Last summer, I had the pleasure of being an artist-in-residence for a month at Tusen Takk Foundation in NW Michigan– and in February 2023, I returned for a week-long residency while also working with students at Interlochen Arts Academy.
Photo by Maggie Pavao, Tusen Takk Foundation
As you can see from the photos, Tusen Takk is a dream:
Photos by Tusen Takk Foundation
The foundation's name means "a thousand thanks" or an abundance of gratitude in Norwegian. This is the aura of Tusen Takk – a place to give thanks, perhaps to a higher power, as we make and create. Having now been there in summer and winter, I can confirm that there's a very unique energy at this site: it feels special, and sacred.
At Tusen Takk, I have been unpacking my relationship to the divine when it comes to Western choral music, which usually positions sacred music as innately Christian. As a performer, I've found no fundamental difference between my own spiritual faith (Hinduism) and other religious repertoire I've sung. It's always a moving experience for me to sing in praise of God, however They are called in different religions.
Performing Fauré's "Ave Maria", Op. 93 in 2018 with my teacher, Dr. Rochelle Ellis. Photo Credit: Bala's Clicks (Prakash Bala)
As a creator, though, I have found stepping into Christian sacred music to be a different experience. I want to make sure that my voice here is authentic, that I am being respectful towards a faith tradition that is not my own and that I am not always familiar with. Music in the church has often played a liturgical function, and though I'm very interested in the history of Christianity and I enjoy learning about differences in dogma and practice across the religion's denominations, I am often unaware of the nuances or the intrinsic elements that my research–which is secondhand experience, ultimately–cannot cover. To that end, I'm most grateful to the conductors, performers, mentors, and scholars who have made it possible for me to step into this space.
At Tusen Takk, I went further down the path of my sacred choral music journey than ever before. In summer 2022, I created two new works directly engaged in this relationship: Light Eternal, commissioned by the ORA Singers (director: Suzi Digby OBE) and Da Pacem Domine, commissioned by The Gesualdo Six (director: Owain Park). Light Eternal sets Hindu text from the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad (1.3.28) in conversation with two Christian texts: one from Psalm 119, and one by Erasmus. Da Pacem Domine is a combination of two Christian Latin texts dating from the sixth or seventh centuries. And in February 2023, when I returned to Tusen Takk, I was framing my response to William Byrd's Ave Verum Corpus, which became my piece Byrd Transubstantiated:
On Byrd Transubstantiated, commissioned by and written for Corvus Consort (director Freddie Crowley) and Music on the Edge. Video by Tom Mungall & John Henry Baker
While writing Da Pacem Domine, I was struggling not to feel angry with God. In my personal life, I was facing the loss of someone extremely important to me who had been put through the wringer. I couldn't understand why they had been dealt these cards. This special person embodied devoutness and piety, had taught me about religion, and was the epitome of dharma. So the main words of the text, "Da Pacem Domine - Give peace, Lord," did not quite capture my thoughts at the time. Instead, I felt forsaken, which is why I began my setting on the words "quia non est alius - because there is no one else but You." To some, those words might provide comfort; from my perspective at the time, they meant, "we have absolutely nothing left to turn to but God... and are You even there, God?"
Through spiritual conversations at Tusen Takk with Geoffrey Peckham (Founder, Director) and Patricia Melzer (Treasurer, Board of Directors), I started to make sense of my thoughts and began the slow process of acceptance. This manifested itself in the composition – it travels from sharp and jagged terrain to a place of rest, a place of peace.
Grateful for how their words had helped me heal, I gifted Geoffrey, Patricia, and Tusen Takk a handwritten page of this transformation, my transformation – it is a mark of how Tusen Takk has changed me as an artist and as a person. This autumn, the page and its associated music will be on display in the Tusen Takk exhibit at the Dennos Museum:
Tusen Takk is a special place. Living there inspired me to consider the relationship between spiritual and creative meditation. When we listen deeply to what lies within, we open ourselves up to a wide range of thoughts, feelings, knowledge, and experiences. We might engage in true conversation with ourselves. We might find that there's a world that lies beyond what we can see (maya). We might discover that these two ideas are deeply connected, that they are maybe even the same thing.
On recommendation from musician and spiritual leader Ruth Palmer (or dear Ruth Aunty, to me), I read John O'Donohue while at Tusen Takk. Seated in front of the sparkling Lake Michigan, I heard the faintest echoes that resonate inside of us. I am still trying to listen for them.
One of the daily photos I took on the shores of Lake Michigan
Wishing you all the peace and energy of this magical place,