Some time ago, I was asked to write original music for solo cello, to accompany a dramatic monologue performance for a private occasion. Fragments of the music I wrote, to enhance the ancient Buddhist story of Ahimsaka, haunted me, and I was craving any excuse to fill it out into a full-length piece which could stand independently of the storytelling.
The excuse came in the form of a chance encounter in the spring of 2019 with a dear friend and collaborator from the Youth Empowerment Performance Project, a group for whom I had written my very first piece, What Fear, to accompany dancers. We both agreed it was time to make something together again, and the excuse to finish my second piece was born.
ahimsa is a 6-minute piece designed for modern dancing, but it was inspired by a thought that consumed me at the time: what is it about the human condition that makes it so difficult to live a harm-free life? How could we love without harm, when all we hold dear is so fragile, so easily broken?
(And, moreover, how could I avoid doing harm to the sweet little phrases that had come to me, and not turn them into a tacky, sticky mess?)
I took that second question, and wrote it at the top of a blank page of staff paper. I wanted the music to fight for a good answer.
I wanted to express how beauty can seamlessly corrupt itself into drama and tension. I wanted to convey effort, and fatigue. I wanted this piece to solve every heartbreak I had ever known, ever caused. I needed to be able to hear the exasperation, the frustration I faced when I tried to make good choices and so often fell short. I owed it to myself, and a few others I held in my heart as I worked on this, to try.
It got really personal. And it feels really personal to play. And that feels really good. But in the effort to get there, I had to resist the urge to write a piece that would “sound impressive to other people,” because I might have ended up writing a piece that no one likes. By sticking with compositional choices that felt satisfying to me, I knew at least one person would like it…
Maybe you’ll like it too. You can check it out on my LISTEN page.
By the way, if you’re unfamiliar with the word: ‘ahimsa’ is Sanskrit for non-harm. It’s a good quality to think about, especially now.