Click here to listen to American singer-composer Meredith Monk speak on music, voice and spiritual practices

CYBERSPACE |   “Performing is such an amazing template of human behavior: of generosity, sensitive to the environment and to other people,” says Meredith Monk, the American composer, performer, director, vocalist and choreographer. “As an artist so interested in uncovering the invisible, mysterious, inexplicable, things we can’t label. I was thinking of the voice as the messenger of my soul.”

Monk was recently named Musical America’s 2012 Composer of the Year, and she interviewed on American Public Media‘s On Being hosted by Krista Tippet. The remarks quoted above are some of the thoughts she shared on music and religion, voice and meditation, performance and meaning.

The hour-long discussion will air nationally on American Public Media | Minnesota Public Radio this weekend, February 18  and 19 (please check local listings, since times are determined by the local NPR station).

If those dates do not fit your schedule, you may also listen to the entire interview by visiting this link:

May I suggest now?

Meredith Monk

Meredith Monk

Theater people know Monk as a multidisciplinary artist since the 1960s; her work, especially her vocal innovations, defied categorization. She is a pioneer in what is now called interdisciplinary performance and extended vocal technique. Monk has developed an eerily unique voice vocabulary that works in rhythms and tonalities atypical of Western musical traditions, and which oftentimes cannot be reproduced by others

A practicing Buddhist, Monk is a member of the Shambala sangha. Her most recent album, Songs of Ascension, is inspired by a Zen abbot who described “Songs of Ascents” — songs which Jews were believed to have sung in biblical times on pilgrimages to Jerusalem and to the top of Mount Zion.

Here are some of Monk’s upcoming gigs:

  • February 19 marks the release of “MONK MIX: Remixes and Interpretations of Music by Meredith Monk.”  Among the artists appearing on the 2-disk CD set are Björk, DJ Spooky, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Lukas Ligeti, Lee Ranaldo, Nico Muhly, Caetano Veloso, Don Byron and Vijay Iyer.  A release party will be held at Joe’s Pub on February 19 at 9:30pm with live performances by DJ Spooky, Don Byron and his clarinet quartet, Theo Bleckmann, John Hollenbeck, DJ Rekha, among others.
  • “Realm Variations,” which was commissioned by the San Francisco Symphony’s 2012 American Mavericks Festival, will debut in San Francisco’s Davies Symphony Hall on March 18, followed by performances at the University of Michigan’s Rackham Auditorium on March 25, and then at Carnegie Hall’s Zankel Hall on March 30.
  • Monk will join Joan La Barbara, Jessye Norman and members of the San Francisco Symphony for performances of selections from John Cage’s witty and evocative “Song Books.”  The concerts are scheduled for San Francisco‘s Symphony Hall (March 10 and 14); Hill Auditorium at the University of Michigan (March 23) and Carnegie Hall on March 27.
  • In May, Monk heads to Europe with her Vocal Ensemble, for performances in the Lublin Philharmonic/KODY Festival in Lublin, Poland on May 14; at Le Collège des Bernardins in Paris on May 16; at Musée du Louvre in Paris on May 18, and Centre Culturel André Malraux in Vandoeuvre-les-Nancy on May 20.
Meredith Monk | Photos by Peter Ross, Cameron Wittig, Augostino Mela; Design by Michael Bonfiglio.

Meredith Monk | Photos by Peter Ross, Cameron Wittig, Augostino Mela; Design by Michael Bonfiglio.

Here is a transcript of a brief excerpt from the conversation:

Ms. Tippett: I’m Krista Tippett, and this is On Being — conversation about meaning, religion, ethics, and ideas. Today, with composer, singer, director, and choreographer Meredith Monk.

You know, you have a Buddhist practice, right? A meditation practice? I wondered as I was kind of, you know, reading you and watching you, you’ve talked about singing — like the focus, the meditation focus, is also when you’re singing, the presence, and I wondered if you think that gives you a different relationship to the audience.

Ms. Monk: Mm-hmm. Hmm. You know, in a way, I always say that, as a young artist, I think I knew some of these, uh, what I would now call fundamental Buddhist principles, but I feel like I knew them intuitively as a young artist and a performer. Then at a certain point, I was asked to teach at Naropa Institute and then I, you know, through the art, you know, not through the Buddhist practice, but really through the art that I learned about Buddhism and then I realized all these things that I had had as principles — as aesthetic principles — really were fundamental Buddhist principles. So that was really interesting.

And one of them is something that you’re talking about which is — I always think of the relationship between the audience and the performer as a kind of infinity sign or a figure eight of energy that goes from the performer to the audience and then back from the audience back to the performer, and it’s just this constant flow of energy between these two bodies of people. But the beauty of a live performance is that we’re all in the same space at the same time, and I don’t think we have that many situations in the world like that.

Ms. Tippett: You’ve even talked about the audience as a congregation, which is interesting.

Ms. Monk: Yeah. I mean, I feel like a dinosaur holding out: “A live performance, live performance. Not the screen, live performance,” because I think that there is something about it that’s so unique and it’s so necessary to remember again.

Ms. Tippett: I always see you also insisting that music is about waking up. I mean, I don’t know if those two things have to be in tension, but I sense that, if you had to choose between transcendence and waking up and being right there in that moment, you would choose the latter. Just saying, I mean, live performance is as direct and awake and experience one hopes as anything we do.

Ms. Monk: That’s also, again, so interesting because actually I don’t see those two things as opposites. I actually think that, when you are that present and you are that awake and the audience actually experiences themselves, you know, the deepest part of themselves, then the whole situation becomes transcendent because we’re not — the way we live our lives is not necessarily with that level of presence.

Ms. Tippett: Right.

Ms. Monk: And also certainly in this society, we’re taught to actually be distracted and diverted all the time from feeling, in a sense, you could say the pain — the good pain, you know, the pain as in openheartedness and rawness of the moment, the pain as well as the pleasure, everything in one in that moment.

American Public Media's "On Being" Featured Meredith Monk | Photo by David Heald

American Public Media's "On Being" Featured Meredith Monk | Photo by David Heald

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