I am pulling this one from the archives (February 11, 2010), with the assurance by the best meteorologists in the land that Thursday will be a snow day. Enjoy it!
Is there anything more magical than walking in the woods after a snowfall and being surrounded by the hushed, light-filled warmth of new snow? At least that is my favorite part of a snowstorm. Walking outside afterwards evokes a series of feelings in me – wonder, playfulness, awe, aloneness (so different from loneliness) and, at the same time, a sense of joy at being cocooned in God’s world.
I came inside after walking in the snow one night and played Claude Debussy’s little prelude Des pas sur la neige (“Footsteps in the snow”), which captures some of the other-worldliness I had just encountered outside. In searching for a link I found a lovely performance by pianist Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli, as well as a performance on the vibraphone that I just have to share.
Debussy’s snowy world is bit more isolated than I want to be though. I turned next to a composer whose music is also impressionistic and mysterious. In a setting by Estonian composer Arvo Pärt, that great hymn of praise, the Te Deum. Pärt describes his music in the recording’s program notes: the Te Deum text has “immutable truths,” reminding [me] of the “immeasurable serenity imparted by a mountain panorama.” [My] composition sought to communicate a mood “that could be infinite in time—out of the flow of infinity. I had to draw this music gently out of silence and emptiness.”
It might not surprise you to learn that Debussy was famously dismissive of religion, calling Nature the only religion he needed. Arvo Part, on the other hand, believes that “religion guides all the processes in our lives without us even knowing it.” His embrace of Eastern Orthodox Christianity lies at the heart of his music. Debussy’s snowy piece suggests a cold and pensive emptiness, perhaps even a sense of hopelessness. Pärt’s Te Deum may begin from silence and emptiness, but it is soon filled with the mysteriousness of God and our joy in that mystery.