Several years ago Phillie Marcowicz, one of the hosts of one of CBC Radio’s folk, roots and world programs was on the Main Stage at the Winnipeg Folk Festival. She asked the audience if anyone had experienced a musical epiphany that weekend.
I knew what she was talking about. I have had some very happy moments at the folk festival – sublime moments. It is a happy blend of song, singer, sunshine, earth and sky. The music and the ambiance interact with my taste or sense of beauty, my ideas, my memories, my emotions, and produces an intense feeling. It’s personal. I have seen other fans in rapture at hearing Melanie Safka wallow through Ruby Tuesday, or in tears at Nick Lowe singing a pop song, while I remained indifferent.
This summer I was at a workshop at the Stan Rogers Stage at the Canmore Folk Festival on a sunny afternoon. The performers were good – the Paperboys and the Waybacks. Tom Landa of the Paperboys introduced a song called “Perfect Stillness” by talking about a folk festival moment – I think he didn’t actually say epiphany. The Waybacks played along and moved into their own song, “Bright Place”. The combined numbers went along for nearly 15 minutes of beautifully played music with some brilliant improvisation – a sublime folk festival memory.
The Epiphany is the name of a Chritian religious feast falling on January 6, coinciding with the 12th day of Christmas. In modern liturgy it is celebrated on the first Sunday after New Year’s Day. The dominant story is the adoration of the Magi – the three wise men who recognized the divinity of Jesus. The Catholic Encyclopedia has a thorough history of the feast within the Christian tradition. In fact, the early Christians adapted the idea from the cults of emperor worship of the Roman empire, which had rituals and feasts centered on the manifestation of the divinity of the emperor. Within religious studies and Christian theology, an epiphany is a moment of dramatic insight, the recognition of divine radiance.
James Joyce used the word to refer to a moment of insight when everything comes together. Wikipedia defines the term in that sense:
An epiphany is a sudden intuitive realization or comprehension of the essence or meaning of something.
The various usages of the term, published and unpublished, by Joyce are collected on a web page. James referred to an epiphany as a moment when …
the soul of the commonest object seems to us radiant. The object achieves its epiphany.
While James himself does not limit is concept of an epiphany to music, art or beauty, that is the way that most people have been using the term. Joseph Campbell, interviewed by Bill Moyers for the documentary that was broadcast (and published in book form) as “The Power of Myth”, used the term to apply to a moment of sublime beauty and intense meaning.