Helen Adie, circa 1991

Gurdjieff International Review

Helen Adie

An Appreciative Essay

By Joseph Azize

I doubt that Mrs. Adie would have had a high opinion of any writing about herself which had many biographical details. She would, I think, have said that the only material worth disclosing is that which communicates something of her efforts in the way of conscious development, and even then, perhaps, only to those who wished to make such efforts for themselves. So, quickly, Helen Craddock Adie (nee Perkins) was born on 25 February 1909, and became one of England’s leading concert pianists, and a highly regarded composer. In fact, her works for brass ensembles were so successful that her estate still receives royalties. She married George Adie, and through him, came to be a pupil of Mr. and Mrs. Ouspensky. After WW II, the Adies often visited Paris to be with Mr. Gurdjieff, and there, Mrs. Adie started to play and write for movements. After Mr. Gurdjieff’s death, she continued in the London group, until about 1966 when she came to Australia with Mr. Adie. Together, they established the Gurdjieff Society of Newport. When Mr. Adie died in 1989, she continued and was a constant inspiration to the group until her death on 19 October 1996.

I wonder, too, whether she would have seen any value in an encomium, even though it would be easy to write such a piece for her. So I shall simply state that her character, her example, and her spirit, were such as anyone would admire, in the strong original sense of that word.

Mrs. Adie will long be known for the music she wrote for Gurdjieff’s movements. She told me that although it was Madame de Salzmann who first asked her to play for movements, it was Gurdjieff himself who first asked her to write music for them. He had different ways of working with her. Sometimes, I believe, she would learn the movement first, and he would then ask her to write music for it. Incidentally, he himself taught her what she described as “all the movements in two weeks.” Mrs. Adie mentioned to me one specific occasion, on which he had only described to her a new movement, and asked her to come back with accompaniment which corresponded. She did her best, and played the resulting piece for him. He listened attentively, and asked her to then watch the movement. As soon as she saw it she realized that the bass needed to be made heavier, and made the necessary changes. Even when she related this account to me, it was clear from her manner that she had received a great deal from the simplicity of Mr. Gurdjieff’s approach. He never gave her any lectures about how to write music for the movements—there was just the unmediated work.

Mrs. Adie was almost amused to recall that Madame de Salzmann had sent her to take lessons from Thomas de Hartmann, while Gurdjieff was alive, but that she was asked not to disclose this fact to Gurdjieff. She found something risible in this, and if I remember correctly, she was not at all sure that Mr. Gurdjieff did not know of the arrangement. De Hartmann, apparently, would ask her what happened at the apartment and tease her about the generous consumption of alcohol that characterized the meals there. Although she was then a famous concert pianist, de Hartmann told her that her playing needed a lot of work before it had the corresponding feeling. He would slowly say: “Miss, you play … so …” leaving the sentence unfinished.

De Hartmann was a fine teacher, for when Mrs. Adie played the movements for us, we sensed her deep understanding and experience with the music. Her playing sounded almost effortless. And then, beyond this, her own movements music—or rather, that music of hers which she considered to be of the requisite standard—is so melodic and appropriate, that you wonder whether anything else could suit the movement.

The task she had before her was to compose something which would support and aid a sacred movement. Before this demand, she found in herself—or she evoked in herself—an ineffable conception. Often her music is grand and noble, flowing in an even, stately pace. It is not simply that she has written it this way to provide a matching rhythm. No, my sense is that over and above the requirements of the physical movement, Mrs. Adie has found within herself a state corresponding to the movement, and evenness and calm is the nature of that state. In realizing her music, she made good use of her art as a musician and composer. At the same time, never in what we heard, did the artist obscure or compromise the pupil.

There is nothing demonstrative or overwrought about her pieces. There is no conceit about them. There’s an aspiration in them, a sort of raising of the eyes and heart, which is so sustained and serious that it summons us to respond. The spirit evoked is both immediate and transcendent. The pianist needs to hearken, to be its instrument, to sound each note and chord with integrity, and to allow the whole to be communicated.

This music needs to be experienced in its proper biosphere, in a class, with the movement. There is something indomitable in it. There is a sort of faith, a being-impulse type of faith, which comes through. And there is that steady aspiration, that honest and simple affirmation, which characterizes her music for Mr. Gurdjieff’s movements. When someone recently asked us for permission to record and publicly release her music, we were tempted to agree. After all, there is a desire to share such music with other people. But after much consideration, we decided otherwise. Rightly or wrongly, we see the music as serving the movements. It is not music to be played in the background, music to become familiar with. Public dissemination would be like plucking coral from the sea: the natural colours would be forever lost.

And then there was Mrs. Adie’s playing of Mr. Gurdjieff’s music: the hymns, the chants and the songs. She laid herself down as it were. The skills she had acquired over a lifetime as one of England’s premier concert pianists were not excluded, but they were taken up with her own immediate inner effort, and understanding of the music, into an activity which indicated, what artistry can be. Mrs. Adie’s playing was an action of real simplification, for “simple” is the Latin for “a single fold,” and “to simplify” is to weave multiple strands into a single ply.

Yet, Mrs. Adie was never concerned to leave a first class recording of her playing, although Mr. Adie encouraged her to do so. Neither did she keep all of the music she composed for movements together. Mr. Adie said, if I remember correctly, that her type would not do so. He contrasted her with himself in this respect, for he thought it important that valuable resources be preserved for others and for future generations. Mrs. Adie’s music was certainly such a resource.

I have sometimes wondered if the reason that she did not more actively arrange for recordings was that Mrs. Adie was struggling to overcome identification with her own ability as a pianist and composer. Mr. Adie arranged that her regular playing at Newport would be recorded, and she never demurred. Then, after his death, we organized lengthier recording sessions for her, and she cooperated. So perhaps she did see a value in these recordings, but was cautious lest she act from self-importance, and for this reason, waited for others to show their valuation. Then, when this valuation was manifested, she assisted the project.

These performances are something different from the movements music. Mr. Gurdjieff’s hymns and other pieces are already in the public arena. While we do not imagine that Mrs. Adie’s performances can be compared to those of de Hartmann, we believe that nonetheless they have a certain unique value, and for that reason, we have prepared a CD which presents a careful selection of this music. The pieces have been selected, and a CD has already been “burned.” It may be publicly available as soon as the year 2004.

At times one feels that it doesn’t matter whether these recordings are preserved, but there is something here which does matter: our responsibility and privilege to pass on the living Work. This is a large topic, and I find it difficult to make a statement which does not need to be qualified. But I think there is something which Gurdjieff brought, which is found in Mrs. Adie’s music. How can this not be worth passing on to others to work with, as we here try to work with it? As I see things, this is like the loaves and fishes. The pupils, in making an effort to feed as they have been fed, find that there is more than when they started.

In my previously published essay on Mr. Adie, I said that I thought that the teacher and the pupil were one in their work. It follows from this that if the pupil continues to work, that pupil in some way extends the life of the teacher. I still sense that this has a certain truth. And neither is it contradicted by the loss of a great talent, such as Mrs. Adie’s.

No one I know today can play the Gurdjieff music as she did. I sometimes think that maybe tomorrow there will be someone who can. But at a deeper level, this is not the point. The end result is a function of many things: inner effort, certainly, but also heredity and accident. We may not be able to play the music with the ability and life which she could bring to it; but we can make ever more sincere efforts, both innerly and outerly. We can attempt to play honourably. Mr. & Mrs. Adie

No essay on Mrs. Adie would be complete without mentioning her husband, George Adie; and the complement, too, is true. I do not wish to repeat what I wrote about their marriage in my article on Mr. Adie, but I must reiterate that Gurdjieff, when he first met them, said words to the effect of: “Never have I seen such a pair,” and had them sit together directly in his view so that he could observe them. When I first met them, in 1981, they were already an elderly couple. As I came to know them better, I could see how Mr. Adie was working so lovingly, so intelligently to “unify” her life, if I may use Gurdjieff’s words of advice to a young man caring for his mother. That is, as I understand it, Mr. Adie helped unify her life by taking care of bothersome distractions, providing her with what she needed, and leaving her free to what she chose and what she needed to do in life. He would see that she was not unoccupied, but then he carefully watched her so that she did not overtax her strength.

Mrs. Adie had a major role in the group. For example, she would read from Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson each weekend with her trademark steady, even delivery. Her understanding of the text was such, and her manner so simple, that it almost sounded as if it were the easiest prose in the world. I never heard of anyone having difficulty in following the train of thought when she read.

I could write about her marvelous sense of humour, or what it was like to work with her preparing a green salad, and I could speak about her sittings and her answers in group meetings. But I feel that she would have regarded these impressions as unsuitable for publication. The one exception she would have made, or rather, the one exception which her principles (as I comprehend them) would allow, is for publication of a group answer which others might perhaps be able to profit from.

Thus, I’ll close with such an exchange, from a meeting on 21 April 1982. In reading it, bear in mind that Mrs. Adie had just played two of Mr. Gurdjieff’s Sacred Hymns. It opens with this question:

Young Man: When I try to observe my feelings, I become confused as to the focus point when I’m listening to the music.

Mrs. Adie: Years ago you said that you found it difficult to listen to this music, you didn’t understand it, it didn’t produce any sort of effect on you. Perhaps you try to follow it with your head in some way. Do you find the same difficulty with all music or just this music?

Young Man: I’ve been told I have no ear for music.

Mrs. Adie: Yes. In some ways, it is easier to listen to this music if you’re not particularly musical, because musical people will look for something that is not there—a conventional line of some sort, form, a conventional form. There’s no conventional form in it at all.

Well, you just try to receive the impressions of the music without trying to interpret it to yourself—you can’t. You feel you’re not receiving anything because you can’t define it to yourself, perhaps. You’re not saying: “that is lovely” all the time, or “I don’t like that.” You just receive it and leave it at that. That means you listen.

You listen. You let the vibrations of the sound act on you. You don’t get in its way.

If you try to think about it too much, you make barriers.

So try to be quite free from your thought. Most people find it has a powerful effect on their feelings, even on their body.

But don’t try and think about it too much because your thought is not—nobody’s is—of a sufficient standard to think about it. It’s not meant for thought. It’s meant to give a certain impression. You know how he spoke about objective music, which if it has any effect at all, always has the same effect. People don’t disagree about it. They either don’t receive it or it has the same effect.

Does it answer you?

Young Man: Yes.

Copyright © 2003 Gurdjieff Electronic Publishing
Featured: Spring 2003 Issue, Vol. VI (1)
Revision: April 1, 2003