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Encores and Curtain Calls

‘Healing the Earth’

Joseph takes a look at what’s coming up at UMass-Amherst

“There is no need for temples, no need for complicated philosophies. My brain and my heart are my temples; my philosophy is kindness.”

— Dalai Lama

The fall artistic aquifers of the University of Massachusetts-Amherst are brimful and primed to erupt, and in some intriguing directions.

A strange synergy seems to be at work with reference to the Fine Arts Center’s first offering, “Healing the Earth, the Art of Tibetan Sand Mandala,” which seemingly coincides not merely with longstanding “green” concerns and sentiments of first world cultures, but with the new millenium’s almost palpable sense of having arrived at a critical threshold in its realization that the life of the planet is as real and crucial a concern as the life on the planet; that earth itself is, in a very real sense, in need of nurturing and healing.

On Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, Sept. 25, 26 and 27, there will be afternoon-long immersions into the mystical art of Tibetan sand mandala. Running from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. each day, this rare event promises, from all intimations, to be a deep, sustained geo-mystical meditation as the artists take their audience through the infinitely meticulous process of layering multicolored sands into characteristically complex Tibetan spiritual symbols and designs.

In clear testimony to its truly humanitarian intent, the event comes in at an unbelievable admission cost of $5 per day (allowing multiple entries) $2 for students and seniors.

The traditional Tantric Buddhist art, which is called dul-tson-kyil-khor, and which literally means “mandala of colored powders.” is being undertaken by the lamas of Drepung Loseling monastery; millions of grains of sand are painstakingly laid into place on a flat platform over a period of days or weeks.

Write the monks of their own passion: “All across the world, the creation and beauty of a Tibetan Sand Mandala painting remains a constant phenomenon of art and construction, emanating spiritual and healing power for any who experience it.” The monastery has no compunction in informing us that its art of sand mandala is used as a tool for re-consecrating the earth and its inhabitants.

The synergistic note: just this past week the residents of western New England learned of the imminent shutdown of the Vermont Yankee nuclear power facility in Vernon, Vt. For many, this was a welcome revelation, despite its possible economic reverberations, especially in the nightmarish wake of the crippled reactors in Fukushima, Japan, where some radioactive cesium levels reportedly leaped 9,000 percent in just three days earlier in July.

Given that this is the kind of particulate nuclear material that is not merely a one-time event but, once embedded in human tissue, “keeps on giving” virtually forever, few would deny that we are all coming to the point of being precarious dwellers on a planet that very much needs the “spiritual and healing power” of which the Drepung Loseling monks speak.

The lamas have enacted their art in many museums across the country, including the Arthur Sackler Gallery, Washington; the Field Museum of Natural History, Chicago, and the Provincial Museum of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada. An outline of the mandala-to-be is drawn on a wooden platform, a process that in itself requires a day’s work. On ensuing days, the sands are finely layered through funnels, called chak-purs, which the monk vibrates with a metal rod to ensure the sand’s free flow.

At the conclusion of the ceremony, the mandalas undergo ritual destruction through a meticulously orchestrated protocol designed to liberate the healing energies amidst the participants, as well as the world at large, giving half of the remainder to those individuals and returning half to the earth via the nearest body of water.

For the traditional Tibetan spiritual mindset, this is nothing other than the honoring of the indisputable reality that all created things are, in the end, temporal and subject to decay, the most arduously wrought as well as the least.

Mystical Arts of Tibet, Wednesday through Friday, Sept. 25-27, 1 to 6 p.m., Fine Arts Center Concert Hall and Lobby. Admission: $5 per day; Five College/GCC/STCC students and seniors, $2 (Daily multiple entries with a ticket)

‘Raw Materials’

And on Thursday, Sept. 26, at 8 p.m., an almost equally intriguing, intimate and economical offering takes place in Bezanson Recital Hall: “Raw Materials,” a pairing of pianist-composer Vijay Iyer and Rudresh Mahanthappa, a Guggenheim fellow and 2012 Downbeat International Critics Poll alto saxophonist of the year.

Iyer received top honors in five categories of the 2012 Down Beat International Critics Poll, including jazz artist of the year, jazz album of the year (for “Accelerando”), jazz group of the year (for the Vijay Iyer Trio), pianist of the year and rising star composer.

Howard Reich in the Chicago Tribune offers uncharacteristically passionate praise: “By now, there can be no doubt that pianist-composer Iyer stands among the most daringly original jazz artists of (his) generation.”

The duo will fuse the musical culture of Iyer’s Indian ancestry and jazz with myriad other influences.

Admission: $10, Five College/GCC/STCC students and youth 17 & under: $5

With time and good will, the earth may knit itself together first; not politically, but through a true brotherhood of the arts. At least we can hope.

To see the complete, rich and varied UMass Fine Arts Center visual, performing and educational calendar, see: https://fac.umass.edu/Online/

An author and composer, columnist Joseph Marcello of Northfield focuses on music and theater. He can be reached at
josephmarcello@verizon.net.

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