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reprinted from
Community Connexion

Portland, Oregon January-Febrary 1999


Hildegard's Chants

by Norma Gentile



Through a series of mystical visions, a woman with little formal education grew to understand the relationship of Biblical texts to the world of nature and humanity's caretaking role in it. At first she dared not follow the full urgings of the angels who populated her visions when they commanded her to write down her insights for others. She resisted primarily because she knew of no other woman who wrote publicly.

Nine hundred years ago this remarkable woman, Hildegard, was born into a noble family near Bingen, in Germany's Rhineland. As a child she saw and spoke with angelic messengers regularly. As an adult she founded and led two Benedictine monasteries for women, traveled and spoke publicly to great crowds, and was a renowned healer using herbs, diet, gemstones and prayer.

Her console was sought by the church hierarchy and kings alike, while her writings received the papal blessings. She completed seven books, as well as a play and seventy-seven songs, all with sacred Latin texts and music of her own making.

She spoke of her music as being a translation of the "Cosmic Symphony" which she heard during her visions. "Sometimes when we hear a song we breathe deeply and sigh. This reminds the prophet that the soul arises from heavenly harmony." The soul itself lives in this music of the spheres, and so it creates a desire in the body to express its sacredness through audible music.

Her songs are internal invocations of the many faces of divinity. Each invites our connection with spirit to be made more personal, more intimate.

"O sweetest lover,...O sweetest comforter...O most beautiful figure,...O sweetest aroma of desired delight...We are in the world, and you are in our minds, and we enfold you in our hearts as if we had you present."

Unlike traditional 'classical' music, her songs come from a meditative tradition, that is, they are meant to be heard as part of communion with spirit. Originally the word 'concert' meant to act together, or literally, 'to bring into agreement'. Part of facilitating this process of agreement is inviting the audience to hum gently and provide simple tones of harmonic underpinning called 'drones' for some of the songs. The humming vibrates through the physical body of those singing, and moves out into the room, where eventually the space itself sings with overtones and colors. Not all choose to hum, but most find themselves gently transported to a safe and secure haven where they can relax, close their eyes and meditate or pray. In this way Hildegard's music is the medium upon which spirit moves, bring us together into a sacred space of stillness and ease.

A Candlelight Evening of Hildegard's music will be held in complete candlelight on January 20th, 2000 starting at 7:30pm in The Old Church, SW 11th & Clay Street. Tickets are $10 and may be purchased in advance from Music Millennium (503) 248-0163 or at the door.

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