Cups of the Heart: A Musical and Poetic Journey Into the Minor Arcana by Emerald Joy and Paul Tye

Thirty years ago, I went through a guided meditation on a Sunday School weekend retreat.  It was led by Rabbi Steinbrink and he had an oily, mellifluous voice that immediately put me on guard.   At fourteen, I strongly identified with Holden Caulfield, and was determined not to be remotely moved or influenced by that voice. Guess what?  I wasn't.

Over the years, I've had a love-hate relationship with the guided visualization process.  Sometimes I've had powerful encounters that have been life-altering, but other times I've spent that time silently mocking the ponderous, self-important tones people tend to take on when narrating a meditation.  A lot of it depends on the individual's tone--some people are able to sound natural and unpretentious, and that makes all the difference in terms of whether my psyche goes under willingly--or quietly jeers.

Because of this built-in b.s. detector, I may be just the person to review Cups of the Heart: A Musical and Poetic Journey Into the Minor Arcana by Emerald Joy and Paul Tye.  It's a compact disc that, according to a promotional postcard, can be "an opportunity to learn the cups in an artistic way or to enjoy a meditative and healing experience using the symbols of the tarot."  A student of Art Rosengarten and Lon Milo Duquette, Emerald Joy has selected the tarot suit of cups and written poetry/lyrics for each card, Ace through King.  Paul Tye wrote the accompanying instrumentals and narrates the bookends (the Ace of Cups and the King of Cups), but the rest of the song-poems are performed by Emerald Joy.

The longest piece is five and a half minutes, and is a bluesy number relating to the Five of Cups.  This song could stand on its own as a recording, as opposed to a compilation of meditations.  Even Ray Charles can see that the Rider-Waite-Smith (R-W-S) figure on the Five of Cups has the blues, so this is a happy marriage of mood and card.  The Three of Cups has the feel of a chirpy little madrigal, which is also in tune with the ambience of this card.  The liner notes indicate that the R-W-S was the main source of visual inspiration for both the poems and the music, so this makes sense. 

Unfortunately, however, most of the cuts don't equal the artistic harmony of the aforementioned songs.  Most of the instrumental tracks are simply accompaniment to the meditations, and these are generally in the two-three minute range, which I think is a bit short for any kind of real contemplative depth.  The music for the Seven of Cups is particularly dreamy and evocative, and I wished that it was longer than a minute and a half so that I could really enter into it.  Ideally, each of these tracks would have wordless instrumentals to facilitate in-depth rumination.  The Eight and Ten of Cups are excellent examples of that potential realized.  

Poetry is such a subjective issue that I hesitate to comment on the lyrics.  However, I get a sense that when the author wants to convey the depth of a card, she uses astrological and/or qabalistic shorthand to do so, instead of devising the appropriate simile or metaphor.  An example of this is heard in the Four of Cups, where Joy says, "Watching and waiting/in the field of Chesed"--if one is unfamiliar with the Sephira, the ensuing meditation will not be particularly meaningful.  The listener will be distracted trying to imagine what a field of Chesed looks like.

Paul Tye may be sincere, but his voice has that sonorous self importance that puts my teeth on edge.  Joy's voice is usually not an irritant, but on the Nine of Cups, there is a smugness in the tone.  Still, that tonality works within the context of the card.

The quality of the music and the sound of the recording is excellent and utterly professional.  I recommend this cd for those looking for guided meditations for the suit of Cups, not only because there are so few of these tarot discs available, but because this is a particularly well done recording of this type.

Cups of the Heart: A Musical & Poetic Journey Into the Minor Arcana by Emerald Joy and Paul Tye
Label: Vocal Visions

Review and page 2001 Diane Wilkes