U-M Professor Stephen Rush debuts new choral work in the Quincy Mine


Quincy Iron Mine

On October 18, 2019, Stephen Rush mined the depths of his artistry to create the Invisible Quartet. The University of Michigan professor of performing arts technology debuted this new project in the Quincy Mine, in the Upper Peninsula town of Hancock, as part of a concert organized by Michigan Tech. But unless you lived up there, you couldn't see the concert; it wasn't streamed or recorded (or if it was, it hasn't been posted).

Because of Covid, this year's Music in the Mine concert on October 18 was a virtual event, which means not only was it livestreamed, it was archived on the Rozsa Center for the Performing Arts
Visual and Performing Arts' YouTube channel.  

Works by six composers, including John Cage, were performed at the concert—you can read the program to find out more—but since we're all about Washtenaw creatives here at Pulp, we'll focus on Rush's piece, "Tattiriya Upanishad (excerpt)*."

For many years, Rush has been studied Indian music, and led trips to the country for his students, and the piece he debuted in the mine is based on the Hindu sacred text Upanishads. Dressed in hardhats and worker jumpsuits, the 24-voice conScience: Michigan Tech Chamber Singers sang the song of joy that Rush used as his inspiration for the piece. As he describes in the concert program:

“Joy” derives its text from the section of the Upanishads (c.600-800 BC) called “Tattiriya.” The section
discusses the infinity of Joy in relation to gods and goddesses – their amount of joy is what we can all
aspire to. The “punchline” of the text is that Joy comes from the “Freedom from Self Will.” To most
Westerners this can be confounding, because we tend to cherish our personal freedoms and autonomy.
But this does not refer to the freedom of choice (see the US Constitution, for instance) but more to the
concept of thinking that we can control everything around us – which we definitely cannot (see the
“Serenity Prayer” for instance).

The eight gods/goddesses referred to in the composition (and the source reading) are:

Gandarvas- gods, musically gifted, half-animal
Pitris- our mystical ancestors
Devis and Devas- gods and goddesses
Karmadevas- god, ascertained through religious action
Indra- solar guardian deity, creator
Brihaspati- Jupiter, master of wisdom and hymns
Viratis- the kings of the Mahabharata
Prajapatis- the creator beyond the creator (Brahman)

The piece is written as a Theme and Variations. The notation is metrically specific for the “Theme” (the
Gandarvas, ms. 12-21), and to be followed similarly in mood and rhythm throughout the piece for each of
the eight variations.

"Tattiriya Upanishad (excerpt)*" is just over six minutes long, and it makes beautiful use of the mine's acoustics—as do all the performances.

Rush introduces the piece at the 42:48 mark—"It's kind of like an Elizabethian madrigal and kind of not"—and the performance begins at 44:50.

Christopher Porter is a library technician and the editor of Pulp.

➥ "Interview: U-M Professor Stephen Rush, author of 'Free Jazz, Harmolodics, and Ornette Coleman" [Pulp, originally published December 6, 2016]