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Music

The Prophet

The Prophet CD coverWatch the Concert

A recording is available here.

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About the Project

One of the richest aspects of my composing life have been the opportunities for intersections with other arts and artists. Early in my career, I collaborated with a small dance troupe, writing original pieces for their original choreography. Later, I found myself working with visual artists, film-makers, theater directors, and other kinds of artists. But I have always had a special affinity for artists who work with words. There is something about the way poetry and fiction sound when spoken aloud that changes our perception of the words. When I compose musical settings for spoken word poetry, I try to balance the words with my music, supporting the text but also commenting on it, questioning it, refracting it through my own lens. In this way, I can engage in an artistic dialog with artists both living and from the past.

I can’t remember when I first encountered Gibran’s The Prophet. I have always found the quality of the language intriguing, at once antiquated and modern, specific and universal. There’s a kind of musicality to the phrasing. When I learned that the book had come into the public domain in 2019, I knew this would be a perfect vehicle for one of my text/music projects. I also knew we had a particularly talented group of student musicians this year and was excited about the opportunity to feature them on my album. For this project I chose 15 of the 26 prose-poems in the book, and made some careful edits within some of these to make it fit into a standard album length.

I am immeasurable grateful to everyone who has helped me bring this huge project to fruition. Special thanks go out to: Dustin Bennett, recording engineer; Michelle Burgener, Music Department assistant; my wife, Liz Meyer; Linda Blaser, Susan Morris, Emma O’Hagan, and Ian Schappe in the Office of Marketing and Communication; Davis Schneiderman and the Office of the Dean of Faculty; the Bird Award committee; and all the student assistants and musicians.

About Kahlil Gibran

Kahlil Gibran (1883-1931), the Lebanese-born poet, writer, and artist, is best known for his 1923 collection of poems, The Prophet. Raised a Maronite Christian, one of the most ancient forms of Middle Eastern Christianity, Gibran nevertheless wrote passionately of what he saw as the Truth underlying and shared by all religions, and the need to look outside hierarchies and institutions in spiritual yearning. The Prophet spoke directly to that broad religious appeal, and his locating of spiritual value in everything from parenting to eating to dying. Gibran’s influences ranged from artistic romanticism to the cosmopolitanism of Theosophy, a religious tradition blending Asian wisdom teachings, Western esoteric beliefs, and turn of the century cutting-edge science.

Although Gibran wrote eleven books in English and more in Arabic, The Prophet was most successful. Its countercultural message of finding truth and spiritual value within oneself and within a diverse range of experiences, rather than the staid religious institutions of the past, touched a nerve. Writing of the 1960s hippies who made the book a best-seller, The New Yorker called The Prophet, “the Bible of that decade.” Ironically, the inward facing Kahlil Gibran would never have completed his writing without the dedicated support of his patron Mary Haskell, a New England educator who paid for his schooling and housing, and eventually served as his editor as well. Gibran died in 1931, and left the future proceeds from his writings to the welfare of the small village in Lebanon where he was born. 

— Ben Zeller

About Don Meyer

Composer and musicologist Don Meyer is Professor of Music at Lake Forest College. He has written original scores for a number of independent films and rescored several movies from the Silent Era. In addition, he has composed incidental music and sound collages for theater productions, dance troupes, online literary journals, and other venues. He has also written articles about film music and music in American life and is the program note annotator for the Mid-Columbia Symphony Orchestra in Washington State. Among the albums he has produced is a collection of souvenir music from the Chicago World’s Columbian Exposition in honor of the 125th anniversary of the fair in 2018. 

Track List and Lyrics

Track One - On Love 

Then said Almitra, Speak to us of Love.

And he raised his head and looked upon the people, and there fell a stillness upon them.

And with a great voice he said:

When love beckons to you, follow him,

Though his ways are hard and steep.

And when his wings enfold you, yield to him,

Though the sword hidden among his pinions may wound you.

And when he speaks to you, believe in him,

Though his voice may shatter your dreams as the north wind lays waste the garden.

For even as love crowns you, so shall he crucify you.

Even as he is for your growth, so is he for your pruning.

Even as he ascends to your heights and caresses your tenderest branches that quiver in the sun,

So shall he descend to your roots and

shake them in their clinging to the earth.

Like sheaves of corn he gathers you unto himself.

Like sheaves of corn he gathers you unto himself.

He threshes you to make you naked.

He sifts you to free you from your husks.

He grinds you to whiteness.

He kneads you until you are pliant.

And then he assigns you to his sacred fire,

that you may become sacred bread for God’s sacred feast.

Love gives naught but itself,

And takes naught but from itself.

Love possesses not, nor would be possessed.

For love is sufficient unto love.

Track Two - On Marriage

Then Almitra spoke again and said, And what of Marriage, master?

And he answered saying:

You were born together, and together you shall be forevermore.

You shall be together when the white wings of death scatter your days.

Ay, you shall be together even in the silent memory of God.

But let there be spaces in your togetherness,

And let the winds of the heavens dance between you.

Love one another, but make not a bond of love:

Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls.

Fill each other’s cup but drink not from one cup.

Give one another of your bread but eat not from the same loaf.

Sing and dance together and be joyous,

but let each one of you be alone,

Even as the strings of the lute are alone though they quiver with the same music.

Give your hearts, but not into each other’s keeping.

For only the hand of Life can contain your hearts.

And stand together yet not too near together:

For the pillars of the temple stand apart,

And the oak tree and the cypress

grow not in each other’s shadow. 

Track Three - On Children

And a woman who held a babe against her bosom said,

Speak to us of Children.

And he said:

Your children are not your children.

They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.

They come through you but not from you,

And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts,

For they have their own thoughts.

You may house their bodies but not their souls,

For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,

Which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.

You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.

For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.

The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,

And He bends you with His might that His arrows may go swift and far.

Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;

For even as He loves the arrow that flies,

so He loves also the bow that is stable. 

Track Four - On Giving

Then said a rich man,

Speak to us of Giving.

And he answered:

You give but little when you give of your possessions.

It is when you give of yourself that you truly give.

For what are your possessions but things you keep and guard

for fear you may need them tomorrow?

And tomorrow, what shall tomorrow bring to the overprudent dog

burying bones in the trackless sand as he follows the pilgrims to the holy city?

And what is fear of need but need itself?

Is not dread of thirst when your well is full, the thirst that is unquenchable?

There are those who give little of the much which they have—

and they give it for recognition

and their hidden desire makes their gifts unwholesome.

And there are those who have little and give it all.

These are the believers in life and the bounty of life,

and their coffer is never empty.

All you have shall one day be given;

Therefore give now, that the season of giving my be yours

and not your inheritors’.

You often say, “I would give, but only to the deserving.”

The trees in your orchard say not so,

nor the flocks in your pasture.

They give that they may live, for to withhold is to perish.

Surely he who is worthy to receive his days and nights,

is worthy of all else from you.

See first that you yourself deserve to be a giver,

and an instrument of giving.

For in truth it is life that gives unto life—

while you, who deem yourself a giver, are but a witness.

And you receivers—and you are all receivers—

assume no weight of gratitude, lest you lay a yoke upon yourself

and upon him who gives.

Rather rise together with the giver on his gifts as on wings;

For to be overmindful of your debt is to doubt his generosity

who has the free-hearted earth for mother, and God for father. 

Track Five - On Work

Then a ploughman said,

Speak to us of Work.

And he answered, saying:

You work that you may keep pace with the earth and the soul of the earth.

For to be idle is to become a stranger unto the seasons,

and to step out of life’s procession that marches in majesty

and proud submission toward the infinite.

Always you have been told that work is a curse and labour a misfortune.

But I say to you that when you work you fulfil a part of earth’s furthest dream,

assigned to you when that dream was born,

And in keeping yourself with labour you are in truth loving life,

And to love life through labour is to be intimate with life’s inmost secret.

You have been told also that life is darkness,

and in your weariness you echo what was said by the weary.

And I say that life is indeed darkness save when there is urge,

And all urge is blind save when there is knowledge,

And all knowledge is vain save when there is work,

And all work is empty save when there is love;

And when you work with love you bind yourself

to yourself,

and to one another,

and to God. 

Track Six - On Joy & Sorrow

Then a woman said,

Speak to us of Joy and Sorrow.

And he answered:

Your joy is your sorrow unmasked.

And the selfsame well from which your laughter rises

was oftentimes filled with your tears.

And how else can it be?

The deeper that sorrow carves into your being,

the more joy you can contain.

Is not the cup that holds your wine the very cup that was burned in the potter’s oven?

And is not the lute that soothes your spirit the very wood that was hollowed with knives?

When you are joyous, look deep into your heart

and you shall find it is only that which has given you sorrow

that is giving you joy.

When you are sorrowful look again in your heart,

and you shall see that in truth you are weeping

for that which has been your delight.

Some of you say, “Joy is greater than sorrow,”

and others say, “Nay, sorrow is the greater.”

But I say unto you, they are inseparable.

Together they come, and when one sits alone with you at your board,

remember that the other is asleep upon your bed.

Verily you are suspended like scales between your sorrow and your joy.

Only when you are empty are you at standstill and balanced.

When the treasure-keeper lifts you to weigh his gold and his silver,

needs must your joy or your sorrow rise or fall. 

Track Seven - On Buying & Selling

And a merchant said,

Speak to us of Buying and Selling.

And he answered, and said:

To you the earth yields her fruit,

and you shall not want if you but know how to fill your hands.

It is in exchanging the gifts of the earth that you shall find abundance and be satisfied.

Yet unless the exchange be in love and kindly justice,

it will but lead some to greed and others to hunger.

When in the market place you toilers of the sea and fields and vineyards

meet the weavers and the potters and the gatherers of spices,—

Invoke then the master spirit of the earth,

to come into your midst and sanctify the scales and the reckoning

That weighs value against value.

And suffer not the barren-handed to take part in your transactions,

who would sell their words for your labour.

To such men you should say,

“Come with us to the field, or go with our brothers to the sea and cast your net;

For the land and the sea shall be bountiful to you even as to us.”

And if there come the singers and the dancers and the flute players,—

Buy of their gifts also.

For they too are gatherers of fruit and frankincense,

And that which they bring, though fashioned of dreams,

is raiment and food for your soul.

And before you leave the market place,

see that no one has gone his way with empty hands.

For the master spirit of the earth shall not sleep peacefully upon the wind

till the needs of the least of you are satisfied.

Track Eight - On Laws

Then a lawyer said,

But what of our Laws, master?

And he answered:

You delight in laying down laws,

Yet you delight more in breaking them.

Like children playing by the ocean who build sand-towers with constancy

and then destroy them with laughter.

But while you build your sand-towers the ocean brings more sand to the shore,

And when you destroy them the ocean laughs with you.

Verily the ocean laughs always with the innocent.

Track Nine - On Reason & Passion

And the priestess spoke again and said,

Speak to us of Reason and Passion.

And he answered, saying:

Your soul is oftentimes a battlefield,

upon which your reason and your judgment

wage war against your passion and your appetite.

Would that I could be the peacemaker in your soul,

that I might turn the discord and the rivalry of your elements

into oneness and melody.

But how shall I, unless you yourselves be also the peacemakers,

nay, the lovers of all your elements?

Your reason and your passion are the rudder and the sails of your seafaring soul.

If either your sails or your rudder be broken,

you can but toss and drift, or else be held at a standstill in mid-seas.

For reason, ruling alone, is a force confining;

And passion, unattended, is a flame that burns to its own destruction.

Therefore let your soul exalt your reason to the height of passion,

that it may sing;

And let it direct your passion with reason,

that your passion may live through its own daily resurrection,

and like the phoenix rise above its own ashes.

Track Ten - On Pain

And a woman spoke and said,

Tell us of Pain.

And he said:

Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding.

Even as the stone of the fruit must break, that its heart may stand in the sun,

So must you know pain.

And could you keep your heart in wonder at the daily miracles of your life,

Your pain would not seem less wondrous than your joy;

And you would accept the seasons of your heart, even as you have always accepted

the seasons that pass over your fields.

And you would watch with serenity through the winters of your grief.

Much of your pain is self-chosen.

It is the bitter potion by which the physician within you heals your sick self.

Therefore trust the physician, and drink his remedy in silence and tranquility:

For his hand, though heavy and hard, is guided by the tender hand of the Unseen,

And the cup he brings, though it burn your lips,

has been fashioned of the clay which the Potter has moistened

with His own sacred tears.

Track Eleven - On Self-Knowledge

And a man said,

Speak to us of Self-Knowledge.

And he answered, saying:

Your hearts know in silence the secrets of the days and the nights.

But your ears thirst for the sound of your heart’s knowledge.

You would know in words that which you have always known in thought.

You would touch with your fingers the naked body of your dreams.

And it is well you should.

The hidden well-spring of your soul must needs rise and run

murmuring to the sea;

And the treasure of your infinite depths would be revealed to your eyes.

But let there be no scales to weigh your unknown treasure;

And seek not the depths of your knowledge with staff or sounding line.

For the self is a sea boundless and measureless.

Say not, “I have found the truth,” but rather,

“I have found a truth.”

Say not, “I have found the path of the soul,” but rather,

”I have met the soul walking upon my path.”

For the soul walks upon all paths.

The soul walks not upon a line, neither does it grow like a reed.

The soul unfolds itself,

like a lotus of countless petals.

Track Twelve - On Friendship

And a youth said,

Speak to us of Friendship.

And he answered, saying:

Your friend is your needs answered.

He is the field which you sow with love and reap with thanksgiving.

And he is your board and your fireside.

For you come to him with your hunger, and you seek him for peace.

When your friend speaks his mind you fear not the “nay” in your own mind,

nor do you withhold the “ay.”

And when he is silent your heart ceases not to listen to his heart;

For without words, in friendship, all thoughts, all desires, all expectations

are born and shared, with joy that is unacclaimed.

When you part from your friend, you grieve not;

For that which you love most in him may be clearer in his absence,

as the mountain to the climber is clearer from the plain.

And let there be no purpose in friendship save the deepening of the spirit.

For love that seeks aught but the disclosure of its own mystery

is not love but a net cast forth:

and only the unprofitable is caught.

And let your best be for your friend.

If he must know the ebb of your tide, let him know its flood also.

For what is your friend that you should seek him with hours to kill?

Seek him always with hours to live.

For it is his to fill your need, but not your emptiness.

And in the sweetness of friendship let there be laughter,

and sharing of pleasures.

For in the dew of little things the heart finds its morning

and is refreshed.

Track Thirteen - On Time

And an astronomer said,

Master, what of Time?

And he answered:

You would measure time the measureless and the immeasurable.

You would adjust your conduct and even direct the course of your spirit

according to hours and seasons.

Of time you would make a stream upon whose bank you would sit

and watch its flowing.

Yet the timeless in you is aware of life’s timelessness,

And knows that yesterday is but today’s memory

and tomorrow is today’s dream.

And that which sings and contemplates in you is still dwelling

within the bounds of that first moment which scattered the stars into space.

Who among you does not feel that his power to love is boundless?

And yet who does not feel that very love, though boundless,

and moving not from love thought to other love thought,

nor from love deeds to other love deeds?

And is not time even as love is, undivided and spaceless?

But if your thought you must measure time into seasons,

let each season encircle all the other seasons,

And let today embrace the past

with remembrance and the future with longing.

Track Fourteen - On Good & Evil

And one of the elders of the city said,

Speak to us of Good and Evil.

And he answered:

Of the good in you I can speak, but not of the evil.

For what is evil but good tortured by its own hunger and thirst?

Verily when good is hungry it seeks food even in dark caves,

and when it thirsts it drinks even of dead waters.

You are good when you are one with yourself.

Yet when you are not one with yourself, you are not evil.

For a divided house is not a den of thieves; it is only a divided house.

And a ship without rudder may wander aimlessly among perilous isles

yet sink not to the bottom.

You are good when you strive to give of yourself.

Yet you are not evil when you seek gain for yourself.

For when you strive for gain, you are but a root that clings to the earth

and sucks at her breast.

Surely the fruit cannot say to the root,

“Be like me, ripe and full and ever giving of your abundance.”

For to the fruit, giving is a need, as receiving is a need to the root.

You are good when you are fully awake in your speech,

Yet you are not evil when you sleep while your tongue staggers without purpose.

And even stumbling speech may strengthen a weak tongue.

You are good when you walk to your goal firmly and with bold steps.

Yet you are not evil when you go thither limping.

Even those who limp go not backward.

But you who are strong and swift, see that you do not limp before the lame,

deeming it kindness.

You are good in countless ways, and you are not evil when you are not good.

You are only loitering and sluggard.

Pity that the stags cannot teach swiftness to the turtles.

In your longing for your giant self lies your goodness: and that longing is in all of you.

But in some of you that longing is a torrent rushing with might to the sea,

carrying the secrets of the hillsides and the songs of the forest.

And in others it is a flat stream and loses itself in angles and bends

and lingers before it reaches the shore.

But let not him who longs much say to him who longs little,

“Wherefore are you slow and halting?”

For the truly good ask not the naked,

“Where is your garment?”

nor the houseless,

“What has befallen your house?”

Track Fifteen - On Death

Then Almitra spoke, saying,

“We would ask now of Death.”

And he said:

You would know the secret of death.

But how shall you find it unless you seek it in the heart of life?

The owl whose night-bound eyes are blind unto day cannot unveil the mystery of light.

If you would indeed behold the spirit of death, open your heart wide unto the body of life.

For life and death are one, even as the river and the sea are one.

In the depth of your hopes and desires lies your silent knowledge of the beyond;

And like seeds dreaming beneath the snow, your heart dreams of spring.

Trust the dreams, for in them is hidden the gate to eternity.

Your fear of death is but the trembling of the shepherd when he stands before the king

Your fear of death is but the trembling of the shepherd when he stands before the king

Is the shepherd not joyful beneath his trembling, that he shall wear the mark of the king?

Yet is he not more mindful of his trembling?

For what is it to die but to stand naked in the wind and to melt into the sun?

And what is it to cease breathing, but to free the breath from its restless tides,

that it may rise and expand and seek God unencumbered?

Only when you drink from the river of silence shall you indeed sing.

And when you have reached the mountain top, then you shall begin to climb.

And when the earth shall claim your limbs, then shall you truly dance.