During a Garrison Institute retreat she was leading over the weekend, critically-acclaimed and award-winning vocalist Meredith Monk performed in front of almost 200 people in the Institute’s Meditation Hall on Saturday night.
She performed a song from an opera, and then talked about her creative process. Her works often lack words, but not heart or understanding. For her piece Impermanence, she spoke about working with people in hospice and finding reflections of permanence and impermanence in each of them. She described how she lost her partner of 22 years and drew from her deep well of pain to create a vulnerable, true work.
While talking about the process behind her newest work, Cellular Songs, she explained that it all started when she was contemplating the cell—the building block of all life. She began to imagine layers and mutations, and how to create a “texture” of sound, removed from any one voice, yet encompassing the voices of the performers. When it is finally completed, it will be performed in March of 2018.
As a practicing Buddhist, Monk views her vocal practice on the same level as her spiritual practice. During her talk, she suggested that her meditation practice, which focuses on breathing and the breath, has informed her voice work. The audience could hear this during her performance, when her voice cut through the crowded Meditation Hall and sounded almost as if she were chanting. Her voice was piercing, and, while contemplating the sound of it in silence, it felt as if we were involved in an act of transmission.
Monk’s performance was spacious, as if we were all being given room to breathe. It was a charged atmosphere, energetic and exciting, and, at times, playful. There was a humor in the performance, a wink and nod during some moments, as if Monk were encouraging us to smile, enjoy ourselves, be present, and happy.