Words from Music

An Opening of Mind

Philip Glass’ Complete Piano Etudes

Hanukah 5775/December, 2014 – my dear husband, Scott, gave me Words Without Music, the recent memoir of Philip Glass. As I held the book I knew I had a journey ahead of me. Indeed, when I began reading I went at Glass’ words like a new-born pup at her mama’s teet. And like a new-born pup I was unable to articulate what, exactly, I was yearning for. All I could do was return again and again to the source. Of course it was fun to read about his upbringing and the circle of magnificent people he is connected to but what truly fed me were his nuggets of insight into the process of music and the foundational constructs of creativity. Listening to his work had always been great but there was something different occurring in this act of reading, I was gathering distinctions that I could then hear and point to in his compositions. It was like looking out the windows of my Chelsea apartment (where I’ve been living for 30 years) and being surprised at seeing – for the first time – the intricate molding laid around the window as a clearly distinct yet completely integral part of the whole unit. I was listening from a new place. This had an intoxicating effect on me.

  • Music has always plucked a profound chord in my heart. I’ve been found before, sitting slack-jawed plugged into my phone drunk on Koyaanisqatsi or Satyagraha or Wagner’s Parsifal [for that matter] but now I was experiencing an opening of mind with every listening which was gradually rearranging my molecules. Paradigm shift was underway. And then Philip introduced me to his piano etudes.

Before even having the opportunity of buying the Maki Namekawa recording of the Complete Piano Etudes I downloaded Glass’ own recording of the first ten etudes for I knew in my bones there was something here; a lesson, an epiphany, an I-don’t-know-what! I just had the innate sense his etudes held a future to discover so I dove deep and long into Glass waters.

Words fail me as I listen to this work

Unchartered territories where logic & reason are insufficient tools to the task of grasping the meaning. A lesson in letting go, being with the flow of whatever is occurring without intellectual override

“I” cease to exist in the moments of this kind of listening

A progression slowly forms from etude to etude & goes from clear-headed presence and deep love, through dark, depressive grief into manic hyperactivity and delivers me onto powerfully grounded purposeful awareness…and this is only the first 10 etudes!

On the 15th listening, as I simultaneously continue reading Words Without Music, visions of Lucretia Mott start forming in my head. She is speaking to me through our shared blood, whispering; “He is telling my story to you” and the hair on the back of my neck stands up and I lunge for pen and paper attempting to write even though

I have no clue

What I am doing

lost in a sea of

letters and musical notes

commingling in the air above my head

All there is to do is breathe and taste the salty Nantucket air I am listening to as I feel the tendrils of my great ancestor stir within

The Quaker’s Inner Light flickers brilliantly in my soul for the first time

I am temporarily blinded


Thus was my visceral experience with this body of music from two years ago when I was in a dark place in life. While I am quite sure Philip Glass did not have Lucretia Mott in mind as he went through his twenty-year process of writing the piano etudes I do know he’s talked at length about the Quaker sensibility and faith. I could hear him digging for something in that arena and wished I could introduce him to my great, great, great, great grandmother who would have been happy to bring her mind to his. They would have hit it off, I’ve a feeling. The best I could do was try and write the words that came to me as I listened holding back tears from time to time. Why it hit me the way it did I’ll never fully understand but from where I am today, in the posting of this web log entry, I know now this was one of those early cracks in the wall of my psyche that started to let some light in. It would be another two years before I truly found access to my authentic self, the one that had been locked up in a cellar of my own making moments after knowing I had breast cancer. It was a dark time – and no one was more blind to the darkness than I, until the light began to come in.


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