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On Being with Krista Tippett is a public radio project delving into the human side of news stories + issues. Curated + edited by senior editor Trent Gilliss.

We publish guest contributions. We edit long; we scrapbook. We do big ideas + deep meaning. We answer questions.

We've even won a couple of Webbys + a Peabody Award.
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Tuesday Evening Melody: Philip Glass “The Play of the Wrathful and Peaceful Deities”

by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

There’s no other composer quite like him. Philip Glass summons the inner strength — the power and majesty — and the vulnerable adult who is always a child inside. His music stirs something primal; he reminds of us of our vulnerability. His music compels us to remember how profound we all can be, even when we can’t feel or say one remarkable word.

I’ve been moved by “Mad Rush” on several occasions, but I had no idea of the back story until now. It was originally written for the organ, which I encourage you to listen to, but the reason it was written is just as interesting. Glass tells the story this way:

"In 1979, most of us didn’t really know very much about His Holiness the Dalai Lama. We weren’t sure exactly when he would arrive, though there was a time specified. I was asked to compose a piece of somewhat indefinite length. Not actually a problem for me. I played in the organ; I’ve become very comfortable with this as a piano piece.

It eventually acquired the name “Mad Rush,” which had nothing to do with its original purpose but… For those who are interested in the Tibetan iconography of Tibetan Buddhism, you might think of it as the play of the wrathful and peaceful deities.”

You can watch Glass’ performance of “Mad Rush” at the Garrison Institute on April 13, 2008 at the Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine in New York City.

(Hats off to findout for reminding me of this exquisite piece!)

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Believing in Magic
Rob McGinley Myers, Associate Producer

I had a friend in college who summed up his personal theology by saying, ”I don’t believe in God, but I do believe in magic.” I thought of that phrase when I ran across an article in The New York Times about an effort by neuroscientists to study the workings of magic tricks on the human brain. As the Times puts it, “The brain uses neural tricks to [build pictures of the world]: approximating, cutting corners, instantaneously and subconsciously choosing what to ‘see’ and what to let pass…. Magic exposes the inseams, the neural stitching in the perceptual curtain.”

It’s a rare example of respect for an art form that is disrespectable almost by nature. The subculture of serious magicians, who treat magic almost as a religion, are acutely aware that only they can really appreciate their own work, because only they know what they are actually doing. As the magician Jamy Ian Swiss said in an article in The New Yorker, “Magicians have taken something intrinsically profound and made it look trivial.”

Magic has been called the oldest form of performance art, and no doubt there was a time when magicians were believed to have supernatural powers. But when a magician performs a magic trick today, we all know it’s just a trick. It’s as if the really great magicians are appealing to our ancient longing for wonder and mystery and at the same time making us suspicious of that very longing. Like Ricky Jay in the video above, they seem to be mocking their art, inviting us to doubt it, and then with a flourish, for a second, they dare us to believe.

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