Editor’s Note: ITIA postgraduates and staff enthusiastically welcomed composer-theologian June Boyce-Tillman to our seminar this past Friday (2 November 2018). The Reverend Professor June Boyce-Tillman MBE is currently Professor of Applied Music at The University of Winchester and an Extraordinary Professor at North-West University, Potchefstroom, South Africa. She is the artistic convenor of the Centre for the Arts as Wellbeing at Winchester University, a self-supporting priest in the Anglican Church, and an honorary chaplain to Winchester Cathedral. In 2009 she received an MBE for her services to Music and Education.
In her presentation, entitled ‘Queering Freedom: Music, Identity and Christian Theology’, June spoke about themes at the intersection of music, spirituality, theology and gender, and she also complemented her verbal presentation by performing musically on her drum and chimes. Dr Rebekah Dyer was fortunate to have a conversation with June during her visit, highlights of which follow. Rebekah introduces and contextualizes several clips of June’s own words, voice and music. Read… and listen… on.
The Sacredness of Instruments
‘I’m fascinated by how instruments were once sacred… [Music-making with instruments is] the most intimate relationship we have with the natural world apart from consuming it’.
Drawing on her expertise as a musician and songwriter, June discusses the relationship between musical instruments, human spirituality, and the natural world. In this recording, she considers contextual factors involved in playing the drum, the singing bowl, Indian bells, the wind chime, and the goat hoof rattle using the sounds of the instruments themselves.
June advocates for a recovery of the notion of sacred instruments in Western culture. Doing so will not only give us a way to understand the intimacy between the musician and the instrument but also a means to acknowledge the sacredness of the natural resources we use to create our music. Calling on the classical concept of anima mundi– in which all things are ‘imbued with the soul of the world’ – June asks us to consider our relationship to our environment in theological and relational terms.
Listen: Sacred Instruments
‘The stories we tell actually reinforce our culture or challenge our culture’.
June examines the fairy-tale ending of ‘happily ever after’ as a cultural myth which continues to pervade Western expectations of marriage. She argues that the traditional stories need to be changed to reflect the world as it is. Through reinventing our stories, we can consider our lived realities and make new realities possible.
Yet freedom from the traditional myths and stories may be frightening. June notes how her latest work, entitled Queering Freedom: Music, Identity and Spirituality (edited with Karin Hendricks), reveals the complexity of freeing ourselves from conventional identity categories. The prospect of freedom threatens the status quo, and not everyone will embrace stories which celebrate the shift towards diversity.
June also reads an excerpt from the poem ‘Who Said It Was Simple’, by Audre Lorde:
But I who am bound by my mirror
as well as my bed
see causes in colour
as well as sex
and sit here wondering
which me will survive
all these liberations.
The recording ends with an excerpt from ‘Transcendental Etude’, by Adrienne Rich:
…there come times—and perhaps this is one of them—
when we have to take ourselves more seriously or die;
when we have to pull back from the incantations,
rhythms we’ve moved to thoughtlessly,
and disenthrall ourselves, bestow
ourselves to silence, or a severer listening, cleansed
of oratory, formulas, choruses, laments, static
crowding the wires.
Listen: Queering Freedom
Freedom in Story and Song
‘To tell your story is both invigorating [and] frightening’.
I asked June what wisdom she can bring to those of us who are struggling to make our stories heard. How can we find the freedom to tell our stories even when they are not what the world wants to hear?
June offers us an invitation and a challenge: ‘Take up the arts’.
In this clip, June discusses how creative forms of expression – and especially song – can empower those whose stories have been devalued by prevailing cultural or religious narratives. She acknowledges the courage required to reveal oneself to others and reflects on her own experience in composing her autobiography, Freedom Song: Faith, Abuse, Music and Spirituality: A Lived Experience of Celebration.
June finishes by reading an excerpt from the novel The Danish Girl, by David Ebershoff.
Listen: Sharing stories