Here is a note I wrote to my students about Kannon’s Pillow:
Yesterday i was listening to piano music composed by composer and zen teacher, Luc de Winter, and played by the beautifully articulate, subtle and expressive pianist, Veerle Peeters. The exquisite placement and tonality of the notes, supported by the silence in between, brought me a profound sense of intimacy with the music, the world and myself.
I believe it was the way the notes played the silence between them, and the way the silence made each note so essential as a complete expression, while remaining part of the whole, that transformed my listening into an expression of my own.
Note by note, and silence by silence, I experienced my own natural spaciousness in a way that mirrored the music, which was was sensual, deepening, complete. Such compositions, so beautifully played!
The experience reminded me of a poem by the great haiku master, Basho:
the temple bell stops ringing
but the sound keeps coming
out of the flowers
And, sure enough, after the last note on the cd finished sounding, I found that the echoes of the music stayed with me as treasured companions all day long. They informed my seeing and what I saw. And as evening came on, and then the night, I watched the stars appear like musical notation, one by one, with countless miles of space between them, so I could almost hear each star shining in the dark.
That music, its silence, and those stars, each one held yet whirling in an interval of limitless, unknowable space, had become as close as my own heart.
This is true intimacy for which I thank the composer and pianist so much.
Peter Levitt, poet and zen teacher, Salt Spring Island, British Columbia
The sacred texts of Zen, when they are recited, are usually designed to express the gratitude to Buddha and the masters of the transmission. This well natural intention is manifested in the dedication. Similarly the four vows of the bodhisattva expressing the highest spiritual ideal, but it is still with conscious intent which may limit their scope.
When you hear their musical version created by the zen monk Luc De Winter, these texts directly affect the mind and the heart beyond the nondualistic mind. This music takes us directly in the hishiryo consciousness state that transcends any thought and there is a deep spiritual joy, which is the expression of our inner freedom when it is beyond any intent conditioned by our ego. It is the result of attitude releasing any expectation of benefit for oneself which brings us into resonance with the mind of the Buddha. To hear this music is thus a genuine spiritual experience.
Roland Yuno Rech, Temple of Gyobutsu-Ji, Nice, July 30 2012.
I see an outstanding potential in Luc De Winter’s work… I see it as being authentic…
His music has led me to believe that Zen meditation should not merely consist of struggles, pain, and self-torture. Instead, it should be comfortable, easy, and joyful. Practice should be open to people of all ages, races, genders, sexual orientations, and physical conditions and capabilities.
Doesn’t awakening belong to everyone?
Kazuaki Tanahashi, Berkeley, California
Kannon’s Pillow is such a shift in genre from Sandokai, and your gift as a composer comes forth so easily (well, at least in what we the audience hear), in your doing so. You beautifully explore the range of suffering and compassion, holding it in the arc of the Prelude, the Robe Chant and Kannon’s Pillow. You describe both sorrow and exquisite tenderness. And having listened many times today to your composition, I am struck by how perfect the piano is as the instrument of compassion. Its range of separating silence and delicate presence, bringing it forward then to difficulty, and continuing on in response – I can’t imagine another instrument or the voice being able to do this so elegantly.
Veerle’s playing is so lovely.
My favorite are those of the arc, but most particularly the Robe Chant – which may well be because I associate its meaning from Sandokai. But it seems to me also that you particularly here describe compassion’s willing and cognizant enfolding of suffering in its grace. I have loved listening to this piece, in both knowing its words and hearing its clarity in the way that single notes present. Your sparse broken chords remind me so of the polyphony and resonance of Sandokai. And then you bring the listener back to the clear, individual choice of compassion. It is such beauty to listen to and know these two versions. Having said that, each piece of Kannon’s Pillow brings me in; Robe Chant leads so easily, for instance, to Riding the Waves.
Your study of compassion reminds me of what it is in Kaz Tanahashi’s teaching to brush single characters over and over. To in merging with the brush, become for the moment this… one… thing. Generosity seems to me perhaps one of the clearest things Kaz gives to us. In practice I have brushed, generosity….. generosity….. generosity and in that concentration known it differently. I imagine your work in composing Kannon’s Pillow was an extended practice of compassion, this one thing. You have given its boundlessness to us.
Thank you, Luc. You quite simply give a gift with your work and I so hope it reaches a wide audience.
Susan O’Leary, Wisconsin
A remarkable feat, to bring into the polyfonic style the great Zen sutras, rendering them with such great beauty! As a co-translator of some of these ancient texts, I was grateful to have the opportunity to hear them in this completely extraordinary setting. I have deep admiration for the composer Luc De Winter, and his courage and talent in re-composing the heart of the Zen world.
Joan Halifax Phd, founder of Upaya Zen Center, Santa Fe, New Mexico
Last night was just an amazing experience. It was so wonderful… in the center of western civilisation, following the tradition of western music, and then, bringing Dharma, in such a beautiful artistic way, to the general public.
It was amazing: many of us chant the Heart Sutra, Shiguseiganmon, Sandokai and so on, but it added such a dimension, such a beauty to our daily chants.
So I really wish to express my deep gratitude to the composer and the musicians who created this amazing music. I hope that it will be performed and studied, enjoyed in many parts of the world for a long time. So I’m very happy to be part of that.
Kazuaki Tanahashi, artist, calligrapher, translator, peace activist, Berkeley, California
When I was in my twenties, whenever I was in Europe, I would search out cathedrals and large churches, just to sit in their interior and feel ascending sacred space. If I could be there when there was liturgical music, the dimensions deepened.
Looking back, it seems to me that this was a first experience of the oneness of body and mind. Not having gone to church for years, it is the music that I miss; the exquisite centering quality of the polyphony.
The simplicity of much Western Buddhist music doesn’t draw me in in the same way, but I have remembered how this music held experience.
So here now is Sandokai. So absolutely lovely. It takes me back to understandings from Christianity, and brings them corporeally to Buddhist text.
I was stunned, listening. And truly grateful.
Luc de Winter’s beautiful music moves across space and time.
Thank you, Luc, and Ensemble Polyfoon.
Susan O’Leary, writer, Wisconsin
I truly enjoyed it. Played it for some friends who did as well. Was it Mircea Eliade who said that a religion can be said to have truly arrived in a new culture when a tradition of great art is inspired by that religion. Your contribution indicates this process is well underway.
Jesse Haasch, zen monk, Zürich