creative mysticism to be useful in understanding improvisation and I tended to relate to their teachings in that way.Improvisation is not like meditation, but the idea of spontaneity plays an important role in the Buddhist and especially Taoist approach to life.
Over the years, I have run across a number of spiritual lessons that seem to be both wise and useful.I was never truly tempted enough by their teachings to follow their spiritual path.I had my path.I had my spirituality.But just as my music is susceptible to the influence of others, so is my spiritual understanding.
The Wisp of Incense refers to the touch of Mysticism that flavors many contemporary spiritual paths.The problem with Mysticism is that it is based on experience and therefore difficult, if not impossible to discuss.This hides the truth from any seeker, unless, of course, they already know.
Shostokovitch is quoted in his memoir, Testimony, as saying that any time you deal with the subject of death, you benefit from it.There are Buddhist monks whose primary purpose is to remind you that you are going to die.Death is a great teacher.The Goodbye Song is a thank you to life.I used this track in a work for string orchestra and harp titled Serenade In Isolation (2020) where it is meant to remind us of all those who died isolated during the pandemic without a chance to say goodbye.
Tonsu is the name of those Oriental furniture pieces that gradually step up to the ceiling.They were designed for apartments which did not have stairs (i.e., ladders) to a room above while conserving space as sets of drawers.I use them to refer to those spiritual paths which are attained gradually in levels.Unfortunately, they take a lifetime to complete. My music also mimics the motion of steps.Bamboo Rain is another exotic reference.I am thinking of rain on bamboo not a rain of bamboo.It is the sound of a bamboo curtain or bamboo wind chimes.It is exotic but not substantial.
One of my favorite poets is Matsuo Basho, the seventeenth century Japanese master of the haiku.He was also master of a short prose form called haibun.He was an incessant wanderer and made treks on foot all over Japan.His journals of those travels are still some of the most treasured books in Japan.Today, his journeys have become paths of pilgrimage.He was a trained Buddhist, but liked people and poetry too much to become an ascetic.Hymn of the Wanderer refers to him and his wandering.I find this all fascinating but I have never been drawn to wandering myself, though I know a few people who have.
Taming the Beast is a phrase that sometimes occurs in Buddhist practice in reference to what they call the “monkey-mind.”It refers to some “anti-attentive” characteristics such as restlessness, capriciousness, or anxiety.I always thought of this as an attempt at the subjugation of boredom.Being a performer, I suppose I thought of this as cheating.
Thanks, But No Thanks is pretty self explanatory.All of these things are interesting, but I just don’t buy it.I like being an artist.I like standing outside the culture and providing comment.I like creating wonderful experiences alongside my colleagues for those who care to listen.I guess I am still a devout musician!