That Piece

In almost every conversation I’ve had with people about last Friday’s concert featuring the Vancouver Chamber Choir, the first thing mentioned was “that piece”. Not a single person named “that piece”, maybe because they didn’t know now to pronounce it, but mainly because there was no need to; everyone knew what was being spoken of.

I was in Vancouver on Sunday and met people who had heard the concert a week earlier in the city. “That piece” was the first topic of conversation. Raua needmine by the Estonian composer Veljo Tormis.

When one item in a program becomes such a dominant focus of reactions, the obvious question is: Did they like it or not?

Surprisingly, not many people spoke in terms of liking it or not liking it. It was much more about the impact the music had on them. They spoke with animation. There was intensity in their reactions.

Yes, some did break out into big smiles. Some absolutely loved the piece. No one told me they didn’t like it. Of course, what I heard was not a scientific polling result, accurate to + or – 3.4%.

We did not have the words in front of us, so we were reacting simply to what we heard and felt. What we heard was from a foreign culture, from a distant time. The composer was reaching far back into Ugric folk traditions. Nevertheless, it touched us. It found something elemental deep inside us, and we could not leave it alone, whether for good or bad.

It wasn’t cheerful Mozart. It wasn’t stormy Beethoven. It wasn’t romantic Schumann. It was rhythmic. It was nonsense syllables. It was outbursts. It was chanting we couldn’t understand. It was a drum that pounded out the contour of the drama.

And we won’t forget it for a long, long time. This was a composer who accomplished what all in his guild aspire to—to speak to an audience that hears him.

John Wiebe - President
The Valley Concert Society