Taking Pärt in Music
“Ebb Tide.” That’s the name of the first recording I ever bought. It was 1953, and I was ten years old. Having fallen in love with the song from its frequent radio play, I inched toward purchasing it with babysitting money. I remember knowing that only the instrumental version would do. Even then, I had strong preferences. Money was scarce, and buying it felt as if I were making an investment. I was: in my obsession with music. Once again, I give thanks to my mother, who never censored either my reading or music choices.
Classical. Opera. Jazz. Rock and Roll. New Age. I love it all, except for County, although I will admit Patsy Cline’s voice feels as if liquid gold is being poured into my ear.
Music is fuel for making art (and also for driving alone in the car). A selection of CD’s is the first thing that happens when studio time is scheduled. Even with my formidable collection, THE most thrilling thing is to hear a piece of music somewhere that results in a search. Symptoms of obsession: hearing a passage from the piece and having the hair on the back of your neck stand up. Experiencing a deep-rooted tangling of the gut. Consciously slowing your breath so each note can be fully absorbed.
Daniel J. Levitin’s book is a must-read if you are in the market for the complete scientific explanation of music and its effects. If only science could better explain a deeply emotional response. It’s like knowing the history and construction of a Ferrari and trying to make someone understand the feeling of being behind the wheel.
This is how Arvo Pärt’s music came into my life. It began, or so I thought, with a film and the Internet, specifically, YouTube. Both played a part in my search for Pärt’s “Fratres.” The 2013 film, Violette, earned a full 5 of my stars on Netflix. The story is about French novelist Violette Leduc and her journey as a writer. A variety of music is woven into the film, but Violette’s challenges are underwritten by one haunting melody. From the first moment, I was overtaken by all three symptoms described earlier. There was also something familiar about the music.
Next stop: an Internet search for Violette’s soundtrack. YouTube provided a film clip, accompanied by Pärt’s “Fratres.” There was also a list of several versions! After listening to many of them, I chose one for my Favorites bar. That meant I could listen to “Fratres” anytime I was online! And I do.
But where did that vaguely familiar feeling come from? The answer came to me while standing at the kitchen sink. The piece was in the studio CD rack, in a set named The 50 Darkest Pieces of Classical Music. “Fratres” had stopped me cold before, and I had replayed it obsessively. But it was mislabeled on the CD disc 4 list: “Schubert: “Fratres.” I won’t go into how much Schubert I listened to before I realized how different “Fratres” was from anything he had composed. Schubert, it wasn’t.
Next stop: purchasing Arvo Pärt’s Sanctuary, with its 10 minute plus version of “Fratres,” played by The London Philharmonic. I felt that 1953 “Ebb Tide” sensation once again, having just added fuel to my creative tank.