Collaborative Project Harmonizes Music With Spirituality

On Sunday, Nov. 1,  Awakening to the Environment was held at the Garrison Theatre at the Scripps College Performing Arts Center. Featuring work by music faculty at the Claremont Colleges as well as alumni of the colleges, the concert was an event that both soothed and inspired. Those featured at the event included Charles W. Kamm, conductor; Anne Harley and Stacey Fraser, sopranos; Judith von Hopf, flute and percussion; Jillian Risigari-Gai, harp; and Paul R. Bishop, piano.

The peformance also included four premiere works by Marjorie Merryman SC '72, Harvey Mudd College Music Professor Bill Alves, Scripps College English Professor Warren Liu, Pomona College Music Professor Tom Flaherty, Yii Kah Hoe and Steve Rowell.

As Professor Anne Harley of Scripps stated, this event was meant to bring together many different members of the Claremont Colleges community around environmentalist goals.

“I hoped to also bring attention to the positive models for valuing the environment in contemplative traditions, particularly as transmitted by female contemplatives,” she said.

This last goal, she said, is related to her project, Voices of the Pearl. According to its mission statement, Voices of the Pearl “commissions, performs and records musical works from composers across the globe, setting text by and about female esoterics from world traditions throughout history, reclaiming these lost voices and the tradition of female spirituality.” By juxtaposing and performing four to five cycles by living composers, the event culminated in a full-length evening of female esoteric portraits from across the world. 

Alves stated that his hope for attendees of Voices of Pearl events such as Awakening to the Environment is the idea that “art can transform people's perceptions and understanding in ways that other forms of expression cannot.” Attending artistic and culture-oriented events are cathartic in that they speak to the part of the self where words are unnecessary.

“My lifetime passion for music felt limited by the borders of traditional music education and Western culture,” Alves said. “To experience the riches of another culture is to look with fresh eyes and listen with fresh ears to your own.”

Harley agreed that music is a natural way to build community.

“I feel that our musical community and the audience shared something important on Sunday night,” she said. “And I think that the new pieces, particularly those that were sung in Chinese, and also in the national language of Malaysia, Malay, make an important statement about welcoming all cultures into the concert hall.”

Harley has traveled to China several times, both by herself and as the leader of a delegation last summer from Scripps to Hunan Women's University. She has met with composers in China and Malaysia, whose work and requested commisions have influenced the pieces that she premiered at Scripps. 

“In this way, I can bring the perspective of other cultures directly to the audience here, and then, if lucky, broadcast even further a field, to those who were not at the concert and those who will not listen to the recording,” she said. 

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