Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Thought for 2015

'Now, obviously, the things that it is necessary to do are not the things that have been done, but the ones that have not yet been done' ~ John Cage
A very happy and rewarding New Year to all my readers.

Photo was taken by me at the 2008 John Cage Happening in Bruges. Any other copyrighted material on these pages is included as "fair use" for critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Also on Facebook and Twitter.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

What I learned in 2014

I am less interested in Truth with a capital T and more interested in truths, plural.
That quote actually comes from Kevin Kelly (b. 1952), who was founding executive editor of Wired magazine, and an editor/publisher of the Whole Earth Review. It is taken from his contribution to How is the Internet Changing the Way You Think? I took the photo of Ladakhi women at the Thiksey Tibetan Buddhist Monastery in Ladakh during my trip to the Dalai Lama's Kalachakra teachings this summer; one of many highlights of a year during which I uncovered plural truths. Photo is (c) On An Overgrown Path 2014. Any other copyrighted material is included as "fair use" for the purpose of critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Also on Facebook and Twitter.

Monday, December 29, 2014

ECM has a lot to answer for


In the Telegraph Ivan Hewett nominates the collaboration between Tunisian oud virtuoso Dhafer Youssef and the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Kristjan Jarvi as one of his five worst classical moments of 2014. I wasn't at the Barbican concert which Iven Hewett describes as a "toe-curling example of vapid 'cross-over'”. But it is a judgement which chimes with me, because I would have to nominate Dhafer Youssef's Birds Requiem as among my least satisfying CD purchases of 2014. Birds Requiem is released on the Sony owned Okeh label, which has been rejuvenated in an attempt to grab market share from ECM. Ignore the subtle Okeh logo, and Birds Requiem would pass as an ECM release. The monochrome artwork is pure ECM. As is the music - ethnically correct easy listening which never leaves the formulaic groove that fellow Tunisian oud virtuoso Anouar Brahem's recent work for ECM is also stuck in. Don't get me wrong, I respect and admire ECM. But many of their recent releases indicate that Manfred Eicher's innovative label is now flying on autopilot. Which means that ECM's Moderato Cantabile from Anja Lechner and François Courturier - music which offends nobody and goes nowhere - is also among my five least satisfying CD purchases of 2014.

Gustavo Dudamel's BBC Proms Mahler Seventh is another of Ivan Hewett's five worst classical moments. Writing of this performance he says: "It takes a really searching, insightful conductor to make sense of Mahler’s Seventh Symphony. Dudamel here is just out of his depth". Yes, Mahler Seventh is great when in the right hands, and, by the same token, so is musical fusion. I was travelling in Egypt at the time of the recent terrible massacre of schoolchildren in Pakistan, and, by coincidence, was reading Rock & Roll Revolution: A Muslim Rock Star's Revolution by the Pakistani rock star, advocate of inter-faith dialogue and pioneer of 'Sufi rock' Salman Ahmad. With a CV that includes performances at the UN in New York and at the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize Concert to celebrate laureate Al Gore, Salman Ahmad has been compared to Bono. It is a comparison which cuts both ways, because Ahmad likes to mix with the establishment great and good, and the big break for his band Junoon came through Coca-Cola sponsorship. But Salman Ahmad's views on how fusion can work in the right hands are worth reading:

Nusrat [Fateh Ali Khan] broke the traditional mould of the qawwali singer when he collaborated with Peter Gabriel, Michael Brook, and Eddie Veder of Pearl Jam. Nusrat's feelings about fusion music actually sprang from a deep spiritual conviction. Nusrat was a living exemplar of unity in diversity. Long before 9/11 and the subsequent war on terror and talk of a clash between Islam and the West, Nusrat sang ecstatically about the Oneness of God and love for humanity. Years later, when I met Peter Gabriel he told me that it was Pete Townsend of The Who who had turned him on to the King of Qawwali. Talking to Nusrat about his brilliant album with Michael Brook, Night Song, the Sufi singer told me that he loved fusion because the Quran says that God loves diversity. The most powerful way to celebrate and express diversity, Nusrat felt, was through music.
No review samples used in this post. Any copyrighted material is included as "fair use" for the purpose of critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Also on Facebook and Twitter.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

We are by nature analogue beings


Commenting on a 2012 post Norman Perryman reminded us that "We are by nature analogue beings, consisting of fluid organic substances". While this year, in another comment, Halldor opined that "This digital fixation is damaging live classical music". Just as my digital photo of Ladakhi children taken on the overland trip from New Delhi to Leh is a representation of, but not replacement for the analogue subject, so digital formats provide a representation of, but not replacement for live performances of classical music. As Norman Perryman explained in his comment, the current digital fixation is breeding listeners who are being denied any emotional involvement in real time and space. As a result, this new digital audience is missing out on the vital experience of witnessing a creative act in real time.

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Wednesday, December 24, 2014

In search of 'le point vierge'


That icon of the Virgin Mary and baby Jesus was photographed by me last week at the Coptic monastery of Dayr Mar Girgis in Upper Egypt. The Trappist monk, mystic and author Thomas Merton wrote of le point vierge - the virgin point - and described how there is "at the center of our being a a point of nothingness which is untouched by sin and by illusion, a point of pure truth, a point or spark which belongs entirely to God... which is inaccessible to the fantasies of our own mind or the brutalities of our own will". Le point vierge is found in different forms in the great wisdom traditions, particularly in Sufism, and it is from this tradition that Thomas Merton developed his vision of a point of pure truth. This vision is also found in popular culture: for instance in John Lennon's Imagine, which - in an unashamed hymn to le point vierge - implores us to "imagine there is no heaven.. no religion... no countries.. no possessions". This search for a point of nothingness can be extended beyond faith traditions to cultural traditions, and in an unstructured way I have in recent years found myself exploring diverse overgrown paths in search of the point where dogma and conditioning disappear and pure truth can be glimpsed. At this central point classical, sacred, world and all music fuse into a single Nada Brahma, and the great wisdom traditions - Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism and Judaism - coexist without conflict. My search for le point vierge took me in the summer to the Tibetan Buddhist monasteries of remote Ladakh, and a few weeks ago, once again accompanied by my infinitely supportive wife, to the Coptic monasteries of Upper Egypt, where all the photos in this post were taken.


The Holy Family spent three-and-a-half years in Egypt after they fled from Herod's mass infanticide. Matthew is the only canonical gospel to mention the Holy Family's flight into Egypt, and much of the acholarship on their journey is based on apocryphal texts.


In 2000 the Coptic Church defined the route that Mary, Joseph and Jesus took during their time in Egypt. The Copts, who are the indigenous Christians of Egypt, believe that they are the direct descendants of the first pharaoh King Narmer, who ruled around the 31st century BCE. The Coptic lineage is remarkably resilient and St Mark, who founded the Coptic church in 42 CE, was the first of an unbroken succession of one hundred and seventeen Coptic popes and patriarchs. Elements of Coptic culture predate Christianity, and the Coptic language, which today survives only in the liturgy of the Coptic Church, evolved out of Ancient Egyptian, and once used the pictorial writing system of hieroglyphics. Coptic theologians have also pointed to parallels between the monotheism of the pharaohs - le point vierge of all the great wisdom traditions - and Christianity, and the Coptic Cross - seen below - is derived from the hieroglyph ankh symbol.


The inherent conservatism of the Coptic Church means that its music tradition has remained virtually unchanged over the centuries and it is generally accepted that the Coptic Church practices not only the oldest form of Christian music, but also the oldest form of any music in the world. It is also thought that Coptic music predates Christianity and has its origins in the Ancient Egyptian religious ceremonies, with the distinguished Egyptologist Étienne Drioton explaining that “the key to the secret of the music of the pharaohs can be found in a good, modern-day rendition of Coptic liturgical music.


There has been a long history of persecution of Coptic Christians, starting with a pogrom by the Roman emperor Diocletian in the third century. In 639 CE the Muslims conquered Egypt, but the transition from a majority Christian to majority Muslim country took another eight hundred years. There are no accurate statistics on the number of Copts in Egypt today, and the alleged manipulation of data by the theoretically secular but actually Muslim biased government has generated considerable controversy. However it is generally accepted that an estimate of eight million Christians (10% of the population) is reasonably accurate. Persecution of Copts became widespread during the reign of the Fatimid caliph Al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah in the eleventh century and has continued to this day. In July 2013 Salafist mobs killed four Coptic Christians in the area we visited recently.


Monasticism is the most important contribution of the Copts to history. Cenobitic (communal) monasticism originated in Egypt, and Saint Anthony of Egypt (251-356 CE) is known as "the father of the monks". An early monastic rule was developed by Saint Pachom in the third century; this was subsequently translated into Latin and taken by travellers to Europe where the rule was adapted to form the basis of the great Catholic monastic orders including the Benedictine. Today there are twelve inhabited Coptic monasteries in Egypt at which more than six hundred monks lead a cenobitic life.


For our own flight to Egypt we chose to travel by Boeing 767 rather than donkey. During our stay we visited two Coptic monasteries in the Luxor region: Dayr al-Sahib (Monastery of the Cross) on the East Bank of the Nile and Dayr Mar Girgis (Monastery of St George) on the West Bank. Egypt's beleaguered tourist industry is totally focussed on its pharaonic heritage: if you want to visit the famous temples at Luxor and Karnak, or the tombs in the Valley of the Kings, that is not a problem at all. But if you want to sample the rich Coptic heritage, then you are really struggling and on your own. When it comes to the Coptic tradition, collective amnesia afflicts the Muslim population. For instance, the generously staffed Luxor tourist office, which had absolutely no clients other than us, was unable to offer any advice or information about visiting nearby Coptic monasteries. You will search in vain on the internet for any information about the two monasteries that we visited; which meant that, thankfully, we were entering a TripAdvisor-free zone. Tourists have deserted Egypt following the recent political upheavals, and the rare Western visitor to destinations such as Luxor is now seen as fair game for every possible scam and rip-off. So making local travel arrangements was, to say the least, interesting. In fact one opportunist driver - not the one in the photo below - abandoned us at one of the monasteries; fortunately we had not paid him.


When visiting the Coptic monasteries we had the inescapable feeling of stepping into a war zone. Because of the continuing attacks on Copts, their monasteries have become fortified communities with massive gates and protecting walls - see photos above and below. In fact the entrance to Dayr Mar Girgis was protected by an armed soldier when we arrived, and we were the only visitors at both monasteries.


Coptic churches are celebrated for their art and architecture, and examples can be seen in my photos. Below is the interior of the church at Dayr Mar Girgis.


But these are also functional places where believers worship in harsh physical (temperatures stay above 40 degrees celsius in the summer months) and political conditions. So sacred art mixes with defensive walls, air conditioners, and cooling fans. And some of the art is a little less sacred, as can be seen in the photo below advertising the monastic shop at Dayr al-Sahib.


The monastery of Dayr Mar Girgis is just one of four in Egypt that venerate Saint George (Girgis = George). Saint George was a Roman soldier and Christian martyr who never visited England and who has absolutely no connection with the country other than being adopted at its patron saint. In the photo below taken at Dayr Mar Girgis the representation of Saint George could have been taken staight from an English pub sign. Saint George is venerated in many other countries including Romania, Lithuania, Iraq and the Ukraine, and is respected by Muslims as a manifestation of the mystical figure al-Khidr in the Qaran. Which puts UKIP's campaign to make Saint George's Day a national holiday in England into an interesting perspective.


In 431 CE a dispute over the Monophysite doctrine (the belief that the human and divine natures of Christ were fused into a single nature) caused the Coptic Curch and other Oriental Orthodox Churches (Armenian, Syriac, Goan and Eritrean) to split from the established churches of Rome and Constantinople.


Despite this split there are clear visual links between the Coptic and Eastern Orthodox churches.


These can be seen from the accompanying photos taken at Dayr al-Sahib and Dayr Mar Girgis.


In her book Sufism, Mystics and Saints in Modern Egypt Valerie J. Hoffman describes how the liberal Sufi mysticism of Islam has much in common with Christian Coptic spirituality. Examples of this common ground include the mosque built by monks for local Bedouins in the precints of one of the oldest continuously occupied monastery in the world, the Coptic monastery of Saint Catherine's on Mount Sinai. Another example is that the first spiritual master of the celebrated early Sufi saint Ibrahim ibn Adham was a Christian monk called Simeon. The visual common ground between Islamic Sufism and Coptic Christianity can be seen in the following photos. Look at the geometric decoration around the figure of Christ on this gate at Dayr al-Sahib.


Then compare it with this decoration at the shrine of the thirteenth century Sufi saint Sufi Shaykh Yusuf Abu al-Hajjaj in nearby Luxor.


The representation of living beings is, of course, forbidden in Islam. When the figure is removed the commonality between Islam and the Coptic tradition becomes even more striking. The photo below shows a doorway in a recent addition to the monastery at Dayr Mar Girgis.


Compare it with this photo taken by me at the famous Koutoubia mosque in Marrakech, Morocco.


Central to the visual language of both Sufi and Coptic architecture is the dome. The photo below shows the exterior of the church at Dayr Mar Girgis.


Below is the eponymous Sufi shrine in the Moroccan town of Sidi Ifni.


This post describes a search for le point vierge. If such a virgin point exists it must be somewhere close to the heavens, and there is a striking resemblance between the minarets of Islam and the bell towers of the Coptic Church, both of which point towards the heavens. This mosque in Luxor was photographed from the luxuriant gardens of the Winter Palace Hotel.


While the photo below shows the entrance of the Coptic monastery of Dayr al-Sahib.


My continuing search for le point vierge - a point of common truth - uncovered some surprising common ground between the Coptic Christian and mystical Islamic traditions. Some of this commonality may be tentative. But at a time of escalating tension between extreme elements in both traditions, any path that takes us to the point that Thomas Merton described as "inaccessible to... the brutalities of our own will" demands exploration. Because as Hazrat Inayat Khan, who created an ecumenical Sufi order as his contribution to the search for le point vierge' told us: "“If people but knew their own religion, how tolerant they would become, and how free from any grudge against the religion of others”.


Sources include:
* The Churches of Egypt by Gawdat Gabra and Gertrud J.M. van Loon
* Coptic Monasteries: Egypt's Monastic Art and Architecture by Gawdat Gabra
* Sufism, Mystics and Saints in Modern Egypt by Valerie by J. Hoffman
* Paths to the Heart: Sufism and the Christian East edited by James S. Cutsinger
* Who are the Copts? by H.P. Rev. Fr. Shenouda Hanna

All photos (c) On An Overgrown Path 2014. Our trip to Egypt was entirely self-funded. My thanks go to the Coptic staff of the Gaddis Bookshop in Luxor for their assistance. Any copyrighted material is included as "fair use" for critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Also on Facebook and Twitter.

Monday, December 22, 2014

What really matters is whether music moves the listener



At this festive time it is worth revisiting two Christmas oratorios that have featured here in past years. Last year I praised Paul Constantinescu's Byzantine Christmas oratorio 'The Nativity' for being "music that is neither easy nor difficult to listen to", while two years earlier I recommmended Pau Casal's oratorio El Pessebre (The Manger) as "a delightfully derivative concoction; just let's say that if you like Humperdinck's Hänsel und Gretel you will like El Pessebre." I make no claim that 'The Nativity' and El Pessebre are masterpieces. In fact I have developed a deep suspicion of the designation 'masterpiece', which no longer recognises intrinsic merit, but instead merely expresses establishment approval. It does not matter whether a work is a masterpiece or not. What really matters is whether it moves the listener. And, despite the received wisdom that creates gluts of Mahler, Britten, R. Strauss and, next year, Sibelius, different music moves different listeners. Which is why there is no such thing as a mass market for classical market, but rather a multiplicity of overlapping niches. And in the same way, different music moves the same person at different times and in different places, which is why my world and my music are never one and the same.


On An Overgrown Path is about music that moves me, not about approved or aspiring masterpieces. That is why the unfashionable music of Albéric Magnard, Edmund Rubbra, Elizabeth Maconchy, Malcolm Arnold, Wilhelm Stenhammar, Elisabeth Lutyens, and others has featured here. As Carl Nielsen demanded: "Give us something else, give us something new, indeed for Heaven's sake give us rather the bad, and let us feel that we are still alive, instead of constantly going around in deedless admiration for the conventional". So, at the time when the Christmas message is so important, I am sharing with readers a little-known symphony with an overtly spiritual message.

Virtuoso musician, author of the influential Mysticism of Sound and Music and founder of the International Sufi Movement Hazrat Inayat Khan has been mentioned here many times. His son Hidayat Inayat-Khan (b. 1917) studied at L'Ecole Normale de Musique in Paris where his composition teachers included Nadia Boulanger. Hidayat Inayat-Khan's music expresses the syncretic beliefs of the International Sufi Movement of which he is a senior member, and its tonal and programmatic idiom is very much out of fashion. But works such as the five movement 'Message Symphony' for orchestra and organ - which quotes from Le Sacre du Printemps in its third movement - are worth exploring. The episodic nature of the five movement 'Message Symphony' means it lacks the coherent structure of a classical symphony. But when viewed as five interlinked tone poems it can be seen - and heard - in a different light. For instance the fourth movement, which takes its title 'To soothe body, hear and soul' from a prayer used at the Sufi Universal Worship service that I attended recently in Holland and which inhabits the same sound world as Alan Hovhaness and Ferde Grofé, could successfully be programmed as a stand-alone work.

Hazrat Inayat Khan perpetuates a venerable musical tradition, as the Universal Sufi Movement is historically linked to Theosophy, a movement that has influenced many in the world of music, including Aino Sibelius (the composer's wife), Alexander Scriabin, Nicholas Roerich (who collaborated with Stravinsky on Le Sacre du Printemps), Ruth Crawford Seeger, Dane Rudhyar and - via Rudolf Steiner - Bruno Walter and Jonathan Harvey. The 'Message Symphony' is dedicated to spiritual liberty and was premiered in 1969 by the Munich Philharmonic. A privately released CD of a concert performance by the Netherlands Promenade Orchestra conducted by Jan Stulen is available from Sufi Movement's offices in The Hague, and the symphony can be heard in its entirety here. It is also available in another performance coupled with other works by Hidayat Inayat-Khan including his Gandhi Symphony from iTunes. All the scores of Hidayat Inayat-Khan's music, including his 'Message Symphony', can be downloaded from the composer's website. Many will dismiss this music with its overtly spiritual agenda as no more than an anachronistic curiosity. Which is not a problem, because, as I said earlier. different music moves different listeners. But before dismissing this music - or any music or any knowledge tradition - it is worth reflecting on this teaching by Hazrat Inayat Khan:

Spiritual attainment, from beginning to end, is unlearning what one has learnt. But how does one unlearn? What one has learnt is in oneself. One can do it by becoming wiser. The more wise one becomes, the more one is able to contradict one's own ideas. The less wisdom one has, the more one holds to one's own ideas. In the wisest person there is willingness to submit to others. And the most foolish person is always ready to stand firm to support his own ideas. The reason is that the wise person can easily give up his thought; the foolish holds on to it. That is why he does not become wise and progress, because he sticks to his own ideas

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Friday, December 19, 2014

You are looking at the future of classical music journalism


Quite rightly there is much lamenting about the enforced departure of New York Times music critic Allan Kozinn. Quite wrongly the lamenting is being led by Norman Lebrecht*, who single-handedly has pioneerd the audience whoring click baiting school of tabloid music journalism that has made the informed writing of Allan Kozinn and others redundant. Quite hypocritically the classical music establishment is lamenting the demise of erudite critics and journalists while at the same time throwing its weight behind tabloid music journalism.

* All links to Slipped Disc are indirect to avoid swallowing click bait; the cited reference should appear at the top of the Google search results. Any copyrighted material on these pages is included as "fair use" for critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Also on Facebook and Twitter.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Have a nice tripe


Arrived back at Gatwick Airport from Upper Egypt where I took the photo above on a Nile ferry. Collected car from long term car park and turned on BBC Radio 3 for first time in months. Greeted by the unctuous Petroc Trelawny asking: "I don't want to nag, but have you voted in Radio 3's favourite Christmas carol competition"? Turn radio off immediately. Maybe I'll tune in again to BBC Radio 3 sometime next year to see if the tripe is more palatable when new network controller Alan Davey is onboard.

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Friday, December 05, 2014

Learn as if you were to live forever


Mahatma Gandhi exhorted us to "Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever" . So, accordingly, I celebrated my recent coming of (old) age by taking the overnight Stena Line ferry seen above across the North Sea from Harwich to the Hook of Holland, from where the excellent Dutch public transport network took me on the path of more living and learning.


My first destination was Norman Perryman's studio in Amsterdam. Norman's experiments in fusing kinetic art with classical music have long appealed to me, and when I wrote about his Aldeburgh Festival appearance with Pierre Laurent-Aimard I asked Has classical music finally found its contact high?


Norman works exclusively in the analogue domain. He paints on multiple overhead projectors, and the audience can watch the creation and dissolution of his fluid images on a giant screen in real time, as his brushwork flows, pulsates convulses in time with the music.


Quite understandably, there is currently a backlash against the distracting accretions that marketeers are imposing on live classical music. But it would be very unfortunate if Norman Perryman's pioneering work is swamped by this backlash. As explained in an earlier post, a paper titled Acoustic Space - Explorations in Communication Edmund Carpenter and Marshall McLuhan described how most of our thinking is done in terms of visual models, even when using an auditory one might prove more efficient. Since that paper was published in 1970, the swing from the auditory to the visual has been accelerated by the universal adoption of graphic interfaces for computers. Yet classical music has done very little to acknowledge this inexeroble swing from aural to visual acuity


The role call of musicians who have embraced Norman's marriage of kinetic art and music include Simon Rattle, whose 1993 City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra performance of Pictures at an Exhibition was given a kinetic dimension by Norman - a performance described by the Times music critic as "an ingenious audio-visual experiment, with brilliantly conceived imagery".


Currently fashionable accretions such as balloons and tweeting in concerts do not complement live classical music: they fight against it. By contrast Norman Perryman's kinetic art is an extension of the performance: he is part of the performing ensemble with a brush as his instrument. Norman's work in progress includes adding a visual dimension to a transcription of Haydn's The Seven Last Words of Christ on the Cross by the Ebonit Saxophone Quartet, and below is his annotated score for the Haydn.


My path took me next to the small town of Katwijk on the Dutch coast. In 1922 expert veena player, author of the influential Mysticism of Sound and Music and Sufi master Hazrat Inayat Khan underwent a profound spiritual experience when leading a retreat at Katwijk. An adept of the Chishti Sufi order, Hazrat Inayat Khan (1882-1927) founded the ecumenical International Sufi Movement, and in the 1950s the Sufi Movement entered into a long term lease for the land in the sand dunes at Katwijk where the retreat had been held.


At the end of that 1960s - the decade when the West embraced Eastern mysticism - work started on the Sufi Temple 'Universel Murad Hassil' and the Katwijk Temple was completed in 1970.


Building of the Universel Murad Hassil to a design by the celebrated Dutch architect S.J. van Embden was made possible by the patronage of Dr. H.J. Witteveen. Best known as managing director of the International Monetary Fund from 1973-78 and Dutch minister of finance (1963–65; 1967–71), Dr Wittteveen grew up in a Sufi family and is the author of several influential books on Sufism and the International Sufi Movement.


At the heart of Universal Sufism is Hazrat Inayat Khan's belief that "Belief and disbelief have divided mankind into so many sects, blinding its eyes to the vision of the oneness of all life". In accordance with this belief Universal Sufism is not aligned with any of the great religious traditions, but instead celebrates this oneness of all life. During my visit I attended the movement's Universal Worship service which celebrates Hinduism, Buddhism, Zoroastrianism, Judaism, Christianity and Islam with readings from the sacred texts of those traditions, and which also acknowledges the power of the Divine Feminine, Taosim, and indigenous traditions.


In 2014 the Katwijk Sufi temple was awarded the status of a Dutch national monument and is now a venue for diverse cultural activities. On the evening of my arrival there was a recital and talk by Dominic Seldis, principal bass of the Concertgebouw, and on the Sunday afternoon there was a concert by Sufi Sheikh Hassan Dyck and friends - that is me with Sheikh Hassan in the photo below.


Although linked to the Universal Sufi Movement by the thread of Sufism, Sheikh Hassan Dyck belongs to the more orthodox Naqshbandi Sufi movement. Lineages bind Sufism together, and Sheikh Hassan's master was Sheikh Nazim Al-Haqqani, who died earlier this year. The Naqshbandi-Haqqani order has one of the largest memberships in the West of contemporary Sufi orders, is particularly strong in the United States, and is noted for its use of the internet for proselytizing. However, in common with almost all high profile figureheads of religious traditions, Sheikh Nazim Al-Haqqani was touched by controversy: he condemned Islamic terrorists, was a vocal supporter of the Western 'war on terror', and made some much publicised erroneous predictions about how mahdi - the end of the world - would coincide with the year 2000.


Sheikh Hassan Dyck studied classical cello and has developed a unique Sufi music that fuses contemporary and traditional styles. Among the 'friends' supporting him in Katwijk was the young aspiring master of the rebab Hamid Wentzel seen below. The musical forces for the Katwijk concert were conventional, but appearances with more diverse musicians have caused his music to be described tantalisingly as "a blend of minimal jazz, blues and trance", while a CD on sale at the concert features electric bass and pure electronics.


The Naqshbandi-Haqqani Sufi order is unusually accessible, and Sheikh Hassan's concerts include an authentic Sufi dhikr. This is the ecstatic chanting of the ninety-nine names of Allah that is traditionally accessible only to Sufi adepts. The tradition of whirling dervishes has been adopted by the Naqshbandi-Haqqani brotherhood from Rumi's Mevlivi order. In the photo below of the dervish, the 93 year old Dr. H.J. Witteveen - patron of the Universel Murad Hassil - can be seen on the extreme right. I had the privilege of talking with Dr. Witteveen after the concert; tragically his son, the Dutch politician Willem Witteveen, died when Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 was shot down over eastern Ukraine earlier this year.


Writing in his definitive study Universal Sufism Dr. Witteven describes how:
Of all the arts music has a particular spiritual value and meaning because it helps [us] to concentrate or meditate independently of thought: and therefore music forms a bridge between form and the formless. This is why music has always played an important role in Sufism.
During the concert Sheikh Hassan repeated Rumi's assertion that "the listener is a player, and the player is a listener", an assertion that has also been repeated On An Overgrown Path. Sheikh Hassan says that his mission when performing is "to reach the divine moment together with the audience", and I can personally testify that during the climactic dhikr in Katwijk his mission was achieved. That goal of leading the audience to the ineffable was once shared with Western classical music. But today the Western tradition has abandoned it in favour of merely entertaining the audience. Classical marketeers would do well to heed Ghandi's exhoration to "Learn as if you were to live forever" and attend one of Sheikh Hassan's dhikrs. With that thought I leave you for a while, as I have a lot more living and learning to do and Egypt beckons.


My trip to Holland was entirely self-funded. But Sheikh Hassan's management generously declined payment for my concert ticket. My thanks also go to Norman Perryman and his delightful wife Coco for their hospitality, and to my family for, once again, tolerating a birthday disappearance. All photos are (c) On An Overgrown Path 2014. Any other copyrighted material is included as "fair use" for the purpose of critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Also on Facebook and Twitter.

Thursday, December 04, 2014

Masterclass for Kyung Wha Chung


Photo was taken by me at the recent concert by Sufi master Sheikh Hassan Dyck and friends in Katwijk, Holland. Both the Sheikh and the young audience member had colds, so Sheikh Hassan tossed the youngster a cough sweet. A great time was had by all - including grumpy old me. More on that concert - Sheikh Hassan's not Kyung Wha Chung's - via this link.

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