“The Soul is Symphonic”: Lessons on Practicing Music as Ecological Philosophy from Hildegard of Bingen
In this thesis I seek to understand how music may be practiced as an embodied form of ecological philosophy; that is, how it might help us attain ecological wisdom and lead sustainable lives. In the first chapter, I explore the concept of askesis: the spiritual exercises by which ancient Greek and Roman thinkers practiced philosophy as a way of life. I introduce a simple model for the practice of askesis which is taken from accounts of ancient Stoic spiritual exercise. I also consider evidence for art as a form of askesis. In the second chapter, I describe the influence of askesis on medieval European Christianity, and examine monastic music as a form of spiritual exercise in that tradition. I show that Hildegard of Bingen’s play Ordo Virtutum was derived from the Divine Office, the Mass, and the liturgical drama but ultimately surpassed all three as an example of musical askesis by striving for different spiritual goals and employing different material and psychological resources. I argue that Ordo Virtutum served as a ritual dramatization of---and support for---the daily struggles of spiritual life. In the third and final chapter, I apply the lessons of askesis to the question of how music may contribute to ecological action in the present day. I conclude that the most promising way forward for the practice of music-as-ecological-askesis lies in the ability of music to transform one’s way of being in the world, and I sketch some scenarios for a transformative practice of music in the present time of ecological crisis.