I recently hiked 566 kilometers across northern Spain on the historic, medieval route known as the Camino de Santiago. The Camino is designated as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, meaning that it’s judged important to the collective interests of humanity. I did this trek for multiple reasons: I wanted to mark my 50th birthday with an adventure; I craved a lengthy walking meditation and a change from my routine at home; I love backpacking because I love the simplicity of carrying everything I need to survive, and I love that I can get to places on foot that there are no other ways to reach; I love motion. I’ve been intrigued by the Camino for a long time. I’m fascinated by the fact that people have trodden upon the same path for well over 1,000 years, and I was curious whether the concept of a “ley line” really existed. I wondered whether following the path underneath the Milky Way would offer any insight into the vastness of the universe. I yearned for a bit of the mystical and was inspired by the accounts of popular artists such as Paulo Coelho, Shirley MacLaine and Martin Sheen.
It’s known for being a transformative experience for many who choose to walk the trail. Most go to the trail to receive what it has to offer, and I was no exception. However, I decided I also wanted to give the trail something in return. What could I contribute to this space on our earth that has served so many for so long? I’m always on the lookout for new ways to make my life as a creator of sound meaningful and relevant. And so, my wandering troubadour project was born. Because I didn’t need to carry a tent or a stove or even much food, I could afford the 5 extra pounds and bring my soprano saxophone (in a lightweight gig bag with all handles and buckles removed). I chose to play Bach, a composer regarded by many as representing our humanity.
I did not want to be performing concerts. I wanted to add my energy, in collaboration with Bach’s energy, and forge a union with all who had walked before me. In this way, I was also able to take my decades long yoga practice “off the mat”. Since the route came into existence as a pilgrimage, there are abundant historic churches and cathedrals along the way. The spaces vary dramatically in size, ranging from small, simple buildings to some of the most famous cathedrals in the world. Almost everywhere, the acoustics are incredible. I set up self-imposed “rules” for my project. They were simple: anytime I passed a church or cathedral that was open, I would go in and ask to play, as long as I wasn’t interrupting anyone.
I set out to live an improvisation, to be a combination of a flash mob of one and a busker. I wanted it to be unplanned, spontaneous, flexible, and in motion, just like me and everyone else on “The Way”. I wanted to experiment with a process of making music that was different from asking people to come to a concert hall. Every “performance” was unique. When I played, I often drew in other hikers and pilgrims to listen. Sometimes people meditated or prayed while I played. Sometimes I stopped playing and people asked me to play longer. Sometimes I played for clergy or tour guides or volunteers operating the buildings. Sometimes I played only for myself. At times, I was even able to transcend the technique of playing and create a moment of Zen in which playing became my meditation. Once I played for several classes of 12-year-old kids that evolved into an actual concert followed by numerous selfies!
I selected BWV 1013 first of all because I find it so mysterious and wanted the chance to “live” in it and with it, but also because the structure of the first movement is that of a psalm. The contrasting lines of poetry may possibly represent a dialogue between the psalmist and God. If I was going to be so bold as to share space with a religion to which I did not belong myself, I wanted to at least be sure to do so with open lines of communication. I sometimes played all four movements, sometimes with repeats, sometimes without. Sometimes I only played one movement, or two, or three. Sometimes many people walked in and out while I played. Sometimes everyone sat still. Sometimes it was silent and reverent, and sometimes noisy and busy. Frequently, I was thanked.
Tolstoy wrote, “Love is life. All, everything that I understand, I understand only because I love. Everything is, everything exists, only because I love.”
Carole King sang, “Only love is real.”
I offered some love and received some love as a wandering troubadour – one more installment in my reason for existing.
(Although I most definitely did not love the bed bug bites!)
In the end, I played in 33 different contemplative spaces over 21 days of walking. They say the gypsy lifestyle is a bit addictive. I am already wondering where I will wander next…