Pärt and me

I sang Arvo Pärt’s Te Deum for the first time in rehearsal last night. It’s the first time I’ve sung a work of that scale by Pärt, but I’ve been singing his music since college.

I was talking with Shel over the weekend about music that we discovered in college. For me, I said, it was the Pixies and Tom Waits. And jazz. But I neglected to mention that I discovered choral music in college as well. Our Glee Club director, John Liepold, introduced us to a broad swath of music from the Renaissance through contemporary works by Pärt (“De Profundis”) and Tavener. I was fascinated by the way Pärt took a simple melodic plan of ascending minor melodies and constructed an achingly beautiful and powerful work.

Later I sang a few Pärt works in the Cheeselords, including “De Profundis” and “…And One of the Pharisees”, and in the Cathedral Choral Society, including “Solfeggio”, “Cantate Domine”, and the haunting “Magnificat”. Each demanded utter concentration and repaid it richly in transcendence. But the Te Deum dwarfs all these. Pivoting between D major and D minor, the work (in seventeen sections) builds throughout from an opening men’s chant through interactions between three different choirs, over orchestral obbligatos of increasing complexity, to a thundering affirmation of God. It then tapers to close with a simple “Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus”: Holy, holy, holy.

I had listened to the premiere recording many times since college and knew what was coming. But as we ran through the piece, stopping and starting occasionally, I couldn’t help but get goosebumps. The Cascadian Chorale, with which I’m singing now, has the ability to perform this piece transcendentally. I’m looking forward to it.