A while back I performed in the Midlands of Kwazulu Natal, in an unassuming little restaurant close to the N3 highway. A handful of people sat attentively to listen. I mentioned to Joke that when a performance event is small and unassuming, it offers a certain freedom. There is no occasion to live up to.
And so it happened, that while I was playing, I became particularly aware of the sounds creeping through the open windows, sounds from the surrounding hills and trees. And I asked myself: is there any greater worth to what is happening on this night? Should this music not rather be where the crowds and the influence are? Yes, it could be, but this night, could it be of any wider significance?
And then, somehow, thoughts and insights that came from reading “The Spell of the Sensuous” (David Abraham, 1997) came flowing through my mind, and I was re-mind-ed of the fact that in pre-literate societies, language (or music) was never divorced from the animate, concrete environment. Each word had a physical counterpart, each story a real place, each lesson an actual story. Not only did the environment speak and was listened to, but human language spoke to the environment. Each word had impact and could not be lightly uttered.
“Only as the written text began to speak would the voices of the forest, and of the river, begin to fade. And only then would language loosen its ancient association with the invisible breath, the spirit sever itself from the wind, the psyche dissociate itself from the environing air” (p.254).
At the root of our environmental crisis, therefore, also lies alphabetical literacy: the power of the word to abstract itself from the physical realm, to create a field of meaning drifting away from the earth, allowing our consciousness to lose true feeling for the natural surroundings that sustains us.
Not that we are necessarily lost if we can read and think in abstractions. In many ways we can still reconnect, and many of us are finding and devloping such ways today. And for my part, I realized that while playing the cello, I can speak to the environment. My sounds can drift from that restaurant, not only to the ears of the little audience, but also to the trees and fields outside.
Suddenly each sound aquired a deeper meaning, a heavier moment: expressing myself consciously towards the physical earth, affects the environment. how? I don’t know. I only know, that trusting that the earth is also listening, actually changed my music that evening. It became communicative in a way it was not before. It became spiritual, transcending the confines of performer-audience, not in a way of going up like smoke from an altar, but in a way of connecting. Connecting to what can be touched and felt.
We all know we better do more to restore balance in and within the environment. But often we feel helpless. In those moments, I was empowered. I was affecting something wider. Simply by becoming aware of the living presence of the animate earth
God (the heavens, that which is beyond and far above us) is watching, yes. But also: the earth is feeling us. Moment by moment, word by word. Sound by sound. By opening up to that, we can affect more, and what we do, can reach a new dimension.