Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Jane Tyson Clement and the Bruderhof Community

When I was a senior at Vassar, I had the pleasure of creating an independent study in Religious Communities around the Hudson Valley, NY. As the air in Pittsburgh grows colder and wetter, I have the memories of wearing a giant wool cape at a Benedictine monastery around this time of the year, when the sole monk living there requested that I help him enter some prayers into the most archaic, jankety Apple computer I've seen in my life (and I once took classes on a Commodore computer, which is pretty archaic). Gosh, I wish I could have kept that cape, it was totally enveloping and everything a wool cape should be, especially when you're freezing in a monastery, holding onto a sugar cookie for dear life.
I digress.
One of the places I visited on my community search was the Bruderhof settlement in Rifton, NY. There are quite a few large families living on the land there, in a religious community that I usually explain as a sort of Quaker mentality: respect for the earth, focus on the family, education is important, hard work is too. The Bruderhofs also make excellent nail-less furniture for children's playsets.
One of the more visible members of the Bruderhof Community in America was Jane Tyson Clement. She was an active poet and musician, as many of the community members are very musically gifted, and she published many of her works. Her book 'No One Can Stem The Tide' was given to me as a thank-you for visiting the community and taking the time to see what their life was like. (While I love the concepts of raising your children to know how to rewire a house at age 7, and living in the countryside nearly self-sustainably, I can't imagine myself converting to farm life or being opposed to homosexuality. Nevertheless, mucho respect for you for going against the lure of the iPhone.)
In 2005 I began setting some of Clement's poems to music. Three of those poems will be premiered at Vassar College in November in the form of a piece for chamber ensemble and two singers. It's been great revisiting these poems, and during this fall season, it's very nostalgic thinking back to writing music as an undergrad, being in a practice room when it's raining (and trying to block out the sounds of the pianist next to me). One of the poems I had put to music has never been performed, so I re-orchestrated it; it's great to know that something that's been in the works for a long time will get heard. Clement's poems are usually filled with joy, grief, love of nature, and very simple but stunning language that I thought was perfect to set to music. Rehearsals are underway now for a performance in November. I'll also be able to visit Vassar for the performance, so I invite all my Hudson Valley/NYC to come hear it and say hello!

Vassar College, Mahagonny Ensemble
Premier of 'Dark Interval' for chamber ensemble and two singers
Friday November 13th, 8:00pm
Skinner Hall of Music

Pictured: pleasantly abstract stained glass panel from a religious retreat that was one of the stops along my independent study.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hey I love this post. I have also been to the bruderhof and am familiar with Clements' poems. She has an incredible way to describe something very powerful with such simple language and few words. Which of her poems have you put to music? I would love to hear them.
I like your comments on the bruderhof lol.