Living in Counterpoint

Mohammad Fairouz is a young composer whose opera and symphonies have been performed at Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, and The Kennedy Center. His 11 albums include Native Informant, In The Shadow of No Towers, Poems and Prayers, and, most recently, Follow, Poet. The following is an excerpt from a conversation between Fairouz and Krista Tippett on the On Being radio broadcast.

TIPPET:  You have drawn an interesting analogy between this frontier we’re on of living in a globalizing world and yet identity being as vital and essential a thing as ever before. You wrote this: “One of my great mentors, Edward Said, borrowed the term ‘counterpoint’ from music and applied it to critical thought in politics and in society as a way for cultures to exist in a tapestry of counterpoint without any culture giving up its individual sense of beauty but contributing to the greater whole.” Often, in your music, you use contrapuntal forms to multiple melodic lines that have their independence but make up one piece of music. . .[It seems] to me a very useful analogy for where we are as societies as well.

FAIROUZ: Absolutely. The world has to exist in counterpoint. In order to understand this, it’s very important to understand the musical concept of counterpoint. And the musical concept of counterpoint is very simple, actually. You have a melody or a tune. And it’s beautiful. And then you have another melody or a tune, and another one. And you put them all together and play them simultaneously, like singing “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” in canon.

And instead of each individual melody losing anything by being combined as a whole, it becomes like a wonderful tapestry, a tapestry where each of these individual threads doesn’t lose its meaning, doesn’t lose its identity, doesn’t lose its own raison d’etre, its own reason for being, but contributes to the whole tapestry of counterpoint.  So [we can] see the world as a tapestry of counterpoint, not hegemony of one line or one culture over another or domination or anything like that.

What if we could see the world in counter point? Each culture is a melody or a thread. Instead of excluding or running from this melody or thread, we would incorporate each into the symphony or tapestry of our lives. The synergy of these differences would make our experience of the world more vibrant and alive and beautiful, rather than more dangerous or threatening.musical score

Here is a lovely and perhaps helpful spiritual practice: Look for the melody line in each person you meet who is “different.” Imagine how the symphony of both or your lives would be  enhanced by playing the counterpoint together.

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You can find the rest of this interview on On Being

Sheet music image credit:  www.purplekittyyarns.com 

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