My life with ECM

When I was 13 years old I fell in love with classical music. At the time I was, like most of my peers, listening exclusively to popular music: Michael Jackson, LL Cool J, Boyz II Men, George Michael, and Mariah Carey were among the many artists in constant rotation through my Walkman. Then one day I decided that these soulful, albeit commercial, stylings just weren’t cutting it for me anymore. In retrospect, this was as much a conscious decision on my part to break from the mainstream as it was simply a means of defining my sense of self in the throes of adolescence. My teens may not have been especially difficult, yet I wanted to broaden my horizons as I saw them under threat of constriction. Put another way: it wasn’t that I felt misunderstood, but that I felt I didn’t understand enough. To this end, I found myself in a state of agitated boredom one Saturday afternoon and decided to relieve that boredom by poring through my father’s old record collection. It was then that I discovered a recording of Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons as performed by I Musici. From that moment on, I shunned my shiny cassettes in favor of aged vinyl (I have since learned to appreciate pop music in many forms—not as a compromise, but as a genuine field of interest—and have “recovered” many of those same artists). Classical music provided me the safe space I had been seeking in my youth; a realm of sound in which I would never have to be afraid of reveling in the emotions I was being socially coerced to avoid.

It was not until high school, however, that I would discover ECM, when my world was transformed by a radio broadcast of Arvo Pärt’s Te Deum. Hearing this music for the first time awakened me, as I am sure it has many others, to a blissful state of self-awareness. Its supremely bipolar beauty allowed me to recognize the necessity of life’s contradictions at a time when such conflicts were leading me down a pessimistic path. Pärt’s musical gestures were not only bursting with spirituality, but also caked with the dirt of human touch as they tore at the flimsy façade I had constructed for myself. My encounters with this music hollowed me out completely.

This led me to my first ECM purchase of the selfsame album. I haven’t looked back since.

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2 thoughts on “My life with ECM

  1. This music means to me self-awareness, knowledge, understanding, spirituality (much more related to philosophy than to religion)… and I’m glad to know I’m not the only one feeling this way about it. I discovered ECM and went deeper in classical music when I was 17 (I’m 21 now)… and now it is a fundamental part of my life.

    Nice to meet you.

    1. Thank you for sharing your inspiring words. I think you touch upon a vital point: namely, that one needn’t bring any religious expectations to this music in order to find spiritual connectivity within it. For me, part of ECM’s vision has always been to bring the listener into exactly the self-awareness you describe. It certainly has done that for me and, I imagine, countless others worldwide…

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