These two new works for choir were recorded with Harold Rosenbaum and the New York Virtuoso singers at the American Academy of Arts and Letters in New York City. Both contemplate a path to transcendence or ‘true being’ through Union with the cosmos; The Unexcelled Mantra doing so from a Mahayana Buddhist point of view, and Unity from the Philosophical Tradition of Plato.
Unity is a choral piece based on some of the musical and philosophical concepts of Plato's Republic. When reading the Republic, I was struck by the fascinating co-existence of profound and absurd ideas threaded throughout Plato’s work.
The chosen text was taken from an area in the Republic when Plato discusses the power of mathematics, but from my vantage point I immediately also saw it as a metaphor for the phenomenon of meditation as described in Vedic and Buddhist traditions. This multi-dimensional observation was a key inspiration for me when writing the work, both considering the mathematical qualities of music and the esoteric concepts of achieving union with the All.
Like many other earlier composers, I was interested in Plato’s ideas about the sanctity of the musical modes. This led me to experiment with the power Plato claimed existed in the Dorian and Phrygian modes.
According to Plato:
The Dorian, would "fittingly imitate the utterances and accents of a brave man who is engaged in warfare," while the Phrygian was suitable "for a man engaged in works of peace."
Exploring these musical concepts and incorporating influences through the Western choral canon as far back as Perotin, through Bruckner and up to some of my own preferred sounds of today, I hope this work touches the mind and heart of all those who listen.
The Unexcelled Mantra is a setting of text from the ‘Heart Sutra’, a sacred and very important text in Mahayana Buddhism on practicing the view of Shunyata, or Emptiness in order to obtain Nirvana, an experiential liberation. The mantra reads:
“Gate, Gate, Paragate, Parasamgate, Bohdi Svaha!”
A description from the Dalai Lama:
“The Mantra of the perfection of wisdom (The Unexcelled Mantra) is proclaimed:
"tadyath gaté gaté paragaté parasamgaté bodhi svaha! Shariputra, the bodhisatvas, the great beings, should train in the perfection of widsom in this way.”
In Sanskrit, tadyatha literally means “It is thus” and prepares the way for what follows; gaté gaté means “go, go; paragaté means “go beyond”; parasamgaté means “go totally beyond”; and bodhi svaha can be read as “be rooted in the ground of enlightenment”. Thus, the entire mantra itself can be translated as “Go, go, go beyond, go totally beyond, be rooted in the ground of enlightenment.” We can interpret this mantra metaphorically to read “Go to the other shore,” which is to say, abandon this shore of samsara, unenlightened existence, which has been our home since beginning-less time, and cross to the other shore of final nirvana and complete liberation.
released October 15, 2013
PRODUCED BY CHRISTOPHER BONO & SILAS BROWN
RECORDED BY SILAS BROWN AT THE AMERICAN ACADEMY OF ARTS & LETTERS IN NEW YORK CITY