Classical 91.5

Meredith Monk on the Healing Power of Art

Oct 25, 2019

In 2015, when Meredith Monk walked into the White House to receive a National Medal of Arts from then President Obama, she says had a plan.

She remembered, “We were all like deer in the headlights, but I was determined I was going to give him a hug.   I’m tiny and he’s very, very tall, so he bent down and I whispered in his ear, ‘Keep on trucking.’  He said, “There’s nothing else we can do.’"

From that point on, Monk said, everybody wanted to hug the President, and the hugs got longer and longer.

It was a watershed day for her.  She’s earned almost every major artistic award for her originality in dance, composition, filmmaking, and singing.  

“I think what I’m trying to do is to just take away the boundaries of the voice being separate from the body,” Monk said.  

Monk and her Vocal Ensemble completed a residency at the University of Rochester’s School of Arts and Sciences and Eastman School of Music.  She and her troupe also performed her latest work, Cellular Songs, which was inspired by the ways cells function in our bodies, co-dependent on each other for survival.

“It’s really miraculous,” she said, “The intelligence of even one cell.”  

Biology, climate change, immigration, and Fascism:  Meredith Monk is a “Genius Grant” Award-winning artist who’s taken on some of the most impactful and most difficult issues of our time.

She said, “It’s really about leaning into the hard places.  The teacher Trungpa Rinpoche used to say it’s like licking honey off the edge of a very sharp knife.  I would never want my art to not have pain.  Pain is part of life.”

Monk says creating is painful for her at times.  “I’m afraid every time. After all these years.  I’ve been working more than 50 years and I’m still terrified.”

At the age of 76, Monk says she is digging in her heels, hoping her creative visions will give audiences hope for the future.  She calls art the antidote to the poison she sees in our current culture. 

“The arts offer an awareness of the larger picture that really transcends cultures and transcends political situations.  There’s a timeless aspect are that I think is for healing for people to be part of,” she said.

Meredith Monk and WXXI's Brenda Tremblay
Credit Brenda Tremblay

Read more about Meredith Monk’s Rochester residency in City Newspaper.