Sunday, June 17, 2007

Uncrowded Air - More Church of John Cage

I returned to the Fifteenth Street Quakers this morning for their 9:30 A.M. meeting. This early service was reputed to have no speaking - at all. An hour of gathered silence shared by, well, Friends. Whatever taste I got last week, I knew more silence would suit me fine.

I played an elaborate wedding yesterday (The Orchestra of St. Luke's had been hired to provide the music, which should give you an idea of the scale involved.) and the tumult of the Catholic liturgy only increased my anticipation for this morning's meeting. Once again, the green-shadowed sunlight streaming through the windows against the unadorned white walls and pews made this room seem like a precious place in the midst of Manhattan's rough and tumble. Those who meditate know that particular process of taming the day-to-day, cluttered mind into the meditative, quieted mind. There was such chatter inside my head, it was like a live reading of Finnegan's Wake. (Yesterday was Bloomsday . . . ) About half way through the hour, though, I managed to at least near some inner stillness.

When I opened my eyes, I was surprised to notice in the corner of the room, sticking up from behind a white-painted wooden screen, the scroll of a string bass. It struck me - music - there was none. In fact, I could imagine no music, sound, or voice that possibly could enhance the experience. The gathered silence that we organized and shared resounded complete and full of personal meaning.

I don't know why there is a string bass in a corner of the Quaker Meeting House on East 15th Street, but I rather hope no one ever plays it, or if they do, that it's a transcription of 4'33". How would you notate that for bass?

6 comments:

Perry,Becca & Simon said...

As a musician I can agree. Sometimes I love to just sit and enjoy the silence. Great reference to one of my favorite John Cage pieces.

scrawford said...

jim, was it really silent? do let us know.

Sarah said...

Funny you should mention that...

There is actually a conflict relating to the use of the Meeting Room by the attached school for the music and theater program. Your points lend another dimension to my thoughts on this matter.

Urban Modern said...

Susan: It was completely silent, not a word uttered, and nary a cough or rustle. We were left with our minds (mine was a bit loud, I hope it didn't distract others) and bird song. Any messages received were experienced privately. This is liturgy I support enthusiastically, without reservation. I can hardly wait for the next meeting.

Urban Modern said...

Sarah --- If I've stepped into internecine Quaker conflict, it's quite unintentional.

Does your new presence on blogger mean we'll be seeing your own blog soon? I hope so! You'd be a natural.

Sarah said...

No, no. You haven't stepped into anything. You are relating your thoughts.

And, no, I'm afraid I won't be joining blogger -- at least not now. But, I enjoy reading your posts.