Category Archives: words


Welcome address to freshman parents at Boston Conservatory, given by Karl Paulnack, pianist and director of music division at Ithaca College.

“One of my parents’ deepest fears, I suspect, is that society would not properly value me as a musician, that I wouldn’t be appreciated. I had very good grades in high school, I was good in science and math, and they imagined that as a doctor or a research chemist or an engineer, I might be more appreciated than I would be as a musician. I still remember my mother’s remark when I announced my decision to apply to music school-she said, “you’re WASTING your SAT scores.” On some level, I think, my parents were not sure themselves what the value of music was, what its purpose was. And they LOVED music, they listened to classical music all the time. They just weren’t really clear about its function. So let me talk about that a little bit, because we live in a society that puts music in the “arts and entertainment” section of the newspaper, and serious music, the kind your kids are about to engage in, has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with entertainment, in fact it’s the opposite of entertainment. Let me talk a little bit about music, and how it works.

The first people to understand how music really works were the ancient Greeks. And this is going to fascinate you; the Greeks said that music and astronomy were two sides of the same coin. Astronomy was seen as the study of relationships between observable, permanent, external objects, and music was seen as the study of relationships between invisible, internal, hidden objects. Music has a way of finding the big, invisible moving pieces inside our hearts and souls and helping us figure out the position of things inside us. Let me give you some examples of how this works.

One of the most profound musical compositions of all time is the Quartet for the End of Time written by French composer Olivier Messiaen in 1940. Messiaen was 31 years old when France entered the war against Nazi Germany. He was captured by the Germans in June of 1940, sent across Germany in a cattle car and imprisoned in a concentration camp. He was fortunate to find a sympathetic prison guard who gave him paper and a place to compose. There were three other musicians in the camp, a cellist, a violinist, and a clarinetist, and Messiaen wrote his quartet with these specific players in mind. It was performed in January 1941 for four thousand prisoners and guards in the prison camp. Today it is one of the most famous masterworks in the repertoire.

Given what we have since learned about life in the concentration camps, why would anyone in his right mind waste time and energy writing or playing music? There was barely enough energy on a good day to find food and water, to avoid a beating, to stay warm, to escape torture – why would anyone bother with music? And yet – from the camps, we have poetry, we have music, we have visual art; it wasn’t just this one fanatic Messiaen; many, many people created art.

Why? Well, in a place where people are only focused on survival, on the bare necessities, the obvious conclusion is that art must be, somehow, essential for life. The camps were without money, without hope, without commerce, without recreation, without basic respect, but they were not without art. Art is part of survival; art is part of the human spirit, an unquenchable expression of who we are. Art is one of the ways in which we say, “I am alive, and my life has meaning.”

On September 12, 2001 I was a resident of Manhattan. That morning I reached a new understanding of my art and its relationship to the world. I sat down at the piano that morning at 10 AM to practice as was my daily routine; I did it by force of habit, without thinking about it. I lifted the cover on the keyboard, and opened my music, and put my hands on the keys and took my hands off the keys. And I sat there and thought, does this even matter? Isn’t this completely irrelevant?

Playing the piano right now, given what happened in this city yesterday, seems silly, absurd, irreverent, pointless. Why am I here? What place has a musician in this moment in time? Who needs a piano player right now? I was completely lost.

And then I, along with the rest of New York, went through the journey of getting through that week. I did not play the piano that day, and in fact I contemplated briefly whether I would ever want to play the piano again. And then I observed how we got through the day.

At least in my neighborhood, we didn’t shoot hoops or play Scrabble. We didn’t play cards to pass the time, we didn’t watch TV, we didn’t shop, we most certainly did not go to the mall. The first organized activity that I saw in New York, that same day, was singing. People sang. People sang around fire houses, people sang “We Shall Overcome”. Lots of people sang America the Beautiful. The first organized public event that I remember was the Brahms Requiem, later that week, at Lincoln Center, with the New York Philharmonic.

The first organized public expression of grief, our first communal response to that historic event, was a concert. That was the beginning of a sense that life might go on. The US Military secured the airspace, but recovery was led by the arts, and by music in particular, that very night.

From these two experiences, I have come to understand that music is not part of “arts and entertainment” as the newspaper section would have us believe. It’s not a luxury, a lavish thing that we fund from leftovers of our budgets, not a plaything or an amusement or a pass time. Music is a basic need of human survival. Music is one of the ways we make sense of our lives, one of the ways in which we express feelings when we have no words, a way for us to understand things with our hearts when we can’t with our minds.

Some of you may know Samuel Barber’s heart wrenchingly beautiful piece Adagio for Strings. If you don’t know it by that name, then some of you may know it as the background music which accompanied the Oliver Stone movie Platoon, a film about the Vietnam War. If you know that piece of music either way, you know it has the ability to crack your heart open like a walnut; it can make you cry over sadness you didn’t know you had. Music can slip beneath our conscious reality to get at what’s really going on inside us the way a good therapist does.

I bet that you have never been to a wedding where there was absolutely no music. There might have been only a little music, there might have been some really bad music, but I bet you there was some music. And something very predictable happens at weddings – people get all pent up with all kinds of emotions, and then there’s some musical moment where the action of the wedding stops and someone sings or plays the flute or something. And even if the music is lame, even if the quality isn’t good, predictably 30 or 40 percent of the people who are going to cry at a wedding, cry a couple of moments after the music starts. Why? The Greeks.

Music allows us to move around those big invisible pieces of ourselves and rearrange our insides so that we can express what we feel even when we can’t talk about it. Can you imagine watching Indiana Jones or Superman or Star Wars with the dialogue but no music? What is it about the music swelling up at just the right moment in ET so that all the softies in the audience start crying at exactly the same moment? I guarantee you if you showed the movie with the music stripped out, it wouldn’t happen that way.

The Greeks: Music is the understanding of the relationship between invisible internal objects.

I’ll give you one more example, the story of the most important concert of my life. I must tell you I have played a little less than a thousand concerts in my life so far. I have played in places that I thought were important. I like playing in Carnegie Hall; I enjoyed playing in Paris; it made me very happy to please the critics in St. Petersburg. I have played for people I thought were important; music critics of major newspapers, foreign heads of state. The most important concert of my entire life took place in a nursing home in Fargo, ND, about 4 years ago.

I was playing with a very dear friend of mine who is a violinist. We began, as we often do, with Aaron Copland’s Sonata, which was written during World War II and dedicated to a young friend of Copland’s, a young pilot who was shot down during the war. Now we often talk to our audiences about the pieces we are going to play rather than providing them with written program notes. But in this case, because we began the concert with this piece, we decided to talk about the piece later in the program and to just come out and play the music without explanation.

Midway through the piece, an elderly man seated in a wheelchair near the front of the concert hall began to weep. This man, whom I later met, was clearly a soldier-even in his 70’s, it was clear from his buzz-cut hair, square jaw and general demeanor that he had spent a good deal of his life in the military. I thought it a little bit odd that someone would be moved to tears by that particular movement of that particular piece, but it wasn’t the first time I’ve heard crying in a concert and we went on with the concert and finished the piece.

When we came out to play the next piece on the program, we decided to talk about both the first and second pieces, and we described the circumstances in which the Copland was written and mentioned its dedication to a downed pilot. The man in the front of the audience became so disturbed that he had to leave the auditorium. I honestly figured that we would not see him again, but he did come backstage afterwards, tears and all, to explain himself.

What he told us was this: “During World War II, I was a pilot, and I was in an aerial combat situation where one of my team’s planes was hit. I watched my friend bail out, and watched his parachute open, but the Japanese planes which had engaged us returned and machine gunned across the parachute chords so as to separate the parachute from the pilot, and I watched my friend drop away into the ocean, realizing that he was lost. I have not thought about this for many years, but during that first piece of music you played, this memory returned to me so vividly that it was as though I was reliving it. I didn’t understand why this was happening, why now, but then when you came out to explain that this piece of music was written to commemorate a lost pilot, it was a little more than I could handle. How does the music do that? How did it find those feelings and those memories in me?”

Remember the Greeks: music is the study of invisible relationships between internal objects. This concert in Fargo was the most important work I have ever done. For me to play for this old soldier and help him connect, somehow, with Aaron Copland, and to connect their memories of their lost friends, to help him remember and mourn his friend, this is my work. This is why music matters.

What follows is part of the talk I will give to this year’s freshman class when I welcome them a few days from now. The responsibility I will charge your sons and daughters with is this:

“If we were a medical school, and you were here as a med student practicing appendectomies, you’d take your work very seriously because you would imagine that some night at two AM someone is going to waltz into your emergency room and you’re going to have to save their life.

Well, my friends, someday at 8 PM someone is going to walk into your concert hall and bring you a mind that is confused, a heart that is overwhelmed, a soul that is weary. Whether they go out whole again will depend partly on how well you do your craft.

You’re not here to become an entertainer, and you don’t have to sell yourself. The truth is you don’t have anything to sell; being a musician isn’t about dispensing a product, like selling used Chevies. I’m not an entertainer; I’m a lot closer to a paramedic, a firefighter, a rescue worker. You’re here to become a sort of therapist for the human soul, a spiritual version of a chiropractor, physical therapist, someone who works with our insides to see if they get things to line up, to see if we can come into harmony with ourselves and be healthy and happy and well.

Frankly, ladies and gentlemen, I expect you not only to master music; I expect you to save the planet. If there is a future wave of wellness on this planet, of harmony, of peace, of an end to war, of mutual understanding, of equality, of fairness, I don’t expect it will come from a government, a military force or a corporation. I no longer even expect it to come from the religions of the world, which together seem to have brought us as much war as they have peace. If there is a future of peace for humankind, if there is to be an understanding of how these invisible, internal things should fit together, I expect it will come from the artists, because that’s what we do. As in the concentration camp and the evening of 9/11, the artists are the ones who might be able to help us with our internal, invisible lives.”

son cœur consumé d’amour

Le 7 février dernier à Besançon nous avons donné avec le Cortège d’Orphée, le pianiste Guillaume Coppola et le récitant Baptiste Chabauty, le Via Crucis de Franz Liszt mis en regard avec les poèmes du Chemin de la Croix de Paul Claudel – avec en première partie le Miserere d’Allegri en contrepoint musical d’extraits du Mystère de la Charité de Jeanne d’Arc de Charles Péguy.

De grandes émotions, musique et poésie mêlées et indissociables.

Il avait semé tant d’amour.
Il récoltait tant de haine.
Son cœur lui brûlait.
Son cœur dévoré d’amour.
Et à sa mère il avait apporté ceci.
De voir ainsi traiter
Le fruit de ses entrailles.
Et c’étaient les mêmes qui le jour des rameaux.
Quelques jours avant.
Quelques mois, quelques semaines.
Le dimanche des Rameaux.
Lui avaient fait cette entrée triomphale.
Une entrée triomphale à Jérusalem.
Son cœur lui brûlait.
Son cœur lui dévorait.
Son cœur brûlé d’amour.
Son cœur dévoré d’amour.
Son cœur consumé d’amour.
Et jamais homme avait-il soulevé tant de haine.
Jamais homme avait-il soulevé une telle haine.
C’était une gageure.
C’était comme un défi.
Comme il avait semé il n’avait pas récolté.

Quelques photos de notre mise en espace (Photos Yannick Millon)


Si vous êtes dans la région de Besançon, vous pouvez aller voir les photos de Gabriel Vieille du Chemin de croix de Gabriel Saury (au Centre diocésain jusqu’au 28 février) – ou mieux encore, aller voir les sculptures à Orchamps Vennes. Sur internet, les photos sont sur le site de Gabriel Vieille.

le prophète · khalil gibran

Quand l’amour vous fait signe, suivez-le,
Bien que ses voies soient dures et escarpées.
Et lorsque ses ailes vous enveloppent, cédez-lui,
Bien que l’épée cachée dans son pennage puisse vous blesser.
Et lorsqu’il vous parle, croyez en lui,
Malgré que sa voix puisse briser vos rêves comme le vent du nord saccage vos jardins.

Car de même que l’amour vous couronne, il doit vous crucifier. De même qu’il est pour votre croissance il est aussi pour votre élagage.
De même qu’il s’élève à votre hauteur et caresse vos branches les plus légères qui tremblent dans le soleil,
Ainsi pénétrera-t-il jusques à vos racines et secouera dans leur attachement à la terre.

Comme des germes de blé il vous emporte.
Il vous bat pour vous mettre à nu.
Il vous tamise pour vous libérer de votre bale.
Il vous broie jusqu’à la blancheur.
Il vous pétrit jusqu’à ce que vous soyez souples;
Et alors il vous livre à son feu, pour que vous puissiez devenir le pain sacré du festin de Dieu.

Toutes ces choses, l’amour vous les fera pour que vous puissiez connaître les secrets de votre cœur et devenir, en cette connaissance, un fragment du cœur de la Vie.

Mais si dans votre peur, vous ne recherchez que la paix de l’amour et le plaisir de l’amour,
Alors il vaut mieux couvrir votre nudité et sortir de l’aire de l’amour,
Pour vous rendre dans le monde sans saisons où vous rirez, mais non pas tous vos rires, et pleurerez, mais non pas toutes vos larmes.

L’amour ne donne que de lui-même et ne prend que de lui-même.
L’amour ne possède pas, et ne veut pas être possédé;
Car l’amour suffit à l’amour.

Quand vous aimez, vous ne devez pas dire “Dieu est dans mon cœur”, mais plutôt, “je suis dans le cœur de Dieu”.
Et ne pensez pas que vous pouvez guider le cours de l’amour, car l’amour, s’il vous trouve dignes, dirigera votre cours.

L’amour n’a point d’autre désir que de s’accomplir.
Mais si vous aimez et devez avoir des désirs, qu’ils soient ceux-ci:
Se fondre et être un ruisseau coulant qui chante sa mélodie à la nuit.
Connaître la douleur de trop de tendresse.
Être blessé par sa propre intelligence de l’amour;
Et saigner volontiers et joyeusement.
Se réveiller à l’aurore avec un cœur ailé et rendre grâce pour une autre journée d’amour;
Se reposer à l’heure de midi et méditer sur l’extase de l’amour;
Rentrer en sa demeure au crépuscule avec gratitude,
Et alors dormir avec en son cœur une prière pour le bien-aimé, et sur les lèvres un chant de louange.

etty hillesum

(La dernière phrase de son journal.)

On voudrait être un baume versé sur tant de plaies.

pour l’amour du nez

Courez lire le beau texte de Marie Huet sur le clown, inspiré par mes amis Rosalie et Fernand (Plumo)!

je vous souhaite une belle fête des morts

J’ai raccroché le téléphone, tu sais et je suis sortie sur le balcon pour regarder le ciel. Il faisait doux, tellement doux et je t’ai souri à travers cet infini de bleu, parce que cela m’a semblé si évident que tu étais là, que je pouvais presque effleurer ton âme du bout des doigts. Alors j’ai éprouvé une chose nouvelle, j’ai éprouvé cet amour infini qui existe par-delà la mort, j’ai éprouvé ce que je n’avais jamais senti, seulement espéré, et que je vérifiais ce jour-là pour la première fois, grâce à toi. (…)
Désormais nous partageons ensemble ce trésor, et je ne te perdrai jamais de même que tu ne me perdras jamais, car nous vivrons toujours l’une dans l’autre de ce que nous avons partagé ensemble, et nous reprendrons d’autres conversations, je te parlerai et tu me parleras dans le silence de la nuit, dans la fleur de lis s’épanouissant dans le printemps, je te parlerai en regardant le soleil, en accouchant de mon petit garçon, en caressant son corps de nouveau-né, je te parlerai en courant vers la mer, et en buvant du vin, je te parlerai en lisant et en souriant à celui que j’aime, en embrassant ma fille, en écoutant la peine des uns et en accueillant le bonheur des autres, je te parlerai en m’endormant épuisée du devoir accompli et en me réveillant heureuse, en refusant toujours de me laisser aller à la complaisance et au jugement facile, je te parlerai en faisant l’amour et en regardant la lune, en honorant ma soif, en regardant tes enfants grandir et s’épanouir dans leur vie, en acceptant aussi de me laisser traverser par cette tristesse de ta mort, je te parlerai en conjuguant ce oui.
Oui, il faut travailler sur soi, oui, la foi est un rempart de lumière et la mort un passage.

Lorette Nobécourt, Pour Claire

the most extraordinary scenes

La trève de Noël 1914 à travers la lettre d’un officier britannique à sa famille – @ Letters of note

La fraternité est plus naturelle que la guerre.

rêvé pour l’hiver · rimbaud

L’hiver, nous irons dans un petit wagon rose
Avec des coussins bleus.
Nous serons bien. Un nid de baisers fous repose
Dans chaque coin moelleux.

Tu fermeras l’œil, pour ne point voir, par la glace,
Grimacer les ombres des soirs,
Ces monstruosités hargneuses, populace
De démons noirs et de loups noirs.

Puis tu te sentiras la joue égratignée…
Un petit baiser, comme une folle araignée,
Te courra par le cou…

Et tu me diras : ” Cherche ! ” en inclinant la tête,
– Et nous prendrons du temps à trouver cette bête
– Qui voyage beaucoup…

words about mourning · oliver sacks

[After my mother’s death,] I wondered how I would feel about sitting shiva. I did not know if I could bear it, sitting all day on a low stool with my fellow mourners for seven days on end, receiving a constant stream of people, and talking, talking, talking endlessly of the departed. But I found it a deep and crucial and affirmative experience, this total sharing of emotions and memories, when, alone, I felt so annihilated by my mother’s death…

From On the Move: A Life by Oliver Sacks, quoted in The Victory of Oliver Sacks, by Jerome Groopman, NYRB LXII, Number 9

magnus · sylvie germain

Comme un écho, fragmenté mais doux et profond..

Echo de Pedro Páramo, lu il y a un an et qui murmure encore à mon oreille la nuit, le désir, les fantômes, les morts qui nous parlent..

Echo d’un poème de Paul Celan découvert un jour à Bobigny en cours avec Charlotte Ginot, Todesfuge, tes cheveux d’or Margarete, tes cheveux de cendre Sulamith..

Est-ce ainsi que nous parlent les morts? s’est-elle alors demandé. Terence a répondu obliquement, disant qu’ainsi parle notre mémoire, en un ressassement continu, mais si bas, si confus, comme celui du sang dans nos veines, qu’on ne l’entend pas. On l’entend d’autant moins qu’on ne l’écoute pas. Mais il y a des livres écrits de telle sorte que, parfois, ils font sur certains lecteurs un effet semblable à celui de ces gros coquillages que l’on presse contre son oreille, et soudain on entend la rumeur de son sang mugir en sourdine dans la conque. Le bruit de l’océan, le bruit du vent, le bruit de notre propre cœur. Un bruissement de limbes. Adam a lu ce livre, qui à d’autres ne raconte qu’une histoire étrange, confuse, dont ils ne franchissent pas le seuil, et le livre se sera posé contre son oreille; un livre en creux, en douve, en abîme, où une nuée d’échos se sera mise à chuchoter.