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  • Writer's pictureChurch Muse

In Celebration of Earth Day - Clarity - Claude Debussy’s "Clair de Lune"

We have learned that there are some positive ripple effects to our staying at home, because of what we’re NOT doing. Besides not spreading the virus, we are also not adversely affecting our environment. Venice’s canals are so clear that they are seeing jellyfish, and smog has cleared considerably from major urban areas, giving long unseen views of the Tour Eiffel in Paris and the Los Angeles skyline, and stunning vistas of the Himalayans that haven’t been seen since the Industrial Revolution! And the animals are happy, too - the wild ones are roaming the empty streets and the domestic ones are thrilled to have their people at home. I heard a funny thing on NPR a while back - there’s a small town in England where the streets are virtually deserted and a big herd of goats has come down from the mountains, thus turning it from a “ghost town” into a “goat’s town.” 🤣

The quarantine has also imposed some clarity in ourselves, too, whether invited or not. Not having our usual social contacts to interact with on a regular basis almost forces us to reach inward and explore levels of our intimate selves we might not have known before. Without others to posture to or draw energy from, we are left with this - just… me! Okay, clear and simple, I have to face myself. Scary stuff! We find mementos and old pictures of ourselves, seeing who we were “then,” finding bits of ourselves that we had forgotten about. Get them out and just sit with them for awhile. I look at some of them and think, “did I like that person? - who she was then?” “Do I like me now?” I’m not talking about young skin and bodies - I’m talking about our souls, which in most cases grow stronger - in the opposite direction!

So where are you now? How strong is your soul in this pandemic? Is your faith, whether new or established, making a difference in how you see yourself? I believe that in looking inward, regardless of what we find, we will grow. It’s up to us to decide in which direction. Are you seeking clarity? Or is it seeking you?

Revisiting our past joys and sorrows brings to light the many threads of the fabric of who we are; this time in isolation is giving us the opportunity to find those fibers again and see the cloth we’ve become with better clarity. I’m excited about the prospect of seeing friends and meeting new people who have grown in the time we have been apart, and bringing my own “new” self to the mix.

Clair de lune is a time-honored staple in the piano repertoire. Debussy was the leading composer of the Impressionist movement. He was 25 years old in 1890 when he wrote his “Suite Bergamasque.” Clair de Lune is the 3rd movement of 4. The other three movements, “Prelude, Menuet, Passepied,” are all typical titles found in Baroque suites. The use of form, especially an old form, is not typical of Debussy’s mature style. His departure from the traditional dance titles by inserting a clearly programmatic title, “Clair de Lune,” foreshadows his later rebellious and more free style of writing. Pianist/comedian Victor Borge’s translation of the title is “Clear the Saloon.” We’re already doing that! LOL. The three words together mean moonlight, but the the word “clair” in French means “clear.” The hallmark of the Impressionistic movement in both art and music is “blurring of the lines” and yet it is this Impressionist composer who gives us Clair de Lune.

I first tried to learn this piece when I was in the 6th grade and played it for a wedding. I knew it wasn’t up to snuff, but the bride, a family friend, Joy Warner Stiffler, was generously forgiving. A lot of time has passed since I was in the sixth grade, and I truly believe that the threads of this piece are a part of my fabric.

God bless you on this journey. May your clarity give you peace.

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