Triratna News

Cambridge Composers’ Competition: towards a Western Buddhist Culture

On Tue, 6 March, 2012 - 06:22
lokabandhu's picture
Following Sunday’s story about new Triratna musicians and music, Arthasiddhi from Windhorse:evolution and the Cambridge Buddhist Centre writes with news of their recent ‘Composers’ Competition’ which took place late last year. He says -

“Engagement with the Arts is encouraged as an integral part of Buddhism in our community. Finding artistic forms that speak to us as Western Buddhists is a major part of this engagement. What would the Dharma chanted by Western Buddhists need to sound like to speak to us as Buddhists and Westerners?. With this in mind a Composers’ Competition was staged in November 2011 in Cambridge, UK.

Arthasiddhi, who envisaged and organised the competition, sent out a call to composers in Triratna to set three verses from the Dhammapada to music for an unaccompanied untrained choir. His challenge to would-be entrants was to write something simple to be taught to sangha members in a short workshop; a cash prize was to be awarded to the piece best liked by a Cambridge sangha audience. The verses were -

“Happy indeed we live, friendly amid the haters.
Amongst those who hate, we dwell free from hate.
Happy indeed we live, healthy amid the sick.
Amongst those who are sick, we dwell free from sickness.
Happy indeed we live, content amid the greedy.
Amongst those who are greedy, we dwell free from greed”.

By the closing date, five settings had been submitted - by Akashadeva, Emma Choporian, Yashodaka, Vipulakirti and Graham Patterson. And just before Sangha Day the five pieces were performed by a choir of singers from Cambridge and London to an audience of about fifty people, who were led by hosts Bodhivajra and Locana through the process of voting for the different submissions.

The pieces performed were varied. For example, one was in a style reminiscent of a Gregorian chant, while another had the form of a round. There were differing numbers of voices; some pieces used the full Dhammapada text while others just used the first verse or particular phrases from the text.

As the judges were busy adding votes and collating feedback, guest speaker Maitreyabandhu gave a talk entitled “The Poetics of Awakening: Rambles Around a New Buddhist Culture”, managing to further enrich the evening whilst distracting the audience from the anticipatory tension in the air as they waited for the result of the competition. The results were then announced by Bodhivajra and Locana in traditional reverse order, with some quotes from the feedback.

There was a surprise: an exact tie for second place! Emma Choporian’s and Vipalakirti’s pieces were therefore performed again and the audience gave a tie-breaking show of hands, which nudged Vipalakirti’s submission into second place. However, there was a clear winner, which was the setting by Graham Patterson. This piece was both lovely accessible and very versatile, incorporating 5-8 different parts in both Pali and English, including a repeated background chant of “susukham”. (meaning “completely or perfectly happy”) A short video was made of the five pieces, starting with the winner.

The following Sunday was Sangha Day at the Cambridge Centre, so we had a chance to try out the piece, which Arthasiddhi taught to a small group in an afternoon workshop over a couple of hours, and then to the sangha at large that evening in about ten minutes before the puja! It passed the test and was easy and enjoyable to learn.

The story does not quite end there as Graham very generously gave the prize money to Padmaloka Retreat Centre to put towards the project of filling their shrine room with art by Aloka. We are planning another competition this year - arthasiddhi [at] (contact us) for details”.

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