5 Questions with Philip Glass

5 Questions with Philip Glass

Philip Glass by Steve Pyke

Composer Philip Glass culminated almost two decades of exploring sacred indigenous ceremonies with an album and concerts with two Wixarika musicians from Jalisco, Mexico. See the review.

1. What’s the spiritual connection to the music you’ve created with Wixarika musicians?”

I once said to Daniel (Medina de la Rosa), “If the text you’re singing were a few words shorter, I could make it fit to the music better.” And he said, “No, no, no. I can’t do that.” I said, “Why can’t you do that?” He said, “They’re not my words.” I asked him, “Well, whose words are they?” And he said, “Those are the words of the poderios.” That was the beginning of my understanding of what he was really doing. He was not singing something that he made up; he was allowing the poderios to enter his mind stream and to influence it in his music. It’s not a new idea; people have often talked about channeling music.

2. What are poderios sagrados?

Poderio means power. Sagrado is sacred. The Wixarika say that powers like the sun, the moon, the sea, or the wind—the elements of nature—bring the music. We’re familiar with these elements but in modern times we don’t talk about them this way. We give names to storms but we treat them as if they’re foreign entities that have nothing to do with us and are hostile to us. The forces of nature are there to be understood and not feared. So, when we talk about music and the spirit in that way, it’s very hard to separate it, isn’t it?

3. One song is titled “Sacred Cactus.” Did you try the cactus during Wixarika ceremonies?

It’s hard to say because I wasn’t always sure what was going on! There was one evening they were passing around the corn soup, which tasted like corn soup to me. I didn’t notice anything different. Later a friend said there was something in that corn soup. I wasn’t looking for that. So I guess because I wasn’t looking for it I didn’t find it. The experiences themselves don’t require that.

4. What’s the connection between meditation and music?

By “meditation” I think you mean a certain kind of attention, which is explicitly placing attention on a subject. You may do a meditation on a deity or on a quality like compassion; the Dalai Lama likes that one a lot. But to say that meditation is like music—that’s a bit of a stretch, isn’t it? Meditation is more stylized and follows a pattern. But the way we experience music—we don’t have a language for that.

5. The liner notes of The Spirit of the Earth say that Daniel’s music and words come to him in dreams or visions and that you have a similar experience.

That’s true. I think that’s true of many musicians. You have to accept that there’s a lot of dream work that goes on with writing music. When we sit down to play in the morning, afternoon, or evening, there’s a certain light, so to speak.

—John Malkin

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