Remembering Pauline Oliveros

Pauline Oliveros was revered among her peers as a visionary composer, professor and humanitarian though many Kingston residents were unaware of her powerful influence. When she passed on Thanksgiving Day at age 84, her legacy was already well preserved at Rensselaer’s Center for Deep Listening. In mid-March, Kingston City Hall’s Council Chambers rang out with performances and speakers who gathered with community members to honor her life and contributions.

Oliveros was dedicated to the pursuit of higher, more observant, artistry and she pushed the envelope of sonic development and experimentation. Already highly lauded in the 1960s, by the early 1990s she was considered a visionary for her work, which traced along lines of both music and spirit. These threads were knit together as she developed Deep Listening, which, in her own words, “is listening in every possible way to everything possible to hear no matter what you are doing. Such intense listening includes the sounds of daily life, of nature, or one’s own thoughts as well as musical sounds.” (Listen to Pauline’s 2015 TEDxIndianapolis talk on “The Difference Between Hearing and Listening” here.)

The tribute to Oliveros was organized in part by Lisa Barnard Kelley, a former student of the composer. “The room was filled with love and appreciation for Pauline and her life’s work,” said Kelley, who also commended the arts communities in Kingston. MAD and the Kingston Arts Commission both worked with Kelley and others to create a moving service of remembrance and celebration. “I couldn’t be more proud to be a citizen of Kingston,” Kelley continued, “I know Pauline would be too.”


Ione, Oliveros’ wife and longtime collaborator, is a noted author and playwright and the couple’s later works were usually intertwined and written together. Ione still lives in Kingston, and she had high praise for the event. “I could feel Pauline’s spirit smiling and listening to the music, enjoying the memories and feeling the love. A more beautiful and thoroughly heartwarming tribute could not be imagined.”

During the videotaped memorial, many instruments were played, from the humble bell to the conch shell, an instrument that Oliveros often took up. To close the service, Ione led Oliveros’ “Heart Mantra,” reading from the composer’s own instructions for how it should be performed. Everyone stood up, laid one hand upon their own heart and placed the other upon the back of the person to their left. Participants took a breath together and then sang, chanted or intoned a deep-seated, heart-heavy sigh. Sound echoed throughout the filled-to-capacity Council Chambers as if a singing bowl were turning over and over, traveling deep into the memory of our community as everyone present remembered Pauline, with love.

By Linda Codega

Photos by Stefan Lisowski