Satyagraha and Getting It

At Northwestern, a lot of people get it. They get this whole big musical geekery thing. And, what’s more, they have the tools and facilities to let us be geeks.

Case-in-point: My room-mate and I discovered today that we were both fans of Philip Glass. And then we immediately ran out and looked at the score of one of his operas.

Philip Glass is a twentieth-century minimalist composer, which means he repeats rhythms and figures many, many, many, many times. He has pieces that consist of the same pattern – in one case, a piano playing do re mi fa so do re mi fa so – for thirty minutes. If you’ve seen the movies The Hours or Koyaanisqatsi, you’ve heard some of his work.

These aren’t his only works, though. His operas are huge entities unto themselves. The most famous four or five hour artistic monstrosities focus on major innovators of their time- people who completely upended the world view. These operas are Akhnaten, about King Tut’s father, the first monotheist; Einstein on the Beach, about Einstein; and Satyagraha, about Gandhi.

My room mate and I discovered we both liked Glass after I mentioned Satyagraha at lunch. “Y’know,” he said “we could go down to the library and look at the score.”

The chance to look at the full score of an opera – especially an esoteric one not yet in the public domain – is rare. And yet we could immediately run across campus and do it.

Satyagraha was checked out, but we did get to look at Aknhaten. All hundreds and hundreds of pages. Filled with the same patterns. Repeated over and over again. Awesomeness.

The library- and I don’t know why this didn’t occur to me beforehand- has ALL that stuff. Symphonies, operas, whole classical works usually too long and too expensive to buy are there, and you can just go in and TAKE them. And there are kids who appreciate this too- while we were walking back to our dorms, my room mate’s and my conversation touched on Satie, Reich, and Pendericki (in fact, we looked at the very-very-strange-notation Pendericki uses while in the library).

Being in a place with people that get it is really, really great.


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