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The Spirit of This Place

How Music Illuminates the Human Spirit

Artists today are at a crossroads. With funding for the arts and humanities endowments perpetually under attack, and school districts all over the United States scrapping their art curricula altogether, the place of the arts in our civic future is uncertain to say the least. At the same time, faced with the problems of the modern world—from water shortages and grave health concerns to global climate change and the now constant threat of terrorism—one might question the urgency of this waning support for the arts. In the politically fraught world we live in, is the “felt” experience even something worth fighting for?

In this soul-searching collection of vignettes, Patrick Summers gives us an adamant, impassioned affirmative. Art, he argues, nurtures freedom of thought, and is more necessary now than ever before.

As artistic director of the Houston Grand Opera, Summers is well positioned to take stock of the limitations of the professional arts world—a world where the conversation revolves almost entirely around financial questions and whose reputation tends toward elitism—and to remind us of art’s fundamental relationship to joy and meaning. Offering a vehement defense of long-form arts in a world with a short attention span, Summers argues that art is spiritual, and that music in particular has the ability to ask spiritual questions, to inspire cathartic pathos, and to express spiritual truths. Summers guides us through his personal encounters with art and music in disparate places, from Houston’s Rothko Chapel to a music classroom in rural China, and reflects on musical works he has conducted all over the world. Assessing the growing canon of new operas performed in American opera houses today, he calls for musical artists to be innovative and brave as opera continues to reinvent itself.

This book is a moving credo elucidating Summers’s belief that the arts, especially music, help us to understand our own humanity as intellectual, aesthetic, and ultimately spiritual.

176 pages | 5 1/2 x 8 1/2 | © 2018 

The Rice University Campbell Lectures

Music: General Music


“Through this remarkable and varied series of essays and reflections, the brilliant conductor Patrick Summers invites us to explore, discuss, and question the role of spirit and art in the modern world. With a poet’s soul, probing intellect, and sense of humor, he takes us on a quest for meaning and connection that winds from Houston’s Rothko Chapel to the world’s great concert halls and opera houses, to the American classroom, and into the creative psyche itself. Summers cares passionately about the essential human need for connection and expression through the arts and recognizes that we are in a precarious, potentially perilous time where an addiction to easy-access technology threatens to unravel thousands of years of human creativity and thought.”

Jake Heggie, composer of the opera Dead Man Walking

“As one of America’s most distinguished conductors, Patrick Summers also brings an innate literary skill into his broad repertoire. This collection of essays is touching, funny, informative, and a pleasure to read.”

Leonard Slatkin, music director of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra

“Summers takes us to the liminal space of the Rothko Chapel, and its music-like fusion of art and spirituality, to suggest wonder, awe, dreaming, brilliance, and danger. What is lost when life has no aesthetic component, as he fears is the case today, is precisely this kind of spirituality. . . . Elegantly written . . . . A timely and heartfelt plea.”

Linda Hutcheon, coauthor of Opera: The Art of Dying

“Readers looking for a thought-provoking, feel-good book about the powers of arts education and music’s spiritual force: look no further than The Spirit of This Place.”


"Summers delivers a series of brief vignettes expressing his belief in the necessity of art, especially music, as it relates to the spiritual and to the understanding of humanity. In each chapter he creates a philosophical conversation about the importance of art and the contributions music can make to everyday life. . . . This poetic work illuminates the challenges of these politically tumultuous times dominated by technology, and reminds the reader that music has the power to expand and reinforce one's intellectual, aesthetic, and spiritual journeys."



"This intriguing book considers the parallels between music-making and spiritual practice, exploring how music 'gives meaning to life'."

BBC Music Magazine

Table of Contents

Music as a Spiritual Force
The Rothko Chapel
Wondering and Thinking Music
The Touchy Spirit
What Is Music?
Music’s Basic Elements
The Thin Line
Not Making a Profit
Unexpected Houston
Music and Spirituality
The Ineffable
The Expertrap
Our Stuff
Iniquities of Inequity
Dead White Guys
Righting the Unwritable
The Journey
The World of the Imagination
Is One Person’s Noise Worth More than Another’s Silence?
The Biz
Indefinable Malaise
The Grand One
The Artist Apollo and Company
The Gravity of the Decline of Arts Education
The Elusive Art
From Heavenly Harmony
Conducting a Life
Our Contribution to the Human Spirit
It Goes On
New Harmony

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