A Room of Quiet (2017)

flute (C flute, alto flute, and piccolo) and piano 9'

Commissioned by Cobus du Toit, flute, for We Bring Flowers

Texts excerpted from Dag Hammarskjöld’s pamphlet at the United Nations Meditation Room.

In sketching out this work, I went through a few texts about peace. A friend suggested Dag Hammarskjöld, who helped found the United Nations, and who was born in Sweden, where I happened to be going for a residency to write this commission. Dag wrote much more poetic works, but I liked how simple this text was and how even its description evoked self-reflection. Dag talks about the two main elements in the U.N. Meditation Room being a beam of light and a block of iron. I had the realization that this would be the perfect analogy for this ensemble: the flute can evoke the shaft of light, and the black mass of a grand piano is the block of iron ore in the middle of the room. And thus, the concert hall, or wherever this work is played, can also become a meditation room: a space that is open to thought and prayer, and hopes for peace.

“We all have within us a center of stillness surrounded by silence.
This house, dedicated to work and debate in the service of peace, should have one room dedicated to silence in
the outward sense and stillness in the inner sense.
It has been the aim to create in this small room a place where the doors may be open to the infinite lands of thought and prayer.
People of many faiths will meet here, and for that reason none of the symbols to which we are accustomed in our meditation could be used.
However, there are simple things which speak to us all with the same language. We have sought for such
things and we believe that we have found them in the shaft of light striking the shimmering surface of solid rock.
So, in the middle of the room we see a symbol of how, daily, the light of the skies gives life to the earth on which we stand, a symbol to many of us of how the light of the spirit gives life to matter.
But the stone in the middle of the room has more to tell us. We may see it as an altar, [...] dedicated to the God whom man worships under many names and in many forms.
The stone in the middle of the room reminds us also of the firm and permanent in a world of movement and change. The block of iron ore has the weight and solidity of the everlasting....
The material of the stone leads our thoughts to the necessity for choice between destruction and construc-
tion, between war and peace. Of iron man has forged his swords, of iron he has also made his ploughshares.

Of iron he has constructed tanks, but of iron he has likewise built homes for man. The block of iron ore is
part of the wealth we have inherited on this earth of ours. How are we to use it?
The shaft of light strikes the stone in a room of utter simplicity. There are no other symbols, there is nothing to distract our attention or to break in on the stillness within ourselves...
There is an ancient saying that the sense of a vessel is not in its shell but in the void. So it is with this room. It is for those who come to fill the void with what they find in their center of stillness”. 

From “A Room of Quiet” by Dag Hammerskjöld Copyright 1957 United Nations. Used with permission by the United Nations.