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Buddhadharma : Winter 2011
85 WINTER 2 01 1 BUDDHADHARMA: THE PRACTITIONER’S QUARTERLY Lives Lived Award-winning composer Peter Lieberson passed away this year at age 64 due to complications from lymphoma. His compositions, many based on Buddhist themes, were performed by leading orchestras. In this autobiographical essay, he explained how his music and Buddhist practice deeply influenced one another. In the early 1970s, Buddhism’s initial appeal to me was that it was not a reli- gion in the conventional Western sense. Buddhism did not posit the existence of any external deity or savior or, for that matter, an individual personal ego. Although there were religious trappings in the form of rituals and observances, the great Buddhist masters seemed to be very eccentric and unpredictable. Their basic message was: be brave enough to experience existence without dogma or beliefs of any kind. One day a friend introduced me to a book by Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche called Cut- ting Through Spiritual Materialism. This book tossed me through my world into an uncertain space. I was instantly aware that someone was speaking to me from the other side, so to speak. Finally I met him. The occasion was a semi- nar. The place was a seedy loft in downtown Manhattan. To this day I remember one of his sentences: “Fear of losing ground causes a screen: aggression and tightness operate.” Here was my own language being used in a way I had never heard it used before, skirting psychological jargon but free of it, penetrating and accurate, right to the heart of everyone’s squirming, nonexistent ego. During this period I had nearly completed a master’s degree in musical composition from Columbia University. My principal teachers were Milton Babbitt and Charles Wuorinen, both brilliant men and composers. I learned many secrets of musical composi- tion from them. These I practiced diligently, living a Spartan life and seeing hardly any- one. The musical world I inhabited was her- metic—sealed and self-secret. This was the era of twelve-tone music and, especially, twelve- tone theory. A Composer’s Journey PHOTOGRAPHERUNKNOWN