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.