Graduate School gave me countless opportunity to explore other aspects of music besides marimba and percussion. Throughout my graduate school career (and even now), a Benedictine nun from the 12th Century called Hildegard von Bingen captured my heart, and she remians as my research interests.
Below is an excerpts from the program note from my multi-media lecture recital, Viriditas, given in 2009.
Hildegard von Bingen (1098-1179)
One of the leading Hildegard scholars, Sabina Flanagan,
Ph. D., summarizes achievements of Hildegard as follows:
Hildegard von Bingen -- visionary, poet, composer, naturalist, healer, and theologian -- founded convents; corresponded with secular and ecclesiastical leaders, as well as a vast range of people of lesser rank; and ventured forth as a monastic trouble-shooter, consultant exorcist, and visiting preacher. Even more remarkable for a woman of her time was the body of written work she produced. Its range -- from natural history and medicine to cosmology, music, poetry, and theology -- surpasses that of most other male contemporaries; it also possesses great beauty and witnesses to Hildegard's intellectual power.
Hildegard was a Benedictine nun in the High Middle Ages, and depending on one’s area of interests, she can appear to be a completely different person! For students of music, she is known as a composer of religious chants because she composed chants to be sung in her two convents. In addition to being an abyss, she was known as “Sybil of Rhine.” She became a celebrity figure when her vision was approved by the Pope Eugenius III as a “true” inspiration from God, and she was urged to write her vision to be circulated. The book is called Scivias. Hildegard wrote two additional books describing other visions and these became Book of Life’s Merits, and Book of Divine Works. Theologians know her through these writings, although several medical doctors took interest in her description of seeing the bright light, and argued it to be the earliest record of a symptom for migraine headaches!
During her life time, she wrote fourteen books in different areas including medicine, physiology, and theology. Historical pharmacologists study her book of natural remedies to examine the effectiveness of her herbal medicine. Medieval scholars study Hildegard’s letters to gain further understanding about people’s lives and concerns of the time period. Not only has Hildegard corresponded with many influential figures of the day, but also vast majorities of her letters have survived and are published in modern times. Kings, Popes, nobles, abbots and abbesses, as well as lay people sought her advice because of her knowledge of medicine and her gift to receive divinely influenced visions.
Although never completed, there were at least three different biographers who worked on her biography during her life time. Subsequently, there are some autobiographical accounts of her life in these biographies.
In recent years with rising interest in medieval music, Hildegard is now widely studied by scholars in many different fields. I have come across books and articles about her and/or her works, and I am surprised by the variety of authors’ backgrounds. They can be scientists, medical doctors, pharmacologists, theologians, linguists, botanists, musicologists, and music historians. In terms of music, her chants have been recorded by several medieval vocal ensembles as well as Benedictine nuns. (The recording you heard when you came in today is by the Benedictine nuns at Saint Hildegard Abby in Eibingen, Germany!) There are several popular arrangements of her works by living composers as well.
I met Hildegard outside of music history classes when I started my master’s degree program. As my college friends dove into the “real” world, I thought about what I was still doing in the sheltered environment of academia. That led me to think about who I am as a graduate student, as a musician, and as a person. Around the same time, my creative impulse was taking me beyond music. I started to sense that music itself could no longer contain who I thought I was, and that there is a life and identity outside practice rooms.
I now can see that I was afraid of exploring beyond the musical realm and possibly finding a bigger and even greater passion that can steer me away from music. Without realizing it, Hildegard became my mentor. After all, music was very central to her life, but she was doing lots of other things on top of music! She gave me courage to explore other fields of art, and not to be intimidated with the idea of trying to do something outside of music. Eventually, I found a way to relate to the world and to explore new ideas and new forms of art from the prospective of a musician. It led me to explore the multi-media arts.