This summer, on Saturday August 30th, I will play my solo piano improvisations at the Temppeliaukio Church in Helsinki for the 300th time.
In a time when things are moving faster and faster, appearing and disappearing, here today – gone tomorrow, such a consistency seems like quite an achievement.
I started playing at the church on a sporadic basis in 2001, first only about once a month, but soon the concert schedule leveled on some 30 concerts a year: always on Wednesday mornings at 10.30.
The Temppeliaukio Church being one of the main tourist attractions of Helsinki, thousands of people from all over the world have heard and seen me play. Many a tourist has taken pictures. Already five years ago the biggest Finnish newspaper Helsingin Sanomat mentioned me as the ‘most photographed Finnish musician in Asia’.
Often a busload of visitors would just storm in, take some of the obligatory pictures and storm out to make it to the North Cape in time for dinner.
But often hundreds would settle, slow down their pace, close their eyes and just breathe in the beauty of these lovely acoustics, listen to the sounds that are invented right there in front of them, each time differently, each time new – each time NOW.
I remember the old upright piano of the first years, a HELLAS, whose tuning had suffered many a temperature change.
Sometimes I wondered whether some of my CD’s had been bought out of compassion for the poor sod persisting on such an instrument.
But then the Church acquired a brand new Steinway grand piano, brought over from the factory in Hamburg, chosen by one of the leading Finnish classical pianists, Juhani Lagerspetz. Was it 2005 or 2006?
Oh, what a joy, what a glory! One of the loveliest instruments I ever laid my hands on.
My weekly ritual became a meditation, a service of some sort.
From the beginning I had made it a point to start every concert in a different way, never decide on any songs beforehand, allow the spontaneous whim to take me wherever it wants to, even if a familiar melody would come to my mind (or: to my imagination’s ‘inner ear’, as I call it), it would always present itself in a new way, in a new tempo, in a different rythm, with different harmonies.
Sometimes there may appear themes from my own recordings, sometimes there would be a folk melody, in recent years some church hymns have established their place in my vocabulary.
But what will happen, what will sound, is always a surprise to me, myself.
During the first years I used to record every single concert in order to catch the ‘jewels’, some little motives or musical ideas that could be used in compositions and might otherwise be lost in the ongoing flow of spontaneous outpour.
If ever anybody will take the trouble to trace back origins of my orchestral compositions, this is the place to look for them.
In recent years I’ve developed an ability to recognize these ‘jewels’ faster, while they occur, and I may also have a better memory now to store them temporarily, until I make it to the composer’s shed the next time to write them down.
Often, people come and thank me for the intense experience of ‘HERE & NOW’, for the serenity and peacefulness.
I am as grateful as they are!
I often wonder where this music comes from.