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Spirituality and Transcendence: The White Light Festival

The Art of Being Present

Spirituality and Transcendence: The White Light Festival

by Anya Dunaif

In the fall of 2010, New York City’s Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts launched a new annual event called the White Light Festival, focused on encouraging people to experience transcendence and spirituality through live performances.

Photo:    KidSpirit

Photo: KidSpirit

According to Jane Moss, Vice President for Programming at Lincoln Center, the goal of the festival is for people “to experience moments of connection and wholeness in an increasingly frenetic and fragmented world.” The White Light Festival, which ran this year from October 28 to November 23, incorporated different art forms from around the globe: from Brahms to Beethoven, from the Westminster Choir, the Hilliard Ensemble and the Tallis Scholars to the Manganiyar Seduction (Hindu and Muslim musicians from the north of India), 16th century Croatian poetry, the Latvian National Choir, and Sutra (Chinese monks doing modern dance influenced by martial arts). This selection of works linked many cultures and people together with the worldwide language of art and spirituality.

The more advertising I saw for the festival, the more I wondered about the meaning of its name. I realized that white light is created by combining all the different colored lights, and the White Light Festival is made up of works from many cultures who approach spirituality from a variety of perspectives. Each culture represents a different colored light and each performer a different shade. A radiant glow emanates from the art and spirituality in the White Light Festival. Combined with the tinted light of the audience and their emotions, White Light is created.

Photo:    KidSpirit

Photo: KidSpirit

After contemplating the meaning of the White Light Festival I found myself thinking about how the concept of transcendence in an age of technology might be applicable to young adults. While I do not think that it was intended for any specific age group, this kind of festival is actually ideally suited for young adults. They are still forming their opinions about the world and are undecided as to who they are.

People, especially young adults, are increasingly dependent on technology. Some electronics, such as smart phones and laptops, have now become necessary items. This technology, although convenient, increases isolation and inhibits the coming together of many people, the opposite of what the White Light Festival promotes. Jane Moss was quoted in The New York Times, as saying, “we actually have been entering what I consider an era of distraction, people are searching for greater meaning that all the text messages in the world can’t provide.”

Interestingly, according to The Los Angeles Times, Ms. Moss does not own a cell phone. By making this decision, she has found her own way to escape the ever-expanding power and necessity of technology. My generation is unlikely to take the same step. We will not discard technology, but separating ourselves from it, if only for the duration of a live performance, is a step worth taking. Even if people get back on their cell phones and computers after a performance, at least while they were attending they were grounded in the present, not isolated and absorbed in electronics. The White Light Festival allows people to join together and experience the captivating spirituality of live music and performing arts.

An Interview with Eva Chien

I wanted to know Lincoln Center’s thoughts on how the White Light Festival can influence both young adults and their use of technology. I posed the following questions to Eva Chien, Senior Publicity Manager at Lincoln Center:

Anya: Is the White Light Festival solely targeted for adults or do you think young adults have something to learn from it? If so, does it have a different purpose for adults than it does for children?

Eva Chien – Photo:    LinkedIn

Eva Chien – Photo: LinkedIn

Eva: Young adults have much to learn from the White Light Festival. At its core, the White Light Festival encourages all of us to look within, while experiencing the transformative power of music. At a time when iPhones and BlackBerries overtake our lives, especially those of young people, it is infinitely more important now to take the time to listen and learn from culture and the arts.

Anya: I have read that Jane Moss does not have a cell phone and has never sent or received a text message. Do you feel that technology will transform or take the place of art as we know it?

Eva: An amazing recording of a sacred piece of music will never have the effect of a live performance of that same piece. The immediacy and intimacy of a live performance cannot be duplicated, nor can the shared experience of engaging in a performance with the artists on the stage and the audience around you. Having said that, many technological advances, including the integration of multimedia, has contributed quite a bit to multiple art forms.

Anya: The use of electronic and social media seems crucial for broadening your audience, especially my generation. How can we be encouraged to leave our devices behind and experience live music?

Eva: I think that if one young person attends one live performance that has a profound impact on his or her life – that is the best way to encourage audience participation.

Anya: Is it important to understand art or merely to experience it?

Eva: Art and music is a process that is in constant movement and change. For example, a young person may know a lot about Beethoven, but when a new string quartet approaches the music, they bring their own interpretation into the piece. Understanding is helpful, though learning from each new experience is much more important.

Anya: How do you think the White Light Festival will help bring peace and wholeness to people’s lives?

Eva: The White Light Festival invites us all to take a moment, listen to glorious music, and interpolate what it means to each of us – what could be more wonderful than that?

I could not agree more – live performances are absolutely profound and intimate; there is no way such feelings can be reproduced. Try to separate yourself from technology, if only for the length of a performance. No matter where you live this can be achieved.

This article was originally published by KidSpirit on November 23, 2010.

Header Photo: Pexels