Music the Color of Architecture

An old building with a sad past captivated the imagination of 16-year-old Anna Schuleit-Haber and wouldn’t let go. The former state hospital in Northampton, Massachusetts, not far from the boarding school she attended, had closed a few years earlier. The paint was peeling, the bricks were crumbling, and nature was reclaiming the place inside and out. The hospital had fallen onto hard times because of overcrowding and funding shortages, and by the time it closed, it was less a hospital than an asylum for those who had no one else to care for them.
Later, when she was in college, Schuleit returned to the hospital with a vision and a plan. The work she created, “Habeas Corpus,” was presented in November 2000. It consisted of hundreds of speakers playing Bach’s “Magnificat” in a way that sounded as if the music was resounding from the walls and corridors themselves. Or, as Schuleit put it, “The music takes on the color of the architecture.”

More than 1,000 people attended the two-day concert, including some of those who had been residents there. People walked round the old building as it played the music, saturated in sorrow, awe, and love.

Watch the artist’s video of “Habeas Corpus.”

Trebbe Johnson
Trebbe JohnsonFounder
Trebbe is the author of The World Is a Waiting Lover and 101 Ways to Make Guerrilla Beauty. Her new book, Radical Joy for Hard Times: Finding Meaning and Making Beauty, will be published in Fall 2018 by North Atlantic Books. Her articles about people’s emotional and spiritual relationship with nature have appeared in Orion, Sierra, Ecopsychology, The Ecologist, The Nation, Harper’s and other magazines. She lives with her husband, Andrew Gardner, in rural northeastern Pennsylvania, a region currently under exploitation by natural gas companies.

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