In this article I set out to do three things: Give you some background about Rumi, tell you about Steven Flynn's artistic evolution and his new CD Rapture Rumi, and then tell you how it has been used by other artists.
There are common threads in these three tapestries that may be traced to each other.
Who was Rumi?
Mevlana Jelaluddin Rumi is the founder of the Sufi order known as the Mevlevi. It is from this man, that the Mevlevi tradition of the Whirling Dervishes draws its roots. Rumi was a 13th century scholar, poet and mystic sage - a leader whose universal message would come to inspire peoples from every land for centuries to come. He has come to be known as the Sultan of Love.
Rumi was born in the city of Balkh in Afghanistan in 1207. He and his family were forced to flee during the invasion of the Mongols. He spent most of his life teaching and living in Konya, Turkey. During Rumis lifetime, Konya was a great holy city and a cultural crossroads for ideas, arts, mathematics, astronomy, and sciences. Rumi was respected as the most learned of all scholars.
Briefly, as the story goes, Rumi was a teacher with many devoted students. One day a wandering dervish named Shamsi Tabriz showed up on the scene and had a thing or two to teach Rumi. They became inseparably locked in conversations that created feelings of jealousy from Rumis students. Suddenly, Shems is mysteriously killed. When Rumi heard the news of the death of this seemingly simple, wandering dervish who had become Rumis most beloved friend, personal teacher and mentor, he was thrown into the fires of deep grief and despair. Through his grief, Rumi underwent a soul rendering process of both annihilation and glorification that transformed his heart into the ultimate union with God and consciousness. As the dervish say, He was burnt kabob. Rumi rises up and out the other side of this grief in a state of divine inspiration. He becomes food for the heart and soul. He speaks out loud in Persian, creating three entire volumes of ecstatic poetry know to us as the Mathnawi. The goldsmith Salahu-d-Din becomes his faithful scribe and commits the verses to ink and paper.
One day while passing through the market place, Rumi hears the cadent hammering of the goldsmiths. Each stoke transforming the gold into beautiful shinning forms. Upon each stroke, each beat upon the heart, each breath, he begins to chant the name of God; Allah! His heart opens like the many petaled rose and he begins to turn his body round and round in blissful union with the cosmic forces of the universe. Thus, the Turn of the Whirling Dervish has come to be understood.
Today you can hardly pick up a book or magazine without finding a little quote from a Rumi translation. Recent recordings have been made by artists and celebrities including Coleman Barks, Depack Chopra, Madonna, and Debra Winger, to name a few. Rumi is the most popular selling poet today, yet he lived over 700 years ago!
Steven Flynn Plays the Ney
Inseparable from Rumi's poetry is the Middle Eastern reed flute instrument called the Ney. My husband, Steve Flynn, first put his lips to the ney and his ear and heart to Rumis verse in 1992. Since then, our shelves have been lined with book after book of Rumi translations. Our favorites are by Coleman Barks (Maypop Press). Rumi's work is full of life, sensuality, profundity, humor and grace. He explores the mystery and the sacred ecstasy of the human relationship with the divine universe.
Steve studies classical Turkish music scales and plays the ney now. He plays for many of the traditional Whirling Dervish ceremonies called the sema. The most famous one is on December 17. Dervishes worldwide celebrate what is referred to as the Wedding Day or Shebi Arus. It is the anniversary of Rumi's death, the day when he became wedded with God.
Shortly before his death, Rumi said,
When you see my funeral procession, my body carried on the shoulders of men, do not think that this is a separation, for it is my union with God. When you see the sun rise and give off a great light during the day only to set at evening, it is not a disappearance but a rebirth of the sun. The light that comes from it is not effected.
Steve has committed countless Rumi poems to memory and recites them at Sufi zikrs and concerts with riveting delivery. After two recent events, I was almost trampled by women racing up to thank him after a concert for his compelling recitation. (Dont worry, Im smiling, I think its wonderful!)
The album Rapture Rumi, composed by Steven Flynn, features ney, synthesizers, various hand drums and percussion. Guest artists include Armando Mafufo of Sirocco, a fusion of Digereedo played by Karl Sackstedder, and violin by the amazing Jeffery Sick. There are classical and ethnic elements as well as contemporary authenticity woven into this musical tapestry that fuses together universal yearning. The work begins with Steve reciting a few verses of Rumi and then the music carries you off, whirling to the tops of mystic spired mosques, to the inner sanctuary of the age-old esoteric rituals, then on to romantic violin interludes and in the end delivers you to the final holy stone of nothingness. You are spent.
The music was originally composed for Robert Davidson's low-flying trapeze company and has cultivated an artist reputation for mystic subject matter. The mix of spinning in mid-air to this music was awe-inspiring. Besides being simply rapturous to listen or dance to, this music has found many other compositional uses since its inception.
I use part of it in my Dance to Hathor in the German Production call Egypta, 1997. The song I chose from the album was called Shems. It features ney, digereedo and frame drum. These represent the most ancient of world instrumentation. This combination offered a perfect opportunity to create a sacred timeless piece dedicated to one of the oldest ancient Egyptian Goddesses; Hathor, like Rumi, is dedicated to beauty, music, dance and sacred union! The Sufi orders claim they derive their ancient esoteric teachings from an ancient Egyptian root.
Wendy Buenaventura, author of Serpent of the Nile, has been using a number of pieces in her seasonal theatrical works
Laurel Victoria Gray, teacher, choreographer and dance historian, created a dance work she calls Cry of the Heart, using a piece from Rapture Rumi. The folio draws from the realization that the gestures of the hands are powerfully connected to the heart. The arms spring forth from the heart realm of the body. The dance is preformed fully veiled and yet you can hear the cry of the heart though the catharsis of beseeching gestures. The dance is a work invested with scientific body language, emotional release, and spiritual connection. Laurel dedicates the work to all the women who have ever had to live and breathe beneath a veil.
Another cut called Circling is in Laurels choreographic laboratory for the new version of Eygpta. It will be used as a cosmological dance for the goddess Nut.
For straight-forward bellydancing, another rather chewy track from the album is called Rhythm Dance. I use this one in class and in workshops all the time because of its challenging rhythm progression. It goes from 6/8 to 8/8 to 10/8 to a combination. Its very moving and a great dance work. Try it!
Rapture Rumi: Music to Die By is a rather spooky sounding title. You may be wondering just what my intentions are. Let me explain.
We are born into this world to move through time and space. In life and dance the mediums we are working with are time and space, so, we can see that dance is a metaphor for life. The dance of life begins with birth and ends with death. We can easily see how the birthing experience is connected to the bellydance experience. How might the death experience be connected to the bellydance?
As a side bar note
I never really thought about our social aversion to talking about death (I think I had an aversion to thinking about it) until I read an interesting book called the Forbidden Zone that points this out. We find it hard to talk to our parents about their own deaths. People who deal with it occupationally dont get asked hows work going? very easily. Outside of TV and the movies (and even then its treated in a removed sort of way), we avoid connecting to death in any real way until we have to. I feel it may be a little risky even bringing it up because so many people place this natural process, which we all will undergo one day, on the dark side.
To be born is at the same moment to begin the process of dyeing. To begin our dance means we will have to end it. The skill of the dancer determines the grace of that ending and retirement. Even if the lights went out in the middle of her performance, the dance becomes a matter of how she personally handles it.
This is a story about one of my Bellydance students, Pine Crooks, who is also a professional yoga instructor and massage therapist. One day, Pine was attending a Trager Training workshop. (As I understand it, Trager is a sort of therapy technique that deals with a lot of shaking of the body.) The workshop was led by a trained Trager specialist Gail Stewart and a couple of other teacher trainees, including a bellydancer by the name of Mercedes Gonzalez from Portland. She was demonstrating a movement as part of the training called Mentastistics. I mention this because I find it of interest that many bellydancers are professional nurses, body workers, energy workers and healers and here figures into the mix a healing therapy form that actually uses shaking as its tool. I would think a bellydancer would be a master at this!
Near the end of the course, the group held a freeform movement session. Pine provided Steves recording of Rapture Rumi. When Gail heard the music she threw herself on to the floor in a blissful moment and exclaimed, What is this music? This is music I want to die by! Pine ended up giving Gail her copy of the CD Rapture Rumi. Gail brought the music to her husband who was in the process of dyeing, and he did move into death shortly after.
Since then, I have heard of two other cases where Rapture Rumi was brought to the bedside of the dyeing. This beautiful love poem plays usher to the dearly departing. How deeply stirring.
I was struck by hearing these stories. I have always described Rapture Rumi as music to make love by. And this made me recall another correlation from a couple of years ago. Steve and I were at a retreat with Coleman Barks, an English professor at the University of Georgia and a famous Rumi translator, along with Zuleika, a notable dancer and Sufi teacher. One of our assignments on retreat was to write for 45 minutes on the subject of The Little Death. Many of you may know this is sometimes a reference to an orgasm. So, once again, the two ends and the middle of the spectrum collide inside the inspirational verse of Rumis poetry; Birth, love and death.
Rapture Rumi was recently reviewed by Victory Music Review, an acoustic music publication. They gave special remarks to two pieces Rhythm Dance and Rumi and Shems.
Tastefully included didgereedo stretches the ensemble beyond usual graphic restrictions. . . .both fairly long forging into sustained percussive exploration that it captured my ear and attention. Zikr music especially stands out starting slowly then picking up a frantic pace before collating quickly to conclusion. Richard Dorsett.
I see sexual overtones in that description, but, as I reflect on the music and read these words, I also wonder if it might not also be good music to give birth by?
I woke up last Christmas morning realizing I was dyeing. What a gift it was to realize it fully. All of a sudden I could see everything from a different perspective. I could see that if I awaken everyday with this realization how different all my choices then become. . . to embrace the day as if its your last instead of a vague projection of another 40 years or so. Things taste different, every moment is thoughtfully lived and valued, interactions with others take a different course because things cannot be postponed or resolved in the nebulous future. Ones dance becomes so on-purpose! And Rapture Rumi played on in the background.
Each day we wake empty and frightened, be what you love
It is said the Whirling Dervish stands on the threshold between the worlds, channeling the light and the love. If you knew you were dyeing and could plan the process of your own death what music would you choose to die by???
Related books on the Turn or Rumi
The Whirling Dervishes; by Freidlander
Women Called to the Path of the Turn; by Shakina Reinhertz
Sacred Dance; by Iris Stewart
Mevlevi Order of America
Turning at Rumi's Tomb, Konya, A Quicktime Movie
Islam and the Divine Feminine
To order Rapture Rumi, visit the Visionary Belly Dancing Music page