Music as Catch and Release


The Inward Morning is a great Thoreauvian piece of writing. It was written by Henry Bugbee in the interim between leaving Harvard as an Assistant Professor of Philosophy and joining the philosophy faculty at the University of Montana. Two of his great loves were fly-fishing and music. I quote here his thoughts on music, penned in 1963, leading him to depths uncharted. They’re from his essay, “On Starting with Love,” soon to be made available in a collection of his (mostly) unpublished works from Fordham, edited by David Rodick.

A better, if more awkward, title to these reflective passages would be, “music as my being caught and released,” or even more awkwardly, “music as a call, immersion, and release into silence.”

He sees music as a great teacher in his life, and great classical composers, tutoring him.

I began to distinguish [using music as a distraction] from the vein in which goodness may flow with undiminished freshness, as in works of Mozart themselves. Indeed those very works spoke to me with incomparable lucidity of a lightness of heart that can offer no affront to the miseries of life, since it is not contrary thereto, but gentle to lift them up with respect and with care, and to bind over all moments of life into a preserving and persevering way which is true to them, that flows and dances, is tractable and disciplined, quick to bind and release

Right alert, alive, centered in the silence in which it may be heard, there, whence it comes and into which it returns, there is the silence that reigns, the measure of unknowing, there music carried me, to leave me, listening still.

[It] prepared me for leave-taking. Yet every great work in some measure really heard tended to culminate beyond itself in that palpable silence into which it would carry, searching one’s readiness to follow.

Thus it is as if through binding me by their music my tutors had wanted to hold me toward eventual release. And so they schooled and schooled me in the mode of listening attention which they wished me to bring even to the events and relationships of every day.


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