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MELANCHOLY INTERVIEWS

PIANIST PER CHRISTENSEN

”...if we have the courage to face, embrace and perhaps even reveal these emotions of melancholy to each other, stronger and more meaningful friendships and relationships emerge." - Per Christensen

Located in Roskilde Denmark, Per Christensen is a social educator and jazzpianist. He holds a masters degree in psychology and pedagogy and is very interested in what binds together and unites us as human beings. His inspiration particularly comes from tibetan philosophy and psychology.

The below words are his interpretation of the relationship between melancholy and creativity – more specifically music – sent to us on a rainy winter day.


Embracing melacholy through music
For a stronger reading experience, please listen to this track while reading.

"When I was eight years old, I found an old record in my father's LP-collection. The cover was scratched, a shady dark green, and depicted a dramatic painted portrait of a very serious looking older man with crazy windblown hair. The cover read: “Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata".

I placed the LP on the old wooden B&O record player from the 1970's, and just listened. I was completely blown away and listened to this beautiful piece over and over again. Later I have come to realize, that the notes in this sonata are relatively easy to play and that many pianists believe to have mastered it. But to play it in the way that I heard it as a boy, is something else. Not only does it require the skills and touch of a true virtuoso or master, but I also believe that the performer needs to have had great life experience and perhaps something even deeper. What comes to my mind, is an inspiring quote by the famous psychologist Elisabeth Kubler Ross: "The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen".

I believe this to be true for any truly beautiful human being, but also for any pianist that knows how to unfold the true potential and story of Beethovens' Moonlight Sonata. But why was I completely blown away by this piece at the age of eight?

Great music speaks to us and even though the same piece doesn't necessarily resonate with everyone, it does always carry emotions of some sort. I would say more than most other media. We may interpret or translate these emotions according to our own subjective taste and history. When a beautiful interpretation of Beethovens' Moonlight Sonata meets one persons ears, the emotional response is just sadness. In my experience, many people don't like to listen to deep emotional music, since it makes them feel sad. Many people prefer to run from sadness rather than embrace it. For me this is not the case. Listening to this beautiful piece triggers something much deeper than just sadness – it triggers a melancholic kind of deep-rooted joy or happiness. A celebration of life itself, like dancing in the rain.

Today I understand why I was so genuinly moved by the Moonlight Sonata at the age of eight; it was in particular because it contained a sense of unity. For the first time in my life, I realized, that I was not alone. Other people had felt these emotions before me. Not only had the composer felt them two centuries before and had been able to succesfully translate them into written music, the pianist playing on the LP had apparently also felt them. And here I was, a young boy in the 1980's thinking that I was the only person in the world to feel them. To feel alone, vulnerable, naked and hurt. It gave me a great sence of unity. It felt as if the music reached out, offered a gentle hug and whispered: "Pssst! You're not alone, we understand exactly how you feel. We feel it too." In my view, this is what great music can do. It can bring us closer together by defying the stereotypical facades that most people carry around in daily life and reveal the actual truth – that every single one of us carries a seed of vulnerability hidden deep within, that we all suffer from time to time and that if we have the courage to face, embrace and perhaps even reveal these emotions of melancholy to each other, stronger and more meaningful friendships and relationships emerge.

As the buddhist nun Pema Chödrön says: "Compassion is not a relationship between the healer and the wounded. It is a relationship between equals. Only when we know our own darkness well can we be present with the darkness of others. Compassion becomes real when we recognize our shared humanity".

When we find the courage to honestly expose our own vulnerability and face the melancholia within, I believe we grow the seeds of compassion and unity. I believe that this holds the potential to bring true joy and colour to life. Therefore: Put on your best Stutterheim raincoat, defy the pouring rain and remember to embrace melancholy as well as each other."

Per Christensen, Pedagogue and pianist
”...if we have the courage to face, embrace and perhaps even reveal these emotions of melancholy to each other, stronger and more meaningful friendships and relationships emerge." - Per Christensen