Inner Restlessness and Unease with Stillness: An Interview with Jane Moss on Lincoln Center’s White Light Festival

Wednesday, November 10, 2010 - 6:06 am

Inner Restlessness and Unease with Stillness: An Interview with Jane Moss on Lincoln Center’s White Light Festival

Jane S. Moss and the White Light Festival
This year, Lincoln Center announced that its fall festival for the first time would be produced around a unifying concept: that of “spiritual expression and the illumination of our large, interior universes,” according to Jane S. Moss, Lincoln Center’s Vice President of Programming. The series, dubbed the White Light Festival, began October 28th and includes an array of musical experiences and tastes, ranging from Brahms’ requiem to Meredith Monk, to the Tallis Scholars, and from Antony and the Johnsons to the Latvian National Choir.
Last spring, as these ideas were taking shape, Jane Moss asked Krista for her thoughts on the idea and shared a bit of its inception, including her own experience as a creative professional seeking spaciousness. She agreed to answer a few questions via email for the Being Blog.
It seems that your own interest in finding a way to manage life in an increasingly noisy and busy world was part of what prompted you to explore the idea of White Light. How did that happen, and what has changed for you? As is always the case with our programming, the idea for the festival grew out of a confluence of factors. First, I have been very struck over the past five years or so by a dramatic increase in what I would categorize as addictively outer-directed lives — facilitated by technology — and a dramatic decrease in the capacity to fully inhabit the moment. There seemed to be a growing unease with simply being, and being receptive and absorbing all that is around us. These developments were also leading to what I would characterize as an inner restlessness and an increasing unease with stillness.
I feel quite strongly that a full engagement with a work of art is essentially a contemplative act that demands moving inside ourselves and then allowing art to inhabit us and vice versa. So, many of these developments were working against the very engagement that lies at the core of our mission at Lincoln Center.
It also seemed that everyone I knew felt that they were increasingly out of control of their own time. Paralleling the ease of the technology was a sense of having no time for oneself — much less time for a personal, non-cyber connection with a friend. And of course there was/is the problem of everything operating at a profoundly distracting high level of speed.
Lincoln Center's White Light Festival
The Forty-Part Motet at Rose Hall (photo: j-No/Flickr)
And yet I was quite convinced that people were actually seeking more internally nourishing and deeper connections and content in their lives. I also knew that music and arts presentations could offer them that, but we needed to be bold in articulating a context in which that message was clear. Simply stating that a work of music or presentation was, from an aesthetic point of view, “the best” was not enough — a larger statement about the meaning and moments of transcendence that music can offer was what we articulated in the White Light Festival. And strongly presenting that larger context for music has had such resonance for our audiences.
We think of religious or spiritual virtues in terms like humility, compassion, and hospitality. Were there particular spiritual or religious values that helped shape the program itself? Specific themes you were drawn to? The fundamental truth or belief or faith for me personally is that there are vast swathes of consciousness or being or interior life that lie inside ourselves but outside the narrowly defined linguistic confines of our ego. When I use the word transcendence what I mean are our experiences of ourselves that lie outside our ego. And I think it is through those experiences (achieved by a wide variety of means: spiritual practices such as meditation, or religious convictions, falling in love, experiences of nature, or mind-body practices such as yoga, or artistic experiences and creativity in diverse pursuits) of transcending the ego and thereby having access to the far larger universe inside oneself that one discovers compassion and humility and profound connection to others. For many, a central feature of discovering that larger universe is the belief one is connected to a far larger or infinite field of being or consciousness.
Sutra, White Light Festival, 11.4.10
Sutra (photo: Feast of Music/Flickr)
Is it likely this idea will live in future programming? What might that look like at Lincoln Center? So the White Light Festival, which will be an ongoing, annual festival, is really focused on transcendence as defined above in its many manifestations. In the first year, we chose overtly spiritual music as our first exploration, but that will not always be the case.
The series reflects an eclectic array of voices and material. As you developed the program, were there any surprises for you in what emerged? Transcendence almost by definition is eclectic because it is available and sought by virtually everyone on the planet regardless of nationality or cultural background. And perhaps the most frequently encountered avenue out of the ego is artistic expression, which is itself remarkably diverse. Great artistic experiences are both deeply personal — somehow you feel less alone — and universal — you feel connected to others who love what you love yet differently. The most surprising discovery for me in our creation of the White Light Festival was the response of the artistic community, who love having their work perceived in a “White Light” context.
And that context is perfectly defined by the composer Arvo Pärt:

“I could compare my music to white light which contains all colors. Only a prism can divide the colors and make them appear; this prism could be the spirit of the listener.”

That is how the White Light Festival got its name.

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is the cofounder of On Being and currently serves as chief content officer and executive editor. He received a Peabody Award in 2007 for his work on “The Ecstatic Faith of Rumi” and garnered two Webby Awards (in 2005, and again in 2008). The Online News Association nominated his journalistic work multiple times in the general excellence and outstanding specialty journalism categories. Trent’s reported and produced stories from Turkey to rural Alabama, from Israel and the West Bank to Cambridge, England.

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