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Ritual is Coming Back

Ritual is Coming Back

: Hanna Benn. Photo by Chloe McLennan (DE '10).

Ritual is Coming Back

: The women of Pollens, Lena Simon (MU '11), Hanna Benn and Whitney Lyman (MU '09).

Ritual is Coming Back

: Hanna Benn. Photo by Chloe McLennan (DE '10).

Ritual is Coming Back

: Hanna Benn. Photo by Chloe McLennan (DE '10).

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Hanna Benn (MU ’09) innovates, forging ahead as a composer, singer and rock star, while still honoring our collective past and the music she loves.

In Ralph Waldo Emerson’s essay, The Poet, he writes about individuals endowed with a higher sense or grace that allows them to see beyond the mundane, and thus perceive the world’s true beauty and meaning. Describing the poet, Emerson writes:

The sign and credentials of the poet are that he announces that which no man foretold. He is the true and only teacher; he knows and tells […] He is a beholder of ideas and an utterer of the necessary and causal. For we do not speak now of men of poetical talents, or of industry and skill in meter, but of the true poet.

Hanna Benn (MU ’09)
may very well be one such individual. A composer, arranger, musician and lead singer of the avant-garde pop band, Pollens, Benn has always been inspired by the more subtle forces in the world.

As with most lifelong artists the act of creation is a compulsion for her, a necessity. “I wake up most mornings kicking and screaming to write something down,” says Benn, when asked about her creative process. “I’m constantly out in the world on my recorder singing to myself. I’ve got a 4-track on my phone and I’m always doing that in public – you never know when that’s going to happen,” when inspiration is going to strike.  Laughing she admitted, “my mom says that when I was little…not to sound creepy, I used to say, ‘Mom, I hear voices.’” These “voices” were the predecessors of what now moves Benn to sing everywhere she goes: it was her proto-composer brain, already orchestrating, working to bring all her ideas into a more understandable form.

Benn’s musical education began early. Growing up in Indiana, her father, a skilled musician himself, enrolled her and her brother in a choir program through the Royal School of Church Music by the age of 7. This experience clearly had an effect on Benn’s musicality and engendered in her a love for spiritual music and the transcendent practices that come out of the world’s sacred musical traditions. In addition to voice, her parents encouraged her to study piano and flute. Eventually, she added guitar to her repertoire in college. Initially, when she came to Cornish, Benn had never intended to focus her studies on composition. Rather, she began by pursuing classical voice, but was never comfortable with the role of a soloist. So she began experimenting and searching for a path that felt more natural. She was encourage by her professors, including Bern Herbolsheimer, Jarrad Powell and Jessika Kenney, to pursue composition and further explore her passion for sacred music, including Western, classical Persian and Indian.

The sacred and intangible has always resonated with Benn’s creative process, especially when it comes to making new music. “I don’t know how to say this without being new age,” she commented, “but I very much feel like I’m channeling something and it’s not me. I always feel like I’m finding something, like I didn’t create it, I just found it.” She finds inspiration all around her, particularly in literature and poetry, but compares her writing experiences more to that of a trance or fits of ecstasy, than to a reasoned practice based on her musical education.  She is the portal through which her subconscious compels creation, using her compositional skills to pull it all together in the end and create cohesive works, be it for Pollens, a string quartet or an orchestra.

Making an observation about the reoccurring use of the term “ritual” by her and a number of other contemporary artists, Benn responded “Yeah, I’ve been having that conversation everywhere, it definitely seems to be a strong theme among people my age.” Benn went on to explained that she thinks many people are looking for a sense of home, of something bigger than themselves, a rhythm to punctuate their lives. And if she can help bring some of that into the world through her work, all the better. “Ritual is coming back!” Benn declared.

When not crafting ritual practice through her art or otherwise embodying Emerson’s poet, Benn keeps herself quite busy. Benn is very excited about some of the projects she’s involved with in the coming months. Starting at this year’s Northwest New Works Festival, where she had the opportunity to try something new, working as a dancer with Paris Hurley (MU ’06), Benn is increasingly involved in cross-disciplinary work. “It was a vulnerable experience,” she admitted, “I’m breaking into a new world, new territory for me.”  And she fully intends to continue doing so with plans to work with Zoe|Juniper, Matt Drews (DA ’13) & others. We can also expect at least 2 more albums from Pollens, as well as accompanying tours at home and abroad. Eventually, she hopes to have a composition album recorded, but in the meantime, lovers of Benn’s solo work should mark their calendars for September 28, 2013. That evening Benn will premiere new choral works for her women’s vocal ensemble, Chrysalis, which she directs, as well as pieces for piano and string quartet at Seattle’s Good Shepherd Center.

Mainz - Hildegard of Bingen from Lena Simon on Vimeo.

Since graduating from Cornish, Hanna Benn’s works and arrangements have been performed by various ensembles including St. Marks Cathedral Choir (Seattle), Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, Saint Helen’s String Quartet, Seattle Chamber Players, Opus 7, Fleet Foxes, Colorado Music Festival Symphony Orchestra, and Christ Church Cathedral Choir (Indianapolis); she and co-founder Jeff Aaron Bryant (MU ’10) landed a record deal with Tapete Records in Germany for their band, Pollens; Benn also sings with The Esoterics and Plymouth Congregational Church Choir.



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