Sentences, Music, and Nudity: Meeting Report 7 April

This past Monday evening, Ekphrasis hosted a very special guest: Tobias Emanuel Mayer, German pianist and singer-songwriter. Check out his website,

But first! We had the most exciting event ever….drumroll, please… hold your breath… wait for it…. A grammar workshop! That’s right, kids: grammar can be fun. OK, it was a bit more advanced than grammar: it was called “sentence stylistics,” and it was about how the architecture of a sentence carries its emotional impact. Take this passage as an example: the opening of A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway.

In the late summer of that year we lived in a house in a village that looked across the river and the plain to the mountains. In the bed of the river there were pebbles and boulders, dry and white in the sun, and the water was clear and swiftly moving and blue in the channels. Troops went by the house and down the road and the dust they raised powdered the leaves of the trees. The trunks of the trees too were dusty and the leaves fell early that year and we saw the troops marching along the road and the dust rising and leaves, stirred by the breeze, falling and the soldiers marching and afterward the road bare and white except for the leaves.

Take a look at how the first three sentences are built, then at the last. Do you see how the last sentence uses polysyndeton (extra conjunctions) to string together lots of short independent clauses? Well, what’s the effect of that? The effect is to make the reader rush along through the sentence, feeling the meaningless haste of the troops marching and marching along in an endless, meaningless cycle. Isn’t that great?

OK, maybe I’m the only person on the planet who gets wildly excited about grammatical structure, but there you have it.

IMG_0293Anyway, then Tobias presented his program. He had prepared a series of pieces, interspersed with a meditation on the life of David. His talk was very inspiring, taking us through some of the moments in David’s life when he was closest to God. And the pieces of music he played were sweetly integrated into the mood of his meditation.

Here is his program.

Yearning for the Sound of Heaven:
Episodes of David’s Life – The Man after God’s Heart
A Short Concert at Ekphrasis, Pennsylvania, Mon., April 7th 2014

Music and Moderation by Tobias Emanuel Mayer

I. Living Water: How David’s journey began
Piano Piece No. 1: Lebendiges Wasser / Living Water

II. Yearning: David’s longing for God’s presence
Piano Piece No. 2: Sehnsucht / Yearning

III. In His Presence: Worshiping day and night at the tabernacle
Piano Piece No. 3: In Seiner Gegenwart / In His Presence

IV. Take Me to Your Sanctuary: The Vision “on earth as it is in heaven”
Song: Zieh mich in dein Heiligtum /Take Me to Your Sanctuary

I must say, his entire presentation was very moving. He has a very close, even mystical, relationship with Jesus, just dwelling and luxuriating in God’s loving presence. His motto is “Playing and Praying.” (I didn’t ask him whether that rhymes in German). He prays while at the piano, and God guides him into words and melodies. He plays at a local prayer chapel in his hometown in German, and often feels the Spirit moving him to play things he’s never played before and maybe cannot capture afterwards.

After Tobias played, we asked him lots of questions. We talked about where he is from, his education, his compositional process, and his inspiration. One particularly good question had to do with absolute vs. programmatic music. The questioner wanted to know what made a musical element match up to an event, emotion, or other topic. Take Beethoven’s 6th, for instance: What’s particularly “Pastoral” about that? How do its sounds suggest a story? Specifically, he wanted to know how those instrumental pieces, without text, mapped on to the life of David. Now, that’s  a good question in any language!

The answer was, essentially: They don’t. Tobias did not compose those pieces with the life of David in mind. Later, when he was asked to participate in a program about David, he chose his Scripture passages and pieces of music that he felt fit. They certainly were meditative and thus worked well with the thoughts he was giving us.


Andrew Stirling MacDonald at the piano

After Tobias finished his program, we had two more pianists. Later on I will post videos of these three performances.

Curt D. performed two jazz pieces: one of his own composition and another his Latin-style arrangement of Brubeck’s “Take Five.”

When Curt played, I got inspired to plan a future “Ekphrasis Live!” event at which we have all the visual artists exhibit their work, and the musicians perform for an hour each. We’ll do that this summer! Details are forthcoming.

Then Andrew Stirling MacDonald played an original composition that he wrote as a 21st birthday gift for Betsy G. The composition is entitled “An Old-Fashioned Girl,” after a book by Louisa May Alcott. Betsy was the first person Andrew met who had also read that novel. The piece goes through several sections, exploring aspects of Betsy’s personality, her sweet childlike nature, and her love of history.

After the musical section of the evening, we moved into visual art. Chrissie S., she of the many nicknames (most commonly “Momo”; sometimes “JoJo”; I call her “Mojo”), is taking an art class at her local community college. She shared a few drawings she made in soft pastels. Here is one of colorful cabbage leaves: IMG_0310

Momo talked about how she works in soft pastel, and that they are quite a challenge (they smudge very easily) and that she loves getting really messy with them.

Then she shared a first at Ekphrasis: two fine art nudes. I have a photograph of one below. We talked only a little bit about how she was uncomfortable drawing nudes at first (working from photographs, not from a live model), but that she very quickly lost her discomfort and discovered how beautiful this form can be.

IMG_0313After Momo finished presenting her pieces, Sharon G. brought two works-in-progress to share with the group for notes. The first was a graphite-pencil drawing of her nephew, shown from an interesting, top-down perspective. The photograph she’d used as a reference for the drawing included a bit of motion blur, and we had a brief discussion as to how that could (or whether it should) translate into the drawing itself. Sharon’s second piece was a project she’d begun work on five years earlier, and recently decided she’d like to try to finish. The drawing was of several pieces of a mirror, reflecting different parts of her face. She had originally intended to connect the mirror-pieces with another drawing in the background, and we discussed her new ideas as to how the piece could be finally brought together.

Earl P. continued his magic-colored-bread project. The bread he brought to this event was intended to be Mana-blue. He discussed some of the techniques he’d used to try to color the bread without using artificial food coloring. The bread did have a somewhat blue color to it, though it did not turn out as blue as he’d hoped. Next up is black, and we gave some ideas and suggestions as to the best ways to accomplish it.

Josh L. gave the evening’s final presentation, a series of photographs captured in his signature style, without editing or alterations to the original photographs.

With the night winding down and the person who had the keys to the building wanting to go home and get some sleep, the group decided to continue the fellowship and socializing at a local diner, where we met and whiled away the time until the wee hours of the morning.

— Written by Sørina Higgins and Andrew Stirling MacDonald


About Sørina Higgins

Sørina Higgins is a writer, English teacher, and Inklings scholar. Sørina serves as Chair of the Department of Language and Literature at Signum University and teaches English at King's College and Lehigh Carbon Community College. She has published two books of poetry, "The Significance of Swans" and "Caduceus."

One thought on “Sentences, Music, and Nudity: Meeting Report 7 April

  1. […] promised you some videos of the piano performances that were presented on April 7th. Here they are, at […]

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