On St. Patrick’s Day in 1958, a man named Ted wrote an inscription in a book of love poems from India. Inside the book he tucked a verse of his own, neatly typed on parchment, signed and carefully folded. Sealed with three kisses and safely wrapped in its brown paperboard case, Ted’s gift began a journey across hands and time.
Fifty years and a few months later, I was sitting in my living room studio, immersing myself in a dark, velvety blue musical sketch Mijo had sent me, hearing melodies waft up between notes, leaning in to listen for what song might be living inside. Curious, I walked over to the bookshelf and fingered a soft brown spine that caught my eye, hoping to tempt inspiration from some random phrase or image. I slipped the little volume from its box, recalling I’d picked it up at a used booksale, drawn by its viney cover dotted with inky black berries, and inside, a treasure of rich, red ochre wood engravings of leaf-eyed women outlined in wide, white slithering curves. Pulling open the cover, out dropped a folded leaf of faded parchment. Ahh…that savory moment when the hunting scavenger stumbles on a possible prize – perhaps it’s a shopping list, a receipt, some slouching mundane march of words…but just maybe, could it be…Something Interesting? Slowly unfolding the page to reveal twelve modestly typed lines, I laughed out loud in giddy gratitude as my eyes delightedly skipped across Ted’s verse, a gracefully woven juxtaposition of monks and lovers, shadows and glittering sparks bouncing between mirrors of devotion, desire, longing, passion, pilgrimage toward some distant mirage of union. The words were musical, each sensual line shaded by midnight and fire, phrases shaping themselves effortlessly to the melody singing from Mijo’s chords. The marriage was instantaneous. I adapted Ted’s poem, arranged the music around it, and there emerged the song ‘Passage’ on Sephyra.
Ted’s words speak to that aspect of being human which is rooted in our ability to experience profound connectedness, whether exploring the mystery of ‘other’ through sharing ideas, love, friendship, sensuality, or on our own, in meditation, creative practice, spiritual devotion or simple reverie. A friend recently posted a reminder that the word ‘alone’ is akin to “all one” – even in solitude we contain the totality of all creation. And when we are entwined with another or even many others, like points of light in a constellation, we are still solitary.
In a similar vein, several artists collaborated across distance on the development of ‘Passage’ – Mijo drew the musical sketch, I recorded vocals and arranged the song based on Ted’s poem, and Keith Crusher and Bobby Cochran added instrumentation and production to the piece before it was handed back to David Earl and me for final production and mixing. I then sent the track to Steve Lawson – he added several layers of bass lines and ambient textures, which served to weave elements together and lent the song much of its soaringly deep atmosphere and feel. Each person whose ears and hands were entrusted with the piece was given no specific instruction or request, each worked remotely, and each heard, felt and brought out an integral aspect of the whole. The song’s realization depended entirely on a silent conversation we all had with one another and with ourselves, from a place of solitude.
Fifty-five years ago this week, Ted wrote a poem that was destined to become a song in the hands of six strangers who hadn’t yet been born. Who was he? Priest, husband, lover, young, old? Was his gift inspired by new love or celebrating a lifelong friendship? To whom was it given? Was it given at all? Mystery endures. We’ve never met Ted. But we’ve created something beautiful together, celebrating something essential about our humanness. It seems helpful to remember the possibility of connection and unity when conversations become polarized by apparently divergent political ideals or religious dogmas, either personally or on the world stage. What we say and think matters, whether we share it with a thousand, or one, or simply with ourselves. Perspectives differ and yet truth resonates. The fate of what we offer is unknown to us when it’s given, but when we listen deeply and speak thoughtfully, what we express may find itself rippling across time in ways that surprise, delight and inspire.