Sonata Shambhala (2018)
This work is a musical response to Shambhala: The Sacred Path of the Warrior by Chögyam Trungpa, a book which was recommended to me by a dear family-relative of mine in the spring of 2017. At the time, I was in a routine involving waking up very early in the morning and reading by the morning sunlight until it was time for breakfast. Reading the words of this book in such a setting was deeply inspiring, and it was not long after that I proposed the idea of composing an extended solo piano piece in reflection of the book to my dear friend (and excellent pianist) Benjamin Hochman. Over a year’s worth of labor later, I produced the score for him (with the somewhat unintentional surprise for him of a duration of over 30 minutes), and Mr. Hochman premiered the work at Marlboro College near Brattleboro, VT, on November 11, 2018, with following performances in Seattle, WA, and Ghent, NY. Around this time, Rinchen Llamo, a friend of Mr. Hochman and a former-student of Trungpa himself, sponsored the final labor of composing this piece, and I am deeply grateful to her for her support.
In this work, I have not sought to depict the teachings of the book literally in the music, but rather to reflect musically my own feelings, experiences, and thoughts upon encountering and meditating upon them. Below are quotes from the book that I found particularly relevant to each movement after composing the work as a whole:
I. Kingdom Visions (Chaconne)
“When you awaken your heart, you find, to your surprise, that your heart is empty. You find that you are looking into outer space. What are you, who are you, where is your heart? … If you search for your awakened heart, if you put your hand through your rib cage and feel for it, there is nothing there except for tenderness. You feel sore and soft, and if you open your eyes to the rest of the world, you feel tremendous sadness. … It occurs because your heart is completely exposed. … For the warrior, this experience of sadness gives birth to fearlessness.” (pp. 31–32)
II. Warrior’s Path
“The Great Eastern Sun is a rising sun…it represents the dawning, or awakening of human dignity—the rising of human warriorship. [It] is based on celebrating life. … [It] is based on seeing that there is a natural source of radiance and brilliance in the world—which is the innate wakefulness of human beings.” (pp. 43–45)
III. Pilgrimage – Ascent – Kingdom
That mind of fearfulness
Should be put in the cradle of loving-kindness
And suckled with the profound and brilliant milk of eternal doubtlessness.
In the cool shade of fearlessness,
Fan it with the fan of joy and happiness.
When it grows older,
With various displays of phenomena,
Lead it to the self-existing playground.
When it grows older still,
In order to promote primordial confidence,
Lead it to the archery range of warriors.
When it grows older still,
To awaken primordial self-nature,
Let it see the society of men
Which possess beauty and dignity.
Then the fearful mind
Can change into the warrior’s mind,
And that eternally youthful confidence
Can expand into space without beginning or end.
At that point it sees the Great Eastern Sun.
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