Meditative music in Paris

Notre Dame de Paris is a majestic cathedral, with an extraordinary organ. The number of organ pipes is impressive – 7800, with 900 classified as historical. It has 111 stops, five 56-key manuals and a 32-key pedalboard. It is a special event to experience an organ concert in this magnificent place, with an organ player who is among the best in the world, obviously talented from early on in his life – Olivier Latry. I was fortunate enough to have the experience a few weeks ago. Listening to Bach in these surroundings was special. It was a meditative experience, to be absorbed in the variations of the themes, following the flow of the melodies, moment-to moment, with the mind open to the richness and the subtleties of the sound produced by the organ-pipes. During meditation, there are sometimes moments with strong impressions from the spontaneous activities of the mind which are more demanding to deal with than the mild, subtle spontaneous activities. As a parallel, during the concert, the sounds of the organ pipes were at times more demanding to follow, too.

The organ in Notre Dame de Paris was surprisingly powerful as the organ player showed its potential, as well as his own – what he was able to do with this instrument! It was vivid, stimulating, and a strong experience. There are perhaps both parallels and differences between the impact of the repetition to the sound in meditation and the impact of the organ player’s sounds on the mind. When we repeat the meditation sound, we open up to more spontaneous activities of our mind, and deal with tensions, impulses and strong residues that surface, ready to be worked through. Thus, in our meditation practice, we manage to deal with the ever-changing and challenging activities of our mind. We often need more than one meditation to work through the tensions and residues, but the reward is the release of tensions, which may last for some time, until new residues of the mind present us with challenges again. Meditation is a quiet, but powerful experience. When the organ player strikes his accords, he makes the concert a powerful event, not only in a quiet way – but in a way that makes us get absorbed and helps us open up to the strong musical experience. When we follow the flow of the music, it may strike some accords in our mind, too. Sometimes, like in Notre Dame de Paris, the experience can be vividly present in the memory for weeks afterwards.

2 Comments

  1. Kaif

    interesting post! it seems that listening to a concert at the notre dame cathedral would be a special experience – both in terms of the music and the location.

    which compositions of bach did they play? i once listened to a performance of bach’s ‘st. john’s passion’ at the trinity college chapel in cambridge, and the experience was quite similar to yours – vivid and stimulating.

    i personally find bach’s rendition of st. matthew’s passion more soothing and profound, while st. john’s passion is more powerful and conveys a sense of something extraordinary taking place in our midst.

  2. Magne

    This brings back memeories!
    I was i Paris very often in the early 1990’s. (Every 14 days over a time span of 1,5 year). And one night we were fortuneate enough to stumble over an organ concert in Notre Dame. I do not remember the players name, but I know he was very good, and may be famous as welll.
    The organ was unbelieavable: It could play tha most subtle tunes in a very “quiet” way, and in the next moment the instrument could fill the entire room inside the church.
    The dynamics were not to believe.
    It was one of my stongest music experiences ever.

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