I have a complicated relationship with Buddhism and Taoism.I find some of their teachings to be the most important things I have ever come across, but I find their practice to be tedious.I am unable to meditate for any length of time without falling asleep.I understand that in Buddhist monasteries, one monk is assigned the job of patrolling the meditating monks with a stick.If somebody falls asleep, he or she gets whacked!This has kept me away from any Buddhist retreat!If I attended, my spiritual awakening would be abrupt indeed, and colored black and blue!
I enjoy just sitting alone and watching, however, especially outside in nature.I’ve always enjoyed being by myself, and I especially enjoy working on my music.I’ve never found music or practicing to be boring.Tedious, maybe; but boring, no.Though I don’t meditate, I find my musical experience has taught me a number of the same concepts explicit in Buddhist practice.I especially have found improvisation to be instructive because it is absolutely imperative that the improviser focus intently on the present moment without judgment, and without expectation or looking ahead.
I have found solace in the work of other artists who have been influenced by Buddhism but were too committed to their art to pursue an ascetic life.The Japanese poet, Basho, continues to be an inspiration.His poetry and especially his travel journals are a source of wonder and joy.I also have been influenced by the writing of Jack Kerouac, and have read his Dharma Bums several times.I enjoy the work of Gary Snyder, and find his environmental poetry especially moving, instructive, and personally challenging.
When the Covid pandemic broke in earnest, in early 2020, my wife Leslie and I spent most of our time in our home south of Ash Fork, AZ for the first time.We were both retired, and the house is on 22 acres so we figured it was a good place to “isolate”.In fact, as our neighbors say, isolating is the point!When we settled in, it was probably the closest thing to an ascetic lifestyle I had ever experienced.I was putting together this album at the time and found myself imagining what it would be like leading a monastic life.Any meditating I tried ended up in la-la land, but I enjoyed the solitude, the quiet, and being close to nature.
The Morning Bell calls me to spiritual practice.The next two movements center around two of the common hindrances to contemplation.The Drone of Inner Distraction are flitting thoughts which bound around and through our mind and distract our concentration.We are taught to allow them to pass, unhindered.The Drone of Sensation refers to the constant bombardment of sensual data – sights, sounds, itching, discomfort, cramping and aching legs, sweating, etc.All of which we are taught to examine and allow to fade.Easier said than done.The Afternoon Bell signals lunchtime!
Quiet contemplation allows for the attention to be given to things not normally given much focus.Solar Drone refers to how the sun’s path across the sky gives a different sensation to each part of the day.The Water Drone refers to the contemplation of water’s path on its way to and from the ocean, and also how it provides nourishment to all that it touches along the way.Here in Arizona, where streams are a “sometime thing,” the typical water cycle involves the trickling of water through an evaporative cooler, returning the water to the air and sending it through the house.The Evening Bell announces the end of the day.Time to wake up.
A Sage Device
I was fourteen years old when I first played Gustaf Holst’s The Planets as a double bassist in the Seattle Youth Symphony.We were all excited to play a real masterpiece, and ended up playing pretty well.I didn’t know anything about Gustaf Holst, and Star Wars was over a decade in the future so it didn’t even sound familiar, but I loved the music and found it exhilarating.Little did I know that I would play it probably another 100+ times in my career!
There are a number of distinctive movements in the work, Mars and Jupiter being the most famous.Holst knew nothing about the planets themselves, they were just dots in the sky to him in 1915, but they were significant in Astrology which was his frame of reference for each planet’s character. (There seems to also be references to the Roman gods the planets were named after.)One of my favorites, partly because of the two exposed solos for the double bass section, is the movement about Saturn.He subtitles the movement, “The Bringer of Old Age.”It is a movement of mystery and beauty, and builds to major climax.
But Old Age is no longer a mystery to me.I’ve thought back upon that movement many times with amusement.I think about Richard Strauss composing Death and Transfiguration in his early 20’s and then quoting it rather ironically in his Four Last Songs which he wrote right before he died.Confronting one’s mortality certainly becomes a different subject from this viewpoint.I suppose you could find mystery in why we age at all, but the consequences of not aging would be dreadfully tragic.We age because of where we are going, and it makes perfect sense to me.
I have had a lot of fun with the titles of the tracks of this album, and there is a lot of really nice music here as well.Because of the cover, I’m tempted to say that the real bringer of old age is Photoshop, but in fact, time does an equally convincing job.
The Turning Point refers to that moment when you realize you are no longer young, or even young at heart.Passé.I decided once that aging isn’t so much a matter of not being able to function as it is a matter of slowly becoming obsolete.In Hindsight. Hindsight gives an older person perspective, lots of perspective.Golden Sunset.It would be nice, wouldn’t it.
Silver Lining.There are a surprising number of perks available for Seniors.I bought a $10 pass which gets me into any National Park for free for life!Since I live near the Grand Canyon, I’ve used it a few times.But I don’t think they are going to be losing a lot of money on the deal as time goes by!Tristan Is Older.I have a couple senior friends that have found romance in their later years.One even met his new wife online!Great passion often does not live to a ripe old age, and Tristan is a good example.The opera has actually developed a reputation of sorts as singers and even conductors have died during its performance! My Tristan is a bit more subdued, but a number of quotes show that the passion is still there.Wrinkles, In Time.My apologies to Madeleine L’Engle.
Fade To Blank.While performing with the Phoenix Symphony, I participated in a project involving Alzheimer’s patients.Alzheimer’s apparently attacks primarily the left side of the brain.Music, which affects the right side of the brain, can have remarkable effects on patients who otherwise seem quite advanced.It was very moving to see a patient all of a sudden light up at something we played.Music can trigger memories that are otherwise buried.One patient got up and asked another patient to dance, and I have never seen such a look of delight as that on the woman he asked!
A piano album concerning the uncertainty of our Future