Presence precedes meaning

I remember going to a concert of Sophie’s Concert Orchestra at Garfeild High School. It featured members of the Seattle Symphony.

I was thinking about “phenomenology”. It’s a big collection of ideas; the details are unimportant here. However – and this is the crux – the phenomenologist is a “witness to – and not a critic of – experiences.”

Furthermore, “What appears matters first…… before one asks what it might mean.” (Robert Romanyshyn)

What a cool idea!!! What is the experience I’m having? What are the perceptions themselves, and the felt senses that arise?

At that concert I was practicing simply observing and staying with the direct sensory experience in front of me, and not disappearing into all sorts of internal opinions and evaluations.

At one point, 11 members of the Seattle Symphony performed a chamber piece by a 20th century composer named Golijov. So I listened. At first my eyes were open, and the experience immediately included the physical appearance and movements of the performers, the audience, and the various spacial characteristics of the room.

I shut my eyes and kept my attention as much as possible on the aural flow.

A number of sensations arose. First were senses of beauty and non-beauty, which were quickly connected to liking and not liking. I watched these sensations. Were they linguistic? Was I suddenly thinking the words “Oh, that is really nice.” Or were the senses more emotional? They were both…..

I tried to bring myself back, though, to the pure sound.

Sounds became textures, and textures became instruments. I couldn’t help it. I found myself noticing the tonal differences between a violin, a clarinet, a trumpet. Suddenly it wasn’t a composition I was listening to, but instruments and the relations between instruments.

Again, I brought myself back to the pure sound.

The conductor had said something before starting about the year 1939, Gypsies and that the composer was Eastern European. This was all I could hear in my rafter seat. Midway through, I found myself thinking of the Gypsies, the beginning of World War II, and suddenly I was in a reverie far away from the music. I was thinking about the movie “Latcho Drom” – a documentary about the Gypsies. This, along with the music’s minor key and slow tempo raised a feelings of abstract sadness – migration, war, my rememberings of seeing and talking to poor Gypsy people in Romania.

I found myself having these thoughts, and said to myself “Go back to the music!”

But it was hard, because then I started remembering a big debate I witnessed while working for the Frye Art Museum that pertained to the placement of written commentaries next to the drawings that comprised a particular exhibition. How did the written explanations enhance or detract from the direct experience of the art?

I was thinking about how the small bit I heard of the conductor’s introduction (Gypsies, etc.) had become itself a part of the context of the piece. And there I was, first experiencing feelings for Gypsies, followed by a consideration of how the conductor had influenced my experience by stating these couple pieces of information.

At that particular point the music itself was very much gone, and had become only backdrop that I was largely unconscious of.

Go back to the music!

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