art ~ spirit ~ transformation

e*lix*ir   #16
Twin Birthdays 2023



The Art of a Loving Correspondence

The Writing Life

Trust in Poetry by Tami Haaland


The Beautiful Foolishness of Things, A collaborative work by poet Sandra Lynn Hutchison, composer Margaret Henderson, and painter Inger Gregory
Writing Music for The Beautiful Foolishness of Things, by Margaret Henderson


Heather Anne Hutchison
Victor Kulkosky
Linette Kuy


The Art of Losing by Victor Kulkosky
Yearning for Water: The Story of a Traveling Quilt by Bradford Miller

Personal Reflections on Bahá’í Texts

Fire and Paradise by James Andrews


Dreaming of a Better Iran: A Letter to Our Fellow Citizens by Eight Bahá’í Students


“I Want to Walk With You” translated by Bashir Sayyah


Ruhi & Riaz by Eira

Voices of Iran

Keeping the Eternal Garden by Maryam Afzal and Saam Mozafari
Mrs. Mansouri’s Mission by Shahrzad Mohebbi
Nothing but the Sanctity of the Desert by Nazgol Adyani
Five Days by Bahar Rohani


Art and the Creative Process: An Interview with Hooper C. Dunbar by Nancy Lee Harper
An Interview with Erfan Hosseini, Santur Player by Mehrsa Mastoori


Paintings by Hooper C. Dunbar

State of the Art

Books for Children by Allison Grover Khoury

Looking Back on Books

Forty-eight Fragments by Imelda Maguire
The Divine Melody: Song of the Mystic Dove by Lorraine Hétu Manifold
Walking to Martha’s Vineyard by Franz Wright
Soul of the Maine House by Bradford Miller


‘Abdu’l-Bahá in France by Perry Productions

← Previous       Next →

Writing Music for The Beautiful Foolishness of Things*


The spirituality of Sandra’s poems, which were inspired by her interest in Chinese tea culture and its Buddhist roots, resonated with my own time teaching in China in 2010. My experiences there served as an inspiration in my creation of the various musical pieces in this collaborative work, which features authentic Chinese instrumental sounds as well as traditional modes, scales and textures to express the feelings, images, and themes explored in Sandra’s poems.

All of the musical compositions featured here were created directly in response to the sound of the poems as I heard them read aloud, with no visual cues whatsoever. Some were created “in the moment” and others find their origins in a consciously applied musical structure with some “in the moment” effects to express particular words and images.

The Beautiful Foolishness of Things

This excerpt is based on jazz chords and came into being “in the moment” on piano, as the poems were being read. The chords are spacious, in contrast with the solidity of “things” and the melody elevates as it unfolds, in order to highlight the phrase “riding the wind to paradise.”

The improvisation evokes the “gift of the moment,” since things are evanescent, quickly passing out of sight, memory, and existence.

Becoming a Word

The music in this excerpt offers a gentle exploration, using percussion to help tell the legend of how tea was discovered by the emperor.

The slow 3/4 ostinato on the taiko toms supports the progression of the story and the percussive effects.

Percussion effects such as snaps, Chinese tom toms and tam tams, temple blocks, and cymbals such as wind gong, hi hat and hard gong remind us of some effects used in the Beijing Opera. They gently carry the words and images that flow past as we read about the legend.

Tea Ceremony

The excerpt is based on the major pentatonic (five note) scale, which is used in much Chinese folk music. Each of the notes in the scale are named and signify the five elements. When a five-note scale is based on any one of the five notes (do, re, mi, so or la), it is called a mode.

Do=góng mode=earth
Re=shāng mode=metal
Mi=jué mode=wood
So=zhī mode=fire
La=yū mode=water

This excerpt is written in the yu mode (the mode based on la) to represent the water that is essential for making tea. The yu mode is said to make one mentally balanced as well as gentle and content though not excessively so.

Some programmatic elements are described below:
• The opening sounds are made by a Tibetan singing bowl in order to set a tone of introspection.
• The string so-la ostinato throughout is played by the guzheng zither.
• The flower trill part way through is made by the dizi flute (a bamboo flute played transversely).
• The ruan moon guitar plays the main melody. The yueqin, which is also called a moon lute or moon guitar, is a traditional Chinese stringed instrument. It is a lute with a round, hollow soundboard and a short-fretted neck. Typically, it has four strings.

When To Drink

The music opens with a short dizi flute cadenza followed by some guqin (small zither) harmonics.

The main melody is a simple folk-inspired pentatonic melody in octaves. It uses the yu (la) mode, which represents the water used to make tea. This happy melody is played by the dizi flute and moon lute, an instrument similar to the pipa mentioned in the poem; it becomes progressively simpler as the poem unfolds, is accompanied by a wavering dizi flute ostinato (on la and so), and is completed by more guqin harmonics.


Two descending pentatonic ostinati (repeated patterns) are played on the guzheng zither. The ostinati support a gentle descending theme to represent the cup that overflows.

The guzheng zither also provides some sound effects on phrases such as “scatter leaves” and “shatter pots.”

Also providing scattering, whirling effects is the dizi flute (a bamboo flute played transversely).

For contrast and a break in the reading, the B section in the middle provides a parabola like melody on the erhu, which is a two-stringed violin.

* — This collaborative art work can be viewed here.

Margaret Henderson
Bio:   After years of studying, performing, and teaching music, I have taken, in retirement, the opportunity to explore the joy of its creation. Having played classical and jazz piano, orchestral French horn and percussion, and having also performed jazz, blues, choral and world music, I have found many fresh vistas for exploration and improvisation. I believe that music has a unique ability to communicate deeply-held beliefs and emotional truths — the “things that are not seen.” By expressing this interior landscape through sound, my goal is to touch others deeply and encourage them to grow in a positive direction, beyond the level of conscious understanding. In this way, I strive to make a difference in the world, using the blessings I have received from the experiences of a lifetime.