Stephen Horenstein
Music, Arts and Society

Rite of Passage

Painting by Yves Tanguy.
Painting by Yves Tanguy.

This morning I met a dragon. He led me to a large cave with torches hanging from all four walls. The cave echoed voices, but no one was to be seen. The dragon lay down to sleep, and so did I. I dreamed of an exotic land with spices and curves. My imagination ran wild and I thought I might be dead. Blood flowed through my veins like slow butter and all was calm. The music was played on bells, so low in frequency that that the wall rattled. Between rings, the reverberations continued so there was never a pause of silence. I realized I was passing though the first portal, and the second I saw ahead in the distance.

When I arrived at the second, the door opened, and then another door.  I descended the concrete stairs until I could step no more.  The ground was damp and the air thicker.  Below, in what looked to be catacombs, I saw familiar faces appearing and disappearing.  I walked on.  As the air became thicker, it was hard for me to breath.  Soon, across the room I saw another door, but this time it was made of gold.  I approached it.  I passed my hand over it and felt only smoothness and lightness.  I opened this door and was faced by a very bright light which cast a halo on the walls, and seemed to caress my shoulders.  My steps became lighter while my entire body felt buoyant as if I was walking under water.  I took a deep breath.  The smell of fresh jasmine filled the air.

Soon I saw another door.  I opened it. Before me there was a huge rainbow spanning to an point near infinity.  I did not know how far I needed to walk.  I didn’t know the purpose of this journey.  The road then widened.  Plants and flowers growing from either side were a sign of fresh air up ahead.  Sure enough, there was another door.  This time it was painted green and had small windows in it.  The door opened by itself and I moved forward.  Suddenly I heard the sound of flowing water, a brook of sorts surrounded by an huge green forest.  I was drawn to the sound of the brook.  It was mesmerizing.  I stopped my journey and listened.  I tried to hear the different parts of the brook’s sound, and realized that the many layers flowed at different speeds and were coming at different distances from where I stood.  The more I listened to the sound, the more I realized that it was infinite, that is to say, ripe with infinite possibilities.  The cool, clear air reminded me of a perfect fall day in the Vermont woods.  Or the New Hampshire woods.  I suddenly recalled  New Hampshire’s motto: “Live free or die.”  I moved on.

Another door appeared, this time painted in jet black.  There were three key holes and three keys on a hook beside the door.  I chose the order of the three keys and proceeded to open the locks from top to bottom.  At first there was no response.  Then, suddenly, the door opened by itself.  Ahead of me lay the ocean and the most beautiful white-sanded beach.  The waves unfolded, sometimes gently, sometimes with greater energy.  I tried to discern the rhythm, but was thrown off trying to find synchronicity or repetition.  There as none.  Is was as if the ocean itself was revealing the infinite variations of its raw material (the water). There were no regular patterns, just endless phrases that were both alluring and unpredictable.  I sat on the beach for a few minutes.  To the left of me were huge rocks jutting out into the sea.  I slowly climbed up the rocks to the highest point, where I could see the entire ocean ahead of me.  The waves crashed against the rocks.  Their energy was massive, even disturbing.  I perched myself in a comfortable place and listened.  Then I looked, first in a general way, then quite specifically.  The entire scene was holy, so much so that I could not bare it.  I had an urge to leave.  But then a voice called to me from within saying, “If you cannot spend hours here amidst such beauty and wonder, you will NEVER be happy.” I felt challenged. I returned to my original location and sitting position and both looked and listened intently.

I had no sense of time passing.  But when I finally looked up, I noticed that seven hours had passed.  The sun was about to set.  I picked up the dried seaweed I had been sitting on.  I carefully stepped on the ragged rocks and approached the water which had since risen partially covering the rocks I had been sitting on.  I managed to find a clear path to the shore.  I never looked back.  I never found additional doors to pass through.  I slowly walked into the familiar neighborhood where the streets were still narrow and people still said hello to strangers.  I wondered how I got there.  But it really didn’t matter. I felt somewhat content, but sleepy.  I walked for hours looking for someone I knew, but unfortunately found no one.  Soon I was home. But nobody was at home.  So I lay on the front lawn, closed my eyes, and woke up. The dragon was still there, but he was sleeping.

About the Author
Stephen Horenstein is a composer, researcher and educator. His repertoire of musical works has been performed and recorded worldwide. He has been a recipient of the Israel Prime Minister's Prize for Composers and the National Endowment of the Arts (USA). His teaching has included Bennington College, Brandeis University, Tel Aviv University, Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance; residencies at Stanford University, York University, California Institute of the Arts, and others. He is Founder and Director of the Jerusalem Institute of Contemporary Music, established in 1988 to bring the music of our time to a wider audience.
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