A composer explains 'I just try to listen from the heart'

That photo of Tibetan Buddhist monks announcing the early morning puja was taken by me at Thiksay Monastery in Ladakh. The monastery is in the disputed Indian region of Jammu and Kashmir, and the Himalayas are in the background.

In 1989 composer and electronic musician David Parsons travelled to the monastery of Dip Tse Chok Ling near Dharamsala to work on a follow-up to his critically acclaimed 'deep listening' compositions Himalaya and Yatra. However, instead of working on a solo project Parsons recorded the Tibetan ritual music of the monks on DAT. These recordings were released on three CDs with the series heading Sacred Ceremonies by Fortuna Records. (Fortuna is a sub-label of Celestial Harmonies which also released Parsons definitive 17 CD Music of Islam box, and African American pianist Cecil Lytle's six CD traverse of the complete piano works of Gurdjieff/de Hartmann.)

The minimalist equipment used by David Parsons for the Sacred Ceremonies field recordings means the multiphonic chanting and thunderous instrumental interludes of the ritual music are captured with visceral power. These classic recordings transcends any religious allegiances: in fact David Parsons explains "I am not a Buddhist, I just try to listen from the heart". 

I was reminded recently of how so many of the teachings of the Tibetan Buddhist tradition also transcend religious prejudices when reading the newly published autobiography of Lama Yeshe Losal Rinpoche From a Mountain in Tibet. For instance this passage contains painful truths not just for the arts community, but also for the whole of humanity as we struggle to emerge from the shadow of the pandemic.

"Most of us live as if we are half asleep. We are distracted and caught up in our thoughts, and as a result miss so many opportunities. We take as a given that everything will be pretty much the same tomorrow as it is today. We manage to be surprised when change comes, whether it's negative (we get sick; a parent gets sick) or positive (we're suddenly all grown up; we've fallen in love!). We overlook the fact that every single moment is always vanishing, and with it our chance to wake up".


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