An initiative to create a space for contemplation on the theme of finding beauty in what is decaying prior to the premiere of Decaying, a prerecorded program for piano and violin
“All in all, the creative act is not performed by the artist alone; the spectator brings the work in contact with the external world by deciphering and interpreting its inner qualifications and thus adds his contribution to the creative act.”Marcel Duchamp, artist
I would like to thank those who tuned in to experience my prerecorded program Decaying. This prerecorded is my response to the theme of finding beauty in what is decaying we have been exploring in Project Decaying. With the release of Decaying, now I must say farewell to this project. Here are two beautiful quotes on decaying sound and emotions, shared by Jeanne Vote, a musician currently living in Washington D.C:
“…When a pianist strikes a key, a hammer collides with a matching string inside his (her) instrument and sets it to vibrating at its characteristic frequency. As amplitude of vibration declines, the sound falls off and dies away. Emotions operate in an analogous way…”
“…As neural activity diminishes, feeling intensity decreases, but some residual activity persists in those circuits after a feeling is no longer perceptible…”
from Geometry of Grief by Michael Frame
Sharing these compelling words is a perfect way to conclude this project.
#17: Drawing by Louise Savvas
Find all the treasures hidden in this captivating artwork “Back to Nature,” submitted by Louise Savvas, an eighth grader from Maryland.
“The wolf’s fur is turning mossy, creating the perfect spot for mushrooms and small sprouting plants. In the Native American culture, a butterfly or moth symbolizes metamorphosis or change, which could be considered as something related to decay. The faded moth on the wolf’s chest further symbolizes the wolf’s changing self. Small flowers are sprouting from the old antler the wolf is holding in its mouth. This shows that life can rise out of the ashes of death, which decay can portray as well.”
#16: Photography by Brian Ganz
Enjoy this beauty of contrast captured by Brian Ganz, a concert pianist who has been my teacher and mentor for the last ten years. The setting, especially the reflection in water, evokes the ethereal quality that I sense from the paintings by Japanese artist Kaii Higashiyama. To learn more about Brian Ganz, please visit http://www.brianganz.net.
“I took this photograph while visiting my son in Waltham, Massachusetts, outside of Boston, in July of 2021. We were walking outside of his apartment building along the Charles River. Everything was lush and green in the height of summer, and most trees and grasses blended together in a rich background of thriving life. Then a single tree which appeared from across the river to be dead and decaying stood out from the surrounding green. What struck me was that it was its very decay that allowed the tree to emerge visibly (and stunningly) from the background of vibrant green.”
#15: Photography by Mark Ross
Let us slowly go back into the woods… Here are a few images captured during a birding hike by Mark Ross, a wonderful avocational pianist.
“The old cut log has a perfect open-circle cross section, like a clock or a wheel, as if to say here’s the forest regenerating itself over time. The large standing snag looks spooky on the one hand, but on the other hand it also looks like an inviting shelter for forest creatures.”
#14: Photography by Charles Williams
Here is a photograph that immediately grabbed my attention partly because I could not understand what I was seeing, which almost made me feel that I was seeing what I should not be seeing. This image titled “Late Fall” was shared by Charley, a sophomore majoring in art at St. Mary’s College of Maryland.
#13: Papercraft by Hideko Lagan
This card was submitted by Hideo Lagan from California together with the notes below. There is something poignant about decaying roses perhaps because of the meaning we (arbitrarily) attach to the flower. To learn more about Hideko’s papercraft, please visit https://papercraft-boutique.blogspot.com/.
“I made this card to express the fleeting beauty of these decaying flowers against the timeless elegance of stone. Both will ultimately fade away, but each provides beauty in its own life span.”
#12: Reverse Glass Painting (And More…) by Rachel Buxton
In this post, I would like to share “Growth and Change,” created by Rachel Buxton, a graphic designer/project manager at AdsIntelligence Marketing. Knowing her especially as a compelling soprano, I must say this artwork is so “Rachel.” To learn more about Rachel, please visit RachelBuxton.com.
“On one side you can see a skull buried underground with the roots of the beautiful rose transforming it and also drawing nutrients from the soil which has been enriched by the decay of that body. On the other side you can only see the rose, grass and fallen leaves.”
#11: Poetry by Sydney Alexandria Mitchell
This powerful poem was written by Sydney Alexandria Mitchell, a seventeen-year-old published author and playwright. A recent high school graduate and college alumna, Mitchell is now an English-Literature teacher, freelance writer, and co-director of her play “Oddments.” She recently gave a TEDx talk titled “We Are Not So Special.” Watch her talk at https://youtu.be/tuzBjCSLfSs.
I Am Youth
I am youth
They do not (quite) lie
When they say that
A part of me must die
I will decay,
Burnt plunders of playdates and playgrounds
A shell of wrinkles rivelled around
A sprout of grave green
A Gambit announcing what is
#10: Pastel Drawing by Tate Hayes
Enjoy this mesmerizing pastel by Tate Hayes, age 9. He describes his artwork as a “picture of the trees on a fall afternoon.”
#9: Drawing/Painting by Yoko Naito
Yoko from Japan captured a decaying lotus pond in two different ways through her drawing and painting, submitted together with the following notes:
“A quietly decaying lotus pond. The decaying state and its reflection in water create rhythmical music. Decay inherently possesses and communicates the power for rebirth. I find the dignity of living beings in such beauty.”
#8: Musical Composition by Alex Proctor
Here is After-Images, a musical composition for piano and violin, submitted by Alex Proctor, a composer currently living in Delaware. Alex and I were in many classes together when I was working on my second degree in music. I am always intrigued by how his mind works. Alex describes After-Images as a piece that “offers musical ideas related to the fading of images from memory, or hypnagogic, murky imagery, as in dreams.” I am unable to share a recording yet but will share a performance of this piece in the future. Meanwhile, here is a glimpse of the first few pages of the composition.
#7: Poetry by JR Rhine
Here is a poem that looks at the theme of finding beauty in what is decaying from a completely different angle. JR Rhine is an exciting writer and my collaborator in another project “A Soft and Forgiving Color,” a prerecorded program for a short story and piano, which I will premiere in 2022. He has recently published children’s book Jimmy Loves His Long Hair. You can listen to him reading the book here: https://youtu.be/cS6P8CMGZkI. To learn more about JR, please visit his website: https://jrrhinepoetry.bigcartel.com.
#6: Photography by Deborah Lawrence
Tracing the “lifecycle” thread led me to this image, shared by Deborah Lawrence, Associate Professor of Music at St. Mary’s College of Maryland. The following notes that came along with this deer skull reminded me of the luxury I experienced in her Literature and Opera class: discussing the “gaze” as we read Oscar Wilde’s Salomé…
“Several years ago, some animal deposited this deer skull in our backyard. At the time, the stark white of the bone sitting in the vibrant green grass made for a beautiful, if unsettling, contrast. As time has gone by the skull has decayed some, leaving a recognizable but more abstract form. It resides in the front yard now, nestled sometimes in succulents, other times in ferns and flowers. Disintegrating, changing oh-so-slowly, it is always both a striking object and a topic for thought. I have come to look forward to seeing it daily, a strange resident at our home.”
5: Photography by Christine Bergmark
Enjoy the image of these surreal mushrooms, captured in the Olympic National Park in Washington State, by Christine Bergmark, Lead Organizer and Director of TEDxGreatMills. It reminded me of Christine’s experience: seeing a common theme emerging from TEDx speakers whenever she is preparing for a TEDx event. Although Christine and Karen from the previous post do not know each other and are geographically apart, the prompt of finding beauty in what is decaying directed them to the same idea and image. To learn more about TEDxGreatMills, please visit https://tedxgreatmills.com/.
#4: Photography by Karen Ogden
Here is beauty in what is decaying, captured by Karen Ogden from Pennsylvania in her own backyard. I learned so much about nature from her when she was living in Maryland. These images were accompanied by the following message:
“I love those fungi and lichens, workhorses of nature, alongside the beetles and microorganisms, of course. The crop of mushrooms heralds a decaying root, a remnant of a large, once living tree. As one cluster fades, another emerges.”
#3: Poetry by Michael S. Glaser
Savor these poems, written and shared by Michael S. Glaser. The two poems gently invite us to think about the lifecycle we find in nature and in ourselves. Michael S. Glaser is a Professor Emeritus at St. Mary’s College of Maryland and was Poet Laureate of Maryland from 2004-2009. The recipient of the Homer Dodge Endowed Award for Excellence in Teaching, and the Columbia Merit Award for service to poetry, he served as a Maryland State Arts Council poet-in-the-schools for over 25 years and has been widely sought as a speaker and workshop leader. To learn more about Michael S. Glaser, please visit https://michaelsglaser.com/.
The woods in which I live
fill me with wonder,
how patiently each tree embraces
the slow unfolding of the seasons,
how unfailingly each seems to know
when to send forth its buds
and when to let go.
I envy their certainty,
their trust in the resurrection of Spring.
— Michael S. Glaser
Old age has invited me
to embrace uncertainty
look in the mirror
and find there, at last,
my heart’s true song
smiling and simply
humming to itself.
— Michael S. Glaser
#2: Photography by Nick Hughes
Enjoy the decaying scenery and light captured by Nick Hughes along with his writing. Nick Hughes is a filmmaker based in Baltimore and my collaborator who filmed my previous project Beyond Darkness and will also film Decaying. I deeply trust his aesthetics. To learn more about Nick, please visit http://www.enhues.com/.
I took this picture from the passenger seat of a car driving out of Flagstaff, AZ. It was a small forest fire and apparently fairly common in the area. I was struck by the way the smoke billowed out, obscuring all but the front row of trees and how branches had burned away at the bottoms of the trees but not the tops. We didn’t stop the car, so the photo has a small amount of motion blur that gives it a dreamlike quality, reminiscent of the way this fleeting moment has stuck in my memory for years.
I’m fascinated by the way you can trace the light in this image as it falls off and decays. The source is just out of frame, above and to the left, creating a broad wash of light inside. As it travels through the window, it illuminates sections of the brick outside and casts a reflection back onto the window, superimposing the brick pattern onto the larger indoor tiles. It’s a simple scene, but the longer I stare at it, the more I appreciate the subtle interplay of light and shadow.
#1: Poetry by Raisa Lees
The first artwork from the community I would like to share is this arresting poem written by Raisa Lees, a high school senior from Maryland.
I dare you to pick apart this dark life,
like gears in a broken clock you have no intention of fixing.
what terribly curious children we were,
almost innocent in our wickedness,
almost, but god knows we will never make it to his eternal heaven.
I hope you go, to some place better,
but the rain water has sunk too deep into my bones.
some people are made out of the finest leather and gold,
civil people who will fit right into his version of paradise.
but some of us will never let go of the ropes we cling to,
limp rotting fruit was never meant to last forever.
I hope our souls are organic,
ripening in our youth like a freshly picked peach.
enjoy these beautifully fragile things! enjoy!
for in May, we will sink into the river with its muddy bottom,
and decay with the grace of the mighty trees.
When they throw away my body into the forest,
an empty corpse for the fungus to breed,
perhaps my bones will become a cryptid or a legend,
silently rotting away, to become one with all things.
— Raisa Lees
When I was putting my ideas together for a program on the theme of finding beauty in what is decaying, this tulip happened to be in my house. The synchronicity convinced me that this program was the one I should pursue. The process eventually led to creating “Decaying,” a prerecorded program for piano and violin, which I will premiere in January 2022. In this program, listeners will be invited to experience the theme of finding beauty in what is decaying from three different angles: scenery, thoughts, and physical existence. Prior to sharing this prerecorded program, I wanted to create a space to think about this theme without seeking any particular answers or conclusions.
At a glance, this tulip made me think of the mask of Yase Onna (emaciated woman) used in Japanese Noh theater. This mask represents the spirit of a woman unable to rest in peace because of her strong attachment to love, lust, and desire. It is interesting and almost ironic that such a mask had to exist in the society where intense personal feelings were never to be shared publicly. Or it may be more accurate to say such a mask had to exist so that hidden intense feelings had a place to go in order to be digested and purified.
As I gazed at the tulip, I began to realize this dying flower and the mask were actually at the opposite ends of the spectrum. While Yase Onna (emaciated woman) communicates her intensity and inability to accept her own fate and let go of the attachment, the flower seemed totally at peace with her own state. Strangely I see beauty in both ends of the spectrum, and I find this complexity fascinating. What I sensed from the dying flower was contrasting qualities: determination and vulnerability. Or shall I describe it as “quiet determination to be vulnerable”? It is somewhat unsettling because those words do not mix well together, but I also find this complexity fascinating.
Is it too much mulling over nothing? Perhaps. But knowing that I have such a space to let my thoughts float keeps me grounded.
Have you ever found beauty in what is decaying? What does “beauty in what is decaying” mean to you? Please share your artwork (poetry, photography, painting, drawing, sculpture, musical composition, pottery, flower arrangement, etc.) and above all, your thoughts. What happens when you allow your thoughts to float? I am looking forward to hearing from you.