Today I worked with Jann Cosart and her Medieval music history course to facilitate the exploration of Baylor’s Medieval music manuscript collection (the Jennings Collection). It’s always a joy helping introduce students to these amazing artifacts, dating from the 11th to the 16th centuries. It’s hard to get their heads (and mine too!) around the idea that we’re looking at a document that’s nearly 1,000 years old.
For whatever reason, sleep slipped out of my grasp about 4am this morning and no matter how much or how long I tried, I couldn’t go back to sleep. Instead I got up and relished the quiet, dark, drinking an unhurried cup of coffee and re-acquainting myself with a book I rediscovered on our bookshelves just yesterday but fondly remembered from fifteen or so years earlier. The book was Meditations On the Monk Who Dwells in Daily Life by Thomas Moore.
Two meditations caught my eye as I thought about meeting with the class today:
What is the difference between an illuminated manuscript created by a monk and a page freshly spewed out of a modern word processor? The computer page is eminently legible, quickly produced, perhaps beautiful, and created by the collaboration of human and machine. The illuminated page is beautiful, slowly produced, not terribly legible, and printed in solitude. The monk works with his hand, close to his ink, ready for a slip of the pen, meditating as he works. Is there a way to bring the spirit of the monk to the computer, and by extension to all our machine work, without making either an anachronism?
And one that was perfectly fitting for the day and the way it started:
Sometimes in their chanting, monks will land upon a note and sing it in florid fashion, one syllable of text for fifty notes of chant. Melisma, they call it. Living a melismatic life in imitation of plainchant, we may stop on an experience, a place, a person, or a memory and rhapsodize in imagination. Some like to meditate or contemplate melismatically, while others prefer to draw, build, paint, or dance whatever their eye has fallen upon. Living one point after another is one form of experience, and it can be emphatically productive. But stopping for melisma gives the soul its reason for being.