Half Notes: Secret Sky

Half Notes: Secret Sky

If birds sing on a lushly wooded island, and no one is there to hear them, is their song still as beautiful? If no one is there to witness, as wedges of waterfowl fly high overhead on their annual migration, do their wings and voices roil the air just the same?

“Yes, let me show you,” says Mara Gibson, as she leads us on a musical journey around a northern Michigan island. In “Secret Sky,” Mara guides us to experience place and sound as inseparable—where one defines the other, and neither is whole without the other.

“Close your eyes, you won’t need them,” she says.

“But we want to see,” we object.

“Yes,” she says, as she leads us gently.

At first, the sounds are sparse and crisp, almost without tone. Ears and hearts that have been trained over the years to ignore unessential sounds and emotions do not easily awaken. A gentle yet persistent flute pulls us onto higher ground where a veil falls from our ears, and we begin to hear. The sounds grow, and we feel with our ears that the terrain changes as we proceed. A field here, where meadowlarks whistle. Bluebirds chortle there, on the hillock. Each area has a distinctive music that we could never understand as long as we saw only with our eyes. Even the island’s lighthouses. Several times the timpani announce their presence. We are surprised that we can hear a lighthouse.

We are grateful for moments of silence, as we move from one area of the island to another, for we are not used to hearing so well. The birds sing more loudly. Waves continue to lap the stony shore. As the sounds build, and now overlap without pause, we begin to feel overwhelmed. Our hearts beat faster. We can feel ourselves tensing.

Mara was ready for this. In a moment of beautiful resolution toward the end of “Secret Sky,” she brings us down calmly, and we return to the shore where we started.

In “Secret Sky,” Mara Gibson shows us that by surrendering to the sounds of a specific place, we open doors to places in our hearts that sit unexplored. To paraphrase words of Rumi that were an inspiration to Mara: With no eyes, we have seen. With no feet, we have walked. And the veil has been removed.

– Dan Lory

Hear Secret Sky at CCO’s Oct 26 concert at St James cathedral: MORE INFO AND TICKETS


About Half-Notes:

By popular demand, once again we are offering our series called Half-Notes. Half-Notes are reflections by Dan Lory, CCO’s non-expert in residence, on each of the compositions performed in our concert.

Dan Lory calls himself a music lover who is unencumbered by knowledge of music theory. Enjoy Dan’s take on each piece that will be performed at CCO’s October 26 concert. We think these reflections will help all listeners—from music experts to the theory-unencumbered among us—enjoy the concert more fully.