Have you thanked God for this failure already?

Arvo Part

Gil Bailie has posted a link on the Cornerstone Forum Facebook page to a short video of an excerpted portion of a speech Estonian composer Arvo Part gave in May 2014 accepting an honorary degree from St. Vladimir’s Seminary in New York. The link is here, and a transcript follows:

Please allow me some thoughts from my musical diaries.

In the Puhtitsa Monastery, Estonia, “Have you thanked God for this failure already?” These unexpected words were said by a little girl. I remember exactly…it was July 25th, 1976. I was sitting in the monastery’s yard, on a bench in the shadow of the bushes with my notebook.

‘What are you doing? What are you writing there’, the girl who was around ten asked me. ‘I am trying to write music, but it is not turning out well’, I said. And then the unexpected words from her, ‘Have you thanked God for this failure already?’

The most sensitive musical instrument is the human soul. The next is the human voice. One must purify the soul until it begins to sound. A composer is a musical instrument and at the same time a performer on that instrument. The instrument has to be in order to produce sound. One must start with that, not with the music. Through the music the composer can check whether his instrument is tuned, and to what key it is tuned.

God knits man in his mother’s womb, slowly and wisely. Art should be born in a similar way. To be like a beggar when it comes to writing music, whatever, however, and whenever God gives. We shouldn’t’ grieve because of writing little and poorly, but because we pray little and poorly, and lukewarmly, and live in the wrong way. The criterion must be everywhere and only humility.

Music is my friend, ever-understanding. Compassionate. Forgiving. It’s a comforter, the handkerchief for drying my tears of sadness, the source of my tears of joy. My liberation and flight. But also, a painful thorn in my flesh and soul, that which makes me sober and teaches humility.

Thank you. Forgive me, please!

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