I spent two wonderful evenings with my favorite grand piano in my favorite hall recording new improvisations.
Since ‘Deep North’ in 1996 and ‘Reflections’ in 1997 I’ve only rarely done solo piano sessions. Even on my solo album ‘ONE’ (2011) the piano sections were part of a greater texture. (I layered a host of other exotic instruments over each other, starting from theremin and percussion to iPod and ukulele.)
Having played solo improvisation matinees in the Temppeliaukio Church on a weekly basis since 2001, with the 325. concert coming up in summer 2015, it was a natural thought to want to capture the atmosphere of this unique environment on a new CD.
In recent years I noticed more and more often while playing that fragments of hymns would occur to my improvising mind, melodies I would then incorporate into whatever texture happened to be going on at a given time.
On the occasion of my 250. concert I had once planned to play a new hymn every week, the songbook number of which would be corresponding to the number of the concert. After a while, however, I found this concept too restrictive, as it wouldn’t allow me to remain as thoughtless as possible, to just be listening impartially to the flow of music pouring out of my hands.
So, now it seemed time to delve again (and properly) into this large repertoire of wondrous, mystical melodies, the Book of Hymns.
When playing through the book, testing the songs for angles on how to mold and customize them, turn them into personal statements of mine, I noticed how deep-rooted this music was in my system.
I had never considered church music to play an important role in my musical development, having moved from the Beatles to Zappa already in my early teens, visiting the Donaueschinger Musiktage, listening to Stockhausen, Ligeti and Schlippenbach for the first time in my late teens.
Now reading the Finnish Book of Hymns I didn’t of course recognize any of the songs from their name, but when I played ‘Nyt tahdon käydä vastaan’ and realized it was the song I knew as ‘Wie soll ich Dich empfangen’ (‘Oh, how shall I receive thee’), I got touched very deeply in a sort of pre-conscious spot.
I started remembering how I went to church with my parents as a small child, I remembered the hall, the lights, the uncomfortable chairs (previously benches), even the smells of winter coats the people next to me were wearing came back to me, and how we kids were hushed back to the sacristy while the grown-ups listened to the oh, so long sermon.
So, there I sat last week, in this magnificent hall with this magnificent Steinway grand piano, relating to my childhood memories and these melodies that are clearly a part of it.
Only in retrospect I realize how emotional and somehow integrating the experience of this recording session was for me.
I love recording. I love the state of concentration that comes over me like a warm blanket when ‘the red light is on – tape running’.
I love the act of improvising, inventing different chords on the spot, adding little interplays and textures here and there.
I am grateful to the Temppeliaukio Church and its administration for allowing me to play my music there.
Love and gratefulness – this is essentially what was there to be captured on those evenings and I sincerely hope that it will come across on the recording as well, inviting you to be still with me, to just listen.
‘How Shall I Receive You’ (SatnaMusic CD 151) will be available by June 2015.