Update: “Madala of the Four Directions” was written up in What Weekly. Check it out here: The Vigil.
Mandala is an Ancient Sanskrit word meaning “sacred circle.” Often recognized as the sacred images of Tibetan Monks, Mandalas can also be as simple as childhood doodles. Circles symbolize a sense of order and organization that instruct meditative patterns. During rehearsal this week for the premiere of Erik Spangler’s “Mandala of the Four Directions,” I was struck by how directly this piece of music represents this type of meditation.
According to the book Coloring Mandalas: for insight, healing, and self-expression by Susanne F. Fincher: “Order begets patterns that the mind can grasp and understand. Even chaotic scribbling achieves a certain harmony when enclosed in a circle. Each time you turn a circle or color, a mandala, you invite a little harmony into your life.” Surely, Erik Spangler is familiar with a musical version of enclosing this circle. Spangler has had an overarching journey with this piece for the last ten years. Hearing it come together this week, he writes, “Is an amazing experience for me, like uncorking an old wine.”
The piece is envisioned as a vigil with artists and musicians collaborating to “break down the boundaries between concert music, dance music, and folk culture.” Each musician has directed their attention to the intricate details of their part. And in this case… the details are many. First of all, “Mandala of the Four Directions” is set to kick off “The Vigil: All Night Music Festival at MICA” and will be performed outside. Four sound systems are set up to mark the cardinal points surrounding the audience at the Cohen Plaza. Each cardinal point is also linked to one of the elements: Earth, Fire, Water, and Air.
Over 30 musicians are coming together to perform this piece based on religious texts across theological perspectives. There are also musical themes that occur throughout the piece that begin to bring the work full-circle. For example, the singers chant an antiphonal refrain multiple times on the Greek text: “four physical elements: fire, air, water, and earth, which are eternal, changing, by reason of large or small quantities present, by the process of compounding or dissolving, …Friendship and Strife.”
Spangler writes, “The closing music of the ritual establishes a loop-based rhythmic framework, which allows a DJ to match beats, mix in new material, and carry the music into a new stage of the night.” Thus, carrying on the Mandala concept throughout the entire vigil.