It rained last night, and it was beautiful.
I’ve done these composer retreats a couple times now, and I’ll admit I’ve been lucky. To be honest, the term Hermitage is a bit of a misnomer here. I suppose it is more like a blissful free-fall into being an artist, mostly due to the locations in which I have been granted time to compose. This particular time I find myself at the home of Lorin and Susy Wingate on Bainbridge Island, across the Sound from Seattle. They are traveling in quite a beautiful place themselves at the moment: Paris! And I wish them as much Joy as they can possible handle.
To be at a place like this, surrounded by beauty, by peace and quiet, by trees, by birds and clean rain is a great Gift. In some ways I think it opens doors to artistry and allows beauty to be engaged with, rather than simply observed or considered. Wendell Berry talked about this in his 2004 essay Imagination in Place:
…I dont believe I am conscious of all the sources of my work. I dislike learned talk about “the unconscious,” which always seems to imply that the very intelligent are able somehow to know what they do not know, but I mean only to acknowledge that much of what I have written has taken me by surprise. What I know does not yield a full or adequate accounting for what I have imagined. It seems to have been “given.” My experience has taught me to believe in inspiration, about which I think nobody can speak with much authority.
Places like this “give.” Give what? Inspiration I suppose, not necessarily because of what they have, but what they don’t have. For me, that’s generally noise. The noise of busy-ness, the noise of cars, of complexity, of confusion. One can sit. Sit and try desperately to listen. I think in many ways I spend as much time “listening” to my surroundings as I do composing. I hear birds and squirrels and crickets and raindrops and one of my favorite things: fluttering leaves.
I do have a great deal to work on as well and I have been looking forward to it. Several choral pieces are already in the works and I am excited about each of them. I continue to grow and expand my language, taking risks where need be, constantly coming back to the question, “Is this meaningful?”
I think I’m finding an easier answer to that question when I do this kind of escape-composing. This escape to Solitude Keats talked of here:
O Solitude! if I must with thee dwell,
Let it not be among the jumbled heap
Of murky buildings; climg with me the steep, —
Nature’s observatory — whence the dell,
Its flowery slopes, its river’s crystal swell,
May seem a span; let my thy vigils keep
‘Mongst boughs pavillion’d, where the deer’s swift leap
Startles the wild bee from the fox-glove bell.
But though I’ll gladly trace these scenes with thee,
Yet the sweet converse of an innocent mind,
Whose words are images of thoughts refin’d,
Is my soul’s pleasure; and it sure must be
Almost the highest bliss of human-kind,
When to thy haunts two kindred spirits flee.
Along with composing, there will be reading and thinking of course. Here are few of selections I brought.
I hope I read.
I hope I listen.
I hope I compose.
I hope I am “given” what I could never speak with any authority about.