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Still Listening (RIP Pauline Oliveros)

Nudged out of hiding by news of the wise and wonderful Pauline Oliveros‘ passing. She was an important mentor for me, and just a couple weeks ago I had her Deep Listening album on repeat, which greatly soothed my pre-election jitters. This morning over coffee I opened up her book Sounding the Margins, and as it turns out, the first page I turned to was exactly what I needed to read. I posted a quote with a short remembrance to Facebook, and wanted to include it here as well:

“If you are a composer, give priority to community building over career building. Find ways to collaborate, serve the field and make it good for your colleagues as well as yourself. Question your relationship to the form of music you are writing. Are you listening to your own inner voice and answering it’s call? Are you expressing what you need to express or what you have been taught to express by the canon of men’s musical establishment? Of what value is the technique and form you have learned to the expression of what you feel and hear as your own voice in music? How would you like for your music to function in your community? In the world?”

— Pauline Oliveros, “Sounding the Margins”

Pauline was a guiding force for me when I was realizing I wanted to devote my life to music. Between my sophomore and junior years at Vassar, I took a year off, and worked at Harvestworks in NYC. During that time, Pauline would come in for recording sessions, often with Stuart Dempster and Panaiotis, and I was able to be in the studio helping out. Those sessions were always so full of laughter and outright silliness as well as beautiful sounds, and I thought, this is such a wonderful way to make music!

A little later during my senior year in college, I worked as an intern for her foundation, driving to Kingston a couple times per week to perform whatever tasks needed doing. One day I was trying to print up a score, and the printer was being finicky and I was getting frustrated. I was just about to let it go and call it a day, when Pauline said (with great force), “ALEX! YOU MUST *NEVER* GIVE UP!” And together we worked to fix the problem and print that score. We both knew that her words were intended for more than that moment.

If ever I feel exhausted and/or doubtful about my musical life, I hear her voice saying not to give up. Happily, she also taught me how to listen.

Much love to you, dear Pauline. <3

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