Letting Chopin lead us to spiritual satisfaction

December 10, 2015

When I listen to the virtuoso works of Fryderyk Chopin, I find myself transported. Like many others I find his works are as fresh, innovative and vibrant in tone, and as eclectic in composition as ever. That’s true whether they are appreciated live from the audience or on an iPod at home.

Chopin himself is often described as one of the first “superstar” composers; his popularity assured, and his works – technically tough and emotionally demanding – capable of delighting audiences in our largest concert halls globally.

The five-yearly Fryderyk Chopin International Piano Competition in Warsaw is rightly considered one of the highlights of the classical music calendar. This year, the 17th competition was won by the precocious talent of Seong-Jin Cho, a 21-year-old from South Korea playing the Piano Concerto in E minor Op. 11 in the final.

Critics are already describing his interpretation of Chopin as “lucid and shimmering” and “balanced and mature”. Certainly, he is a worthy winner.

Interestingly, Chopin himself preferred to perform in more intimate salons, then popular in the 19th century. This I understand too. Listening to his work being performed in smaller settings seems to create a closer bond to the music itself. The richness of the Romantic themes, the delicacy of the appoggiaturas, the extraordinary lightness created by Chopin’s unusual technique combine to create a spiritual harmony.

Can his work be used to find joy through the enhancement of meditation? Perhaps so. After all, in Pure Land Buddhism, paradise can be considered a profoundly musical place in which Buddhist law takes the form of gorgeous melodies. Music may be thought of as a proper offering, not something which we must deny ourselves. It is a gift to be treasured, shared and taught.

So techniques can be learned, the melodies and notation can be read, but the wisdom seems to emanate on its own. This is much in the way that various styles of meditation may be discussed but their actual benefits have a physical effect that defies determined categorisation.

We hear every note of Chopin’s compositions as electrical pulses to our brain, somehow cleverly defying that chemical process to lodge a feeling in our souls; the words we choose as our mantras do not take space in our heads, but in our hearts. The right meditative prompt can bypass our clumsy human consciousness to act as a conduit of pure joy.

Listening to Chopin proves that we do not need to close our eyes or distract ourselves from other stimuli when we want to make that deep spiritual connection. It can be enough to give into the extraordinary experience of this truly masterful timeless works, and let the cadences and rhythms pave our way to peace.

Bruno Wang, founder of the Pureland Foundation