Music for our Days: Belgian upcoming composer Dimitri Arnauts presents 'A Soul of Light'
Tell us about yourself and your music
I started writing music when I was about 22 years old, after having stopped my engineering and architecture studies at university in Leuven (Flanders, Belgium). – in the hope to steer me away from the dry world of numbers and calculations. I hoped to realize an old dream that seemed impossible and out of reach to me when I was a teenager: becoming a musician and a composer.
I had been studying violin at one of the Belgian capitals’ academies of music and was a keen choral singer in the school choir, and later in some baroque vocal ensembles in Brussels.
One day, the university choir where I was singing decided to study the Mass in B Minor of Johann Sebastian Bach. I had already encountered this masterpiece of Western Music when I was about 13 years old, secretly and nightly listening to it during hours under my bed blankets – during whole nights where I was supposed to be sleeping for the next school day…
This musical confrontation decided me later when I was 22 as said, to tackle, in a self-taught and practice-oriented manner, on the endeavor to become a writer of music. From then on, I wrote several hundreds of works of various sizes, always using computer and mouse instead of pen and paper: mainly cantatas, psalms, oratorios, concertos, symphonies and symphonic poems, solo works, art songs, and vocal improvisations…
I humbly believe that my experience is proof that the usual academic path towards composition ability (a Master in Composition) is not necessarily the only way to enable you to express yourself well in music writing, to convey and express emotions, and to invite your audience to a higher level of existence an aesthetic experience.
As an autodidact, I always feel free to follow the paths of my heart, both in the external aesthetics of my music as in the emotion and message it aims to convey. I have nothing in sight but the elevation of our spirits, the delight of our souls, and the enchantment of our hearts!
To attain this goal, I established from the foundations of, my musical art on the Western tradition of tonal harmony, euphony, complex polyphony, fugue, and counterpoint. I follow up until today only the voice of my heart, the means and visions of my intuition and inspiration, the desire of my soul…
Musically, I humbly and gladly admit to being a modest and indebted disciple of the great Johann Sebastian Bach, as I had the privilege to be deeply moved, formed, and inspired by his oeuvre – through a year-long vocal practice of his Cantatas, Passions, Oratorios as a tenor chorister.
Talk to us more about your latest release
I had started that long-expected full-time composer career in 2018 – quitting my day job as a web designer and diving into the open sea of the Art World.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit the world in early March of 2020 – I had my whole first season as a professional composer erased by the international isolation and quarantine measures: about 5 symphonic commissions were postponed or canceled…
So I moved towards contacting, from home, various international vocal and instrumental artists and proposing to produce new music in a remote COVID-proof way, using our own home-studios to record art songs for voice and orchestra, featured in conceptual video trailers. One of these artists was the Angola lyrical tenor Nelson Ebo.
Nelson, currently living in New York, is the first performer of my newly composed song: ‘ A Soul of Light’. He was born in Angola in 1984 during the civil war, and since childhood, he struggled against that war and illness which claimed the lives of both parents and several siblings. But with his powerful tenor voice and musical soul, he was able to lift himself out of hardship while inspiring all those who heard him.
It is that tragic but also hopeful experience that Nelson has sincerely and superbly, in my opinion, expressed in his vocal interpretation. I feel very honored and blessed by the fruitful collaboration with him, and I believe he has recorded the best possible performance of my song: one full of emotion, dignity, and hope – but without trying to escape the cruel reality of suffering and despair: instead, elevating both towards the Creator, in a lament infused with a nearly prophetic nobility and urgency.
You can listen to our song ‘Soul of Light’ on your preferred streaming platform – via my online publisher’s link: https://artist.landr.com/music/672985514676
What inspired you to write this release?
Well, for a few years I was reflecting on the theme of ‘Justice going together with Mercy’ – a topic that has been made very actual both in the catholic world by pope Francis as well as in the USA with the Black Lives Matter movement and its rightful expectations.
I felt the need and sensed the urgency – like violence and mutual hatred was flaring up – to testify in music one about a possible high and noble way to get out of this crisis and escalation: the path of mutual reconciliation and of deeds of love and mercy – especially across racial divides that are embittered and inflamed by a sad and tragic historical legacy.
So, I searched online and found this marvelous text, a saying by the Hindu philosopher and mystic Swami Vivekananda (1863-1902):
I look behind and after
And find that all is right,
In my deepest sorrows
There is a soul of light.
I decided to use these lines as the lyrics of the song, ‘A soul of Light’, and now the voice of the tenor singer, with this Hindu text full of grace and hope, is embodying the suffering of the afflicted ones… recognizing at the end of their lives, looking back to all challenges and difficulties they went through, that somehow there was always a ray of light, goodness, wisdom to be received, and hope at work through the good, the care and help of other beings encountered on the path of life.
Our accompanying art video evokes the lyrics through seven still images: seven facets corresponding to the Seven Works of Mercy of the Christian faith. These actions are universal and fundamental expressions of empathy and compassion, having their roots in the Jewish Bible and the Christian faith, as Jesus Christ himself has called us to live our lives according to them:
To feed the hungry.
To give water to the thirsty.
To clothe the naked.
To shelter the homeless.
To visit the sick.
To visit the imprisoned or ransom the captive.
To bury the dead.
The Art video ends with the well-known sentence from a ‘King’, but to know what and who it exactly is, you need to check the video yourself at https://www.africanmuse.art/souloflight
The song is a call ‘not to forget the poor and the afflicted’. I sense Nelson and myself both did our utmost best to sincerely serve the cause of the Poor and the Afflicted, also in Angola, Nelson Ebo’s country of origin that is very dear to his heart.
The music is therefore made freely available in the video- and audio streaming to all audiences, as the musical release aims to have another dimension and positive impact: from the video page on, the generous listener can freely navigate further to the donation page of MOSAICO, a Dominican-led and inspired NGO active in Angola, that promotes, advocates and furthers Human Rights in that country – so long battered by the scourge of war.
Describe the writing and recording process
As COVID-19 was raging outside in all countries, I composed the song quite quickly in one day, and emailed the PDF score over to Nelson, together with rehearsal audio and a background orchestral track.
Nelson had in the meanwhile purchased a nice portable recording device – and a few days later I got his voice recorded trackback via DropBox.
I just aligned the reverbs and spatialization of the two audio files (the orchestra and his solo voice) – and we were ready to sync with the video track, and to release!
Any plans to release a video?
Any plans to hit the road?
Due to the pandemic, the only time I get my nose outside is to shop for food and groceries or to check the postal mail…. So, clearly, no performance is foreseen in 2020. BUT: in 2021 we plan to start an ambitious action in favor of lyrical singing, vocal and orchestral practice in Luanda, the capital of Angola. One of the facets of this plan will surely include performing the five Art Songs (so far) of the AfricanMuse Project in a real concert venue.
Our shared dream and aim through the AfricanMuse Project, is to inspire people of all ages, creeds, and conditions in Angola and across Africa through the power of Music infused and inspired by the treasure and legacy of Faith. We care about nature, about life in all its forms, and want to promote a peaceful, sustainable, and generous way of life that ensures the liberty, dignity, and prosperity of all people. We believe in the healing power of music and that it can be an experience of reflection and of meditation about a good future and dignified life – that we all desire.
We want to dedicate the songs for the AfricanMuse Project to the people across Africa, who are upholding their dignity, their strong values in favor of family and life, their heritage and culture – this all despite very difficult social, economic, and ecologic conditions. Nelson and I hope that our songs will give a moment of rest, meditation, relief, and consolation to the listeners – especially the poorest ones, so we make all these songs also freely available on www.africanmuse.art
As an indie artist, how do you brand yourself and your music to stand out from the rest of the artists out there?
I am definitely not corresponding to the usual canon of contemporary music – even if I see myself as rightfully part of that scene of ‘wise’ art music: I’m living and working now, in our days.
I am indeed more inspired by the pre-modern compositional techniques: polyphonic, fugal, and contrapuntal writing in particular, but totally not shy of ‘functional and expressive’ dissonance and even atonality when needed and relevant for my musical discourse.
I sense that the historical time-span who attract me more esthetically is about 5 centuries-long, rich of fabulous and numerous unmatched art treasures in all fields, and I feel more free and creative with this strong and large basis than when trying to comply with modern canons that have lasted and imposed themselves– in a sometimes quite tyrannical and ideological way – for just the last 70 years.
So, in practice: I’m totally going after catchy and original melody, poignant and moving harmony, rich counterpoint, and ongoing pulse, etc. That’s already more than sufficient to be quite apart and original – even today. But not sufficient to get full peer recognition or acceptance – especially seen in my self-taught background.
But I enjoy teaming up with the younger generation that is much more versatile, open, and unstressed about being on the right side of contemporary academism or conformism… I feel also a great level of writing virtuosity and of honest expressivity of beauty and emotion, in the upcoming waves of young composers and performers.
Who have you been listening to lately?
Some deeply soothing and impressive choral CD from The Williamson Voices, USA, directed by James Jordan: AURORA. Contains works and choral impro by various composers and gifted soloists, amongst which promising talents like Sam Scheibe (Composer studying at Westminster Choir College, USA) and Krystel Dib (Soprano from Lebanon). Sam and Krystel have also sung some of my art songs recently.
Then, when I’m down or in need of some coffee: a florid and joyful Bach choir or cantata on Youtube will help me to ignite again the fire needed for the day!
Who are your biggest influences?
Clearly: Johann Sebastian Bach, and Ludwig van Beethoven – the latter since my first venturing into symphonic writing in 2018/2019. These two giants are so profound, and such Everests of Inspiration, that I always need to take some distance in time and space – to be able to find my own little voice and to try to measure up in a humble way to their immense achievements.
But next to them, I very much admire also the wit and energy of Rossinian Bel Canto, the elegance of Mendelssohn, and the melodic inspiration of Dvorak, Grieg, etc.
Closer home, I indulge sometimes in good pop music: groovy hip-hop and melodic rock, the old-school New Orleans Jazz, contemporary icons as Max Richter or Jacob Collier, and a lot of still unknown people with great talents…
Tell us about your passions
I happened to have a small painting atelier to work with oil paint, and to ‘write’ icons in the orthodox manner and technique (egg tempera on gold eaves and marble – a la Fresca).
I also enjoy a fresh walk amidst unspoiled nature, tasty world food, English style breakfast, and delicious foreign cuisine (we are blessed with lots of colorful good restaurants in Brussels).
But it is the aural inspiration and melodic idea’s I get in my dreams, together with a giant cup of coffee – that gets me really kicking off and going through the day!
What else is happening next in your world?
On the Art song front, Nelson Ebo and I, as the composer, are preparing a full vocal-orchestral album together with Soprano Krystel Dib, from Beirut, Lebanon. I will be called ’Terra Sancta’ and will feature new songs, solo arias as well as duets, advocating for the preservation and restoration of Nature and Life on Earth, in an uplifting but also committed and uncompromising way.
And, with a friend conductor, I’m preparing the launch of a new player in the field of Orchestral performance in the UK and Mainland Europe – but that’s still in an initial and confidential phase for now… more info to come soon on www.dimitriarnauts.com.
Thanks for an awesome interview, Dimitri Arnauts
Connect with Dimitri Arnauts
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