A Fated Meeting
I'd like to share with you the the serendipitous story of how our telling of The Conference of the Birds came to be:
In 2018, when my friend Anne Harley approached me about setting Attar's The Conference of the Birds to music, I had a sense the time had come to finally give it a try. I took a trip to the Last Bookstore in DTLA to see what translations were available.
Browsing along the shelves, reading the various spines, one book caught my eye. Unlike the other books on the shelf, it was turned out so I could see the simple but beautiful cover. I picked it up, seeing that it had been published only a few months earlier and that the writer, Sholeh Wolpé, happened to also live in Los Angeles. It was at this moment that a child, no higher than my hip, ran by, craning his neck upward at all the books and started yelling "It's so big! I'm small! I'm small!".
Dumbfounded by what seemed like a mystical revelation coming from this young person, I turned to a random page in the book. The modern poetry, both elegant and straightforward, engulfed me immediately.
...But if you come to it as a pure drop,
you will lose yourself in the Ocean,
becoming one with its vast water.
The Ocean's currents
will become yours, too –
its shining beauty, yours.
You will be and not be.
How can that be?
It's beyond mind's comprehension.
I knew this was the right translation, so I bought the book and immediately emailed Sholeh telling her I was interested in putting it to music. She responded the same day and invited me for some tea in her neighborhood, walking distance from where I lived at the time. We hit it off, and I told her the story of how I came across her translation and she said:
"I did that. I went to the Last Bookstore to make sure they were carrying the book and I pulled a copy out and turned it so the cover was facing out. I put it there so you could find it."
While I've wanted to create this piece for 10 years, It's only now, with the help of my incredible collaborators, I finally feel ready to bring to life Attar's story of the Conference of the Birds. The entire process of creating this work has challenged and enriched me throughout, but serendipity has also followed the process along way – a series of astonishing coincidences that have amplified the size and impact of the piece until it grew into the fully staged, movement-driven oratorio. If you haven't yet, you can buy your tickets using the link below.
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