Polyphony

Simple illness, the kinds we all succumb to from time to time and from which we emerge in a few days, those simple illnesses give gifts. This cold, for me, gifts me with a day of time and solitude. I’ve cancelled my plans, maybe will have to cancel ones for tomorrow. My friend, Jaems, emails me this morning and says, “ If you’re reading this, you shouldn’t be. Go back to bed. Use this time for inner reflection.”

He doesn’t know I now have a laptop!

I do head for bed, without my laptop, and I do fall asleep, perchance to dream, but nothing much unfolds in that inner world. I wake and pick up the book that’s been resting without complaint on my bedside table for the last month. I ordered it when I ordered Abram’s Becoming Animal, partly because I knew Abram started his book with a poem by Robert Bringhurst and partly because Amazon claimed I would like it…You know how they do that! Gets me everytime I swear. Robert Bringhurst’s book, Everywhere Being Is Dancing, has been waiting without rancor for a month, but yesterday, with no warning, it began yelling, “ Look at me, pick me up, choose me, try me, you purchased me for god’s sake!”

“That I did! I hate to admit it but I had forgotten you.  Sorry, I am, really.”

I pick the book up after grabbing Abram and rereading the poem that captured my attention in the first place.

Voice: the breath’s tooth.
Thought: the brain’s bone.
Birdsong: an extension of the beak. Speech:
the antler of the mind. ( RB )

I had to draw what I think of as a polyphonic response to that poem.

The book’s black and red cover intrigues me. On the bottom there’s a black…

ooops. I smell cookies. I can’t believe they’re baked already. Ooops the buzzer just went off. Gotta go… I believe in the old adage my mother taught me: starve a fever, feed a cold . . .with chocolate chip oatmeal walnut cookies.

…there’s a black square with a riveting image – a swan I think maybe, whirring its wings so fast you can barely see spokes of individual feathers in a blurring semi-circle of shades of white with maybe a black beak peaking to the right, wings wheeling so fast I feel their downdraft, their power. Moving stasis …What a photo! It, too, is polyphonic! By now you may be scratching your head, if you, like I, have not yet added that
polyphonic word to your vocabulary.

Yesterday, I was traveling beyond words. Today I’m immersed in a world of multiple words, tracking multiple layers of reality, the way the forest reveals its deeper message in a chorus of sounds, each soundstory a particular thread of uniqueness gathering together in a gestalt that the wise ones can “read.” Bringhurst describes this as polyphony. I learn the word’s origin is Greek and recent, the early 19th century. “Polu”means “many” and “phōnē” means “sound.”

This word, polyphony, matters to me. It provides a context to understand how I live, think and know – a big word, this polyphony. It describes the gift brought by BodySinging when a group of us stalwart BodySingers gather to sing our individual storysongs simultaneously…People have labeled that kind of BodySinging as jazz, but I know it is more than that. It is the symphony that holds our world together.

Bringhurst describes polyphony as…”singing more than one song, playing more than one tune, telling more than one story, at once. It is music that insists on multiplicity – instead of uniformity on the one side or chaos on the other…(It creates) a statement that none of these statements makes on its own…they retain their independence …(and )…their relation is that of coequals.” ( p33 )

“The world is a polyphonic place. The polyphonic music, polyphonic poetry, and polyphonic fiction humans make are answers to that world. They are mimicry of what-is, as much as they are statements of what might be.”( p37 )

Finally, Bringhurst comments that polyphony is not meant to be a “skilled procedure or technique” but rather reflects the way things are. “Multiplicity of voice is not some new and nifty trick. In poetry as in reality, it is the ancient, normal mode.”

I want to chew on that and enjoy my cookies at the same time.

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About Deborah

Deborah Jane Milton, Ph.D. is an artist, mentor, and eco-psychologist, mother of four and grandmother of eight.
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9 Responses to Polyphony

  1. What a mesmerising piece, Deborah. I used to study all kinds of the traditional polyphony during my music degree, aeons ago. In that context, it was used to indicate when lots of lines of music walked together and harmonised: in the same key, but doing complementary things.

    In my mind, it is inextricably linked with creation stories. In the beginning there was one pure tone. Gradually others joined it, but moving at the same time in harmony, rather than taking an independent path within the key: and finally independent polyphony happens as each line develops creativity for itself.

    I’m reading CS Lewis’s The Magicians Nephew to my son. I know there’s a creation story coming, and Im straining to remember whether Lewis’s Aslan develops polyphony at the dawn of his new world. I’ll keep you posted.

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    • Deborah says:

      Ahhh Kate, thank you for these connections. I’m going to find the Magician’s Nephew by golly. Eons ago, when my kids were wee, we read Narnia outloud together and I was so moved by Aslan’s dying that I couldn’t not cry…kids were a bit flummoxed to see Mum so moved by “their” story, but Lewis’ work is ageless and now they know that too.
      And like you, I know polyphony and the creation/manifestation of the world from a vision that rocked me almost thirty years ago now. It weaves my bone deep knowing into my more public presence now. I’m grateful you know this, too.

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  2. James Lawer says:

    Deborah, When you get an opportunity, find a CD of the music of the Pygmies of Central Africa, and listen to their polyphony. It is not Western polyphony in the sense of sung or instrumental, specialized music in a concert hall or recording studio, but is an array of sounds recorded in the marketplaces of their lives. It is integrated polyphony. You may find it much closer to simultaneous BodySinging than listening to 16th Century polyphony sung in a cathedral.

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    • Deborah says:

      Love:”an array of sounds recorded in the marketplaces of their lives.”

      The notion of integrated polyphony manifesting wholeness in a way which can’t be articulated by one breath/voice alone but registered in the deep silence afterward.

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  3. PJ` says:

    LOVE this here….. glad you got a cold and had such a marvelous adventure…
    I will answer your questions soon… need to meditate, eat bkf. … and then will come back to your musings….
    love you
    PJ

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  4. mini says:

    Thanks for your post Deborah … not often I read about Polyphony (which is sad.)
    If your have more to say about Polyphony please do share.

    Hope you are doing well.

    Like

    • Deborah says:

      Thank you, Mini, for responding to this post. Got me to read it again, which was inspiring. Wow, I said all that???

      How did you find this post and what are your polyphonic associations?

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  5. mini says:

    I googled “polyphony” along with a couple of other keywords and found your blog …
    I discovered the meaning of polyphony a few years ago after trying to find the correct word describing what I enjoyed in music. Polyphony is usually associated with classical music and from my research it appears Bach was a master of polyphony (or counterpoint). The music I enjoy however is electronic music and more specifically “house music”. What I enjoy is when 2 songs play at the same time where the result becomes magical. Since then I have been fascinated by this word and believe there is much more to it than what we know. Here’s a couple of passages (about polyphony) that I like …
    Forkel characterized Bach’s use of harmony in the following way:
    “He considered music entirely as a language, and a composer as a poet. … [But] so long as the language of music has only simple melodies, or only successive connection of musical tones, it must still be considered poor. … Very different is the case, when two melodies are so interwoven with each other that they, as it were, converse together, like two persons of the same rank and equally well informed. … This sort of union of two melodies gives rise to new combinations of tones and consequently to an increase in the variety of musical expressions. When more voices are added, and interwoven with each in the same free and independent manner, the wealth of musical expression increases still further. … Harmony must thus be understood not simply as the accompaniment of a simple melody, but as a real means to increase … the wealth of our musical language.”
    Kepler:
    “Follow me, you musicians of today, and judge for yourself. According to the principles of your art, which were still unknown to the ancients. … Through your polyphonic melodies, through your ears, the human spirit—the beloved child of the divine Creator—Nature has revealed her inner Essence. … The planetary motions are thus nothing else than a continuing, polyphonic music (perceived by the mind, not the ear); a music, which progresses through dissonant tensions, as if by syncopations and cadences (as Man uses these, in imitation of those natural dissonances), toward certain predetermined points of completion; and by doing so, sets its various marks onto the immeasurable expanse of time. ”
    Both can be found through this link:
    http://www.schillerinstitute.org/fid_97-01/002-3_bach_kep.html

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  6. Deborah says:

    thank you, mini, for these rich quotes. I can’t wait to read the article linked above and imagine I will now pick up this polyphonic thread again, thanks to you. Keep in touch please. Also did you happen to read my post of Feb15 in which another poly is mentionned – polymath. These poly-possibilities must be part of the loosening up of our too linear cultural mindset. Thank you and I thank the googling goddes too.

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