Let’s Learn from Our Children How to Play Pärt

Lauri Jõeleht | Sirp 30.08.2012

The Playing Pärt DVD: Arvo Pärt making music with pupils of the Collegium Educationis Revaliae music school, directed by Dorian Supin, sound Ants Andreas, design Angelika Schneider. The International Arvo Pärt Centre, Universal Edition and Minor Film, 2012.

On 23 April this year the DVD Playing Pärt was unveiled in the House of the Brotherhood of the Blackheads in Tallinn. The film was made jointly by The International Arvo Pärt Centre, the music school of Collegium Educationis Revaliae, music publishers Universal Edition and the film studio Minor Film, and was directed by Dorian Supin, who is already famous for his films about Pärt. The two DVDs show the pupils of the Collegium Educationis Revaliae music school working with the composer in spring 2011 and in the resulting concert that was given in Tallinn's Swedish St Michael's church on 4 July 2011. The first DVD also contains a discussion with Nora and Arvo Pärt about the relationships between the interpretation, the music and the composer.

In spring 2011 the school pupils rehearsed the Arvo Pärt works with their teachers with the prior approval of the composer himself, who then came in person to the final rehearsals to oversee the finishing touches and give feedback to the children and the teachers, telling the story behind the pieces where appropriate or inspiring the interpretation in some other way. The recording of the rehearsals became the DVD Practising Pärt, and the concert in the Swedish St Michael's church became the second disc Playing Pärt.

As many of the performers were young children, a lot of the works chosen came from Arvo Pärt's early repertoire of pieces written specially for children, although the majority of the works performed were still in the tintinnabuli style that is is most commonly encountered in professional concerts. This time however this music was played by young musicians who are still developing, and so the project had a completely different appearance. Musicians who have an intimate experience of Pärt's work know how difficult it is to play well those works where the music is is presented in an extremely minimalist way, and in this way it can be said that it was a brave decision to prepare a full-length concert of this music, if not a foolhardy one. It would have been no surprise if the teachers who were working with the children or the composer himself at the start of the process were to fear that the concert could turn out a failure, and indeed everybody was surprised how well and how professionally the children coped with the music, and the composer was genuinely delighted with the results. To the extent in fact that in the interviews recorded for the DVD, Nora and Arvo Pärt described how special was the performance of the organ piece Trivium, written 35 years ago, saying it was the first time ever that the piece had ever been heard properly. Meeting after the concert, the composer described the children as having something very special and...

One of the main aims behind the DVD was to promote the work of Arvo Pärt to children studying music as this could be a way to lead them deeper into contemporary music. Practising Pärt offers a host of ideas about how to interpret Pärt, which can be of particular value to teachers, who of course play a major role in guiding the repertoire choices of their students.

It is interesting to see how the composer tries to guide the performers delicately in a different direction during the rehearsals. The children, who have already learned many other pieces from their teachers, mostly performed the works to the vision of those teachers. However, although Pärt is a contemporary composer and his works can be considered as new music, the musical thinking behind the work is based more on the vertical counterpoint of the early renaissance, which demands quite a different style of performance from that of the repertoire that the teachers know best. In this sense, Pärt's music must be played quite differently.

Learning to play Pärt's music makes the children much more fully rounded in musical terms. The intervals between the notes and the slow tempos let them learn to appreciate the value of each individual note and focus on simply creating a beautiful aural experience. Works such as Für Alina or Pari Intervallo can be used for training concentration and focus, which are vitally important skills in music. Practising Pärt's music can even be seen as a form of penance, though certainly not in any negative sense as the music itself is so beautiful and logical in its structure.

One point that Arvo and Nora Pärt mentioned is how quickly and directly the children responded to the composer's suggestions, and how simply they applied them. The fresh young musicians were not held back by the baggage of experience that professionals often carry with them and that often hinders them in changing their way of thinking, preventing them from performing the music well as they are trapped in their habitual approach. As the children were creating music in a virgin field, they were able to give themselves over completely to the music, simply and immediately playing whatever the music demanded of them.

In the end, as Christ said that heaven belongs to the children, so playing Pärt belongs to those who do it simply and sincerely like children. So let us let our children play Pärt so that we may ourselves learn from them how to do it.