How does religion inform your work?

Question: How does religion inform your work?

John Harbison: It’s probably the hardest thing for me to articulate because most of my life as a performer deals with forms of religious music. And I certainly feel that when I conduct a Bach cantata that I am absolutely engaged by – not in an abstract way at all – the issues, and the stories, and the experience. But I can’t find a formal structure for that. And when I write a religious text, I would have to say that I am as gripped by the ancientness and the sound of the words, and this feeling that they are carrying significance, almost that has been sort of gradually attached to them over centuries. I would like to feel that all of the assertions were things I can insert. And that’s not really how I feel. So when I said a religious text, I would say first of all it’s the text I’m in love with, the way the words sounds, and the King James Bible I could read over and over. The King James Bible I’ve come back to so often for text. And it was really translated at a moment where the English language had an extraordinary rhythmic and verbal variety. It’s Shakespeare era. And I find sometimes the passage that attracts me as unusual words or rhythms that I just find absolutely irresistible. In addition to, of course, it’s accumulated significance; but it’s as much just a deep affection for a text, a love for a text, as it is the whole world doctrine from which it emerges. And of course like a lot of people who are dealing with church music, and I actually work as a church musician some of the time, it’s terribly unsettling to have to contemplate how much of the conflict in the world, to this day, is generated by religious groups; by people who are fired up about the doctrine. And it’s difficult for someone like myself to embrace the institutional issues, having from a semi historian’s point of view, a pretty firm idea that they often lead to people fighting each other about them.

Recorded On: 6/12/07

Harbison can read the King James Bible over and over.

Godzilla and mushroom clouds: How the first postwar nuclear tests made it to the silver screen

The few seconds of nuclear explosion opening shots in Godzilla alone required more than 6.5 times the entire budget of the monster movie they ended up in.

Culture & Religion

As I sat in a darkened cinema in 1998, mesmerised and unnerved by the opening nuclear bomb explosions that framed the beginning of Roland Emmerich's Godzilla, it felt like I was watching the most expensive special effect in history.

Keep reading Show less

American imperialism: fat-shaming Uncle Sam

Opponents of 19th-century American imperialism were not above body-shaming the personification of the U.S. government.

Credit: Bill of Rights Institute / Public domain
Strange Maps
  • In the years before 1900, the United States was experiencing a spectacular spurt of growth.
  • Not everyone approved: many feared continued expansionism would lead to American imperialism.
  • To illustrate the threat, Uncle Sam was depicted as dangerously or comically fat.
Keep reading Show less

Dogs know when people are lying

A new study tested to what extent dogs can sense human deception.

Credit: Adobe Stock / kozorog
Surprising Science
  • A study of 260 dogs found that, in some cases, dogs can tell when people are lying.
  • The experiments involved giving dogs information about the location of food.
  • The majority of the dogs did not follow false suggestions when they knew humans were lying.
  • Keep reading Show less

    Why information is central to physics and the universe itself

    Information may not seem like something physical, yet it has become a central concern for physicists. A wonderful new book explores the importance of the "dataome" for the physical, biological, and human worlds.

    Credit: agsandrew via Adobe Stock
    13-8
    • The most important current topic in physics relates to a subject that hardly seems physical at all — information, which is central to thermodynamics and perhaps the universe itself.
    • The "dataome" is the way human beings have been externalizing information about ourselves and the world since we first began making paintings on cave walls.
    • The dataome is vast and growing everyday, sucking up an ever increasing share of the energy humans produce.
    Keep reading Show less
    Quantcast