Sunday, October 23, 2011

Imaging the Sacred Art of Chant

I was asked a few months ago if I would be willing to curate an online art exhibit called Imaging the Sacred Art of Chant. I have never done any such thing, nor had I ever given it a moment's thought before being asked. First thought: 'Hell no". Then I remembered all the beautiful art people have shared with me over the years; art created while listening to chant. I thought of Rachel, Mel, Robin, and Christina, and conversations I've had with each of them, and said I would do it, even though I had no idea how it worked. I decided the least I could do was ask "How Can I Help?", but before I could ask, I was told precisely what was needed, and was promised that someone would walk along with me throughout the process. Another lesson learned: One never knows what one might learn by staying open, but try to remember to do it anyway.

The first order of business was to write a call for submissions. I share it here, because art, chant, and these quotes have enriched my life, and they might enrich yours, too. To offer a submission, go to Episcopal Church and Visual Arts. The deadline for submissions has been extended until November 8, 2011. Please share it with your artist friends:

"Only that day dawns to which we are awake." - Henry David Thoreau

"Space has a spiritual equivalent and heals what is divided and
burdensome in us." - Gretel Erhlich

"At the beginning of God's creating of the heavens and the earth,
when the dark was wild and waste, darkness over the face of the ocean,
rushing-spirit of God hovering over the face of the waters -
God said: Let there be light!; and there was light.
God saw the light: that it was good. God separated the light from the darkness.
God called the light: Day! And the darkness he called: Night!
There was setting, there was dawning: one day."

- Genesis 1:1-5 (from The Five Books of Moses, by Everett Fox)

God speaks the light into being. Day! Night! As a musician, I put great stock in the tools of the trade; listening, practicing, singing and playing alone, or with others. Many of my artist friends have told me that they listen to music, specifically chant, while they work. I can't imagine such a thing, because although God might be able to create the earth while the wind is sweeping over the face of the waters, I need quiet in order to hear a new chant into being. However, I see the possibilities, in the chants I sing repeatedly year after year, when I look through the lens of my camera and glimpse what I think the composition wants to be, where the parts might come together to create consonance, or dissonance, or when I really see the colors of a particular vista at a certain time of day.

In his book "Music and Imagination," Aaron Copland says, "This never ending flow of music forces us to use our imaginations, for music is in a continual state of becoming." So are we in a continual state of becoming, and I use chanting to help me to become the most loving and compassionate person I am capable of becoming.

The pianist Glenn Gould put it a little differently: "The purpose of art is not the release of a momentary ejection of adrenaline, but is, rather, the lifelong construction of a state of wonder and serenity." When I look at the masters of Chinese brush painting and see the skill with which one line can be rendered, in addition to the brevity (which I admire), I see healing, spirit, wonder, and serenity — I think of it as a melody, like the ones I'm sure have been with us since the first setting and dawning.

Chanting is to me what I imagine a well-executed brush stroke must be for a painter: a line we return to our entire life, always the same yet never the same, by turns supple, solid, rendered in haste or patience, best when we pay enough attention to honor the energy of the material, alive when we don't over think it. It's as if we find our voice and become who we are meant to be line-by-line, tune-by-tune. This process of becoming and knowing ourselves may take us over familiar ground, but we are never the same person we were when first we began.

I invite you to select a chant, in whole or in part, and with line or camera or collage, bring us a construction of "wonder and serenity" or passion or peace. To begin this construction, I offer a chant called "Om Namah Shivaya" (I honor the divine within). To hear this chant, click on the "Imaging the Sacred Art of Chant" title above.

Ana Hernandez, Musician
Curator, Imaging the Sacred Art of Chant

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