I made a tweet awhile back that said this:
I feel like I hear the world turning whenever I listen to Arvo Part’s “Da Pacem Domine.” Slowly, so slowly moves the inevitability of love.
In case you are unfamiliar with the work, here it is:
The first time I heard this piece was at the National ACDA Convention in Chicago. The Latvian Youth choir Kamēr, directed by Māris Sirmais, sang this about as perfectly as an ensemble could I think. I was transfixed (that’s the best word I can use). To be transfixed means “to become motionless with horror, wonder, or astonishment.” It could also mean to be “pierced with a sharp implement or weapon,” and in some ways, i sure felt like I was. As we all know, live music can fill the room with a magic, an electricy, but even as I listen to the youtube version of this piece, sung – probably perfectly – by the Hilliard Ensemble, I still feel the same transfixing effects (though perhaps muted just a little).
I’m not quite sure how he does it, but I feel like Pärt captures a concept like “inevitability” with this piece. Metaphysically, I’m not quite sure of the end, nor do I know how far it is in the future, but I know there is one, and I know there is a purpose (and there always has been one). I feel it so strongly, starting with the entrance of the third voice, and like flood waters it comes, and it comes, unceasing. How is it possible to feel like you are watching a video clip in slow motion and in time-lapse? Both are happening here I think. Even the end has a bit of a paradox. It is an ending. But is it?
There are a couple of amazing comments worth sharing that I found with the Hilliard Ensemble video:
…A composer with a fine sense of equilibrium of feelings. European music tends to rationalize feelings, for the supremacy of ideas. This music is a sense’s tranquillizer. It is much more sensitive than medieval polyphony, no longer silencing the listener just for the sake of a doctrine. It surpasses Satie’s minimalism by surpassing its pathological melancholy. Music finally reached maturity: it works with silence and emptiness without depressing or irritating itself.
The music has tremendous emotional depth. For me it creates feelings of peace, sadness, humility, fragile beauty, and the infinite.
I just stopped what I was doing and sat at my desk for five minutes with tears in my eyes.
Yes…I know the feeling!
Ultimately, the simplicity of this piece of art is what captures my spirit and holds it tight. And I listen. And as I do, it seems like the noise of the car-filled streets and the coffee shops and the grocery stores and the meaningless conversations and the television and the…. well, you know. And what remains? Something quite simple (although, as all Good things, paradoxically complex), that the earth moves, it has moved, and it will move – and there is a purpose, has been a purpose, and there always will be a purpose. This simplicity is something often lost on us in our hyper-real world. The band Keane said this:
Oh simple thing where have you gone
I’m getting old and I need something to rely on
So tell me when you’re gonna let me in
I’m getting tired and I need somewhere to begin
Sometimes it worth it to do something simple, like listening to the inevitable movement of the earth. Slowly, so slowly it moves. It is Love that moves it! As Dante Alighieri said in Paradiso:
But already my desire and my will
were being turned like a wheel, all at one speed,
by the Love which moves the sun and the other stars.