Somewhere in Alice in Wonderland, someone talks about running twice as fast to just stay in the same place. That well describes this moment in my always busy life trying to keep all the things I’m juggling (to mix metaphors here) up in the air and not come crashing down. The end result is it is hard to be wholly present with the future, present and past all shouting for my attention.
But I did have an hour or so where I was drawn fully into someone else’s extraordinary presence when I attended a concert by one of the six Nordic women come to San Francisco to present at our once-every-two-years Orff retreat down here in the Carmel Valley. I know each of these strong, beautiful and vibrant women from Iceland, Finland and Norway, and it was the concert by Ruth Meyer that briefly chased away my to-do list and brought me into a world rarely visited but always known.
Ruth has devoted her life to studying the sonic capabilities of the human voice and blended various traditions world-wide into her own personal statement. Armed with her compelling bodily presence and an encyclopedia of ways to produce sounds with that most profound and expressive of all human instruments, the voice, she brought the room to a listening hush and took us on a remarkable trip. Most impressive was her artistic way to use technique and virtuosity to serve the musical needs of the moment, never to show them off simply to dazzle and amaze, though dazzling and amazing they all were. You could palpably feel many presences singing through her, from her own Norwegian ancestry to that of other cultures to the natural world, all of this made yet more intriguing by a serendipitous counterpoint of sounds—horns, sirens, homeless people shouting—outside the window on Market Street.
In talking with her after the concert and praising her, I told her about Joseph Campbell’s quote “transparent to transcendence.” So many singers, musicians, political figures channel or generate an electric energy that astounds the audience and that is fine as far as it goes. We all need to be woken out of our slumber and feel just a little bit more alive. But then comes the razor edge’s moment when all that energy stops at the performer, makes us admire and worship him or her, makes him or her crave the admiration and there we create the diva, the super-star, who will suffer from the excess of people’s own creative energy turned over to their human-size shoulders. Elvis just one of a thousand examples.
But to be transparent to transcendence is to have that energy pass through the performer and gather up the audience to be part of it all. To take all one’s talent and hard-work and mysterious charisma and bring it into service of the music, the gathering of people, the culture as a whole. That’s a rare gift and one that Ruth blessed us with.
Now back to my list.