Learning How to Mourn


In this symposium, I joined Kythe Heller and Andrew Shenton in a conversation about the ways that Pärt’s music proposes a self-reflective space across religious and cultural divides. Our presentations explored how Pärt’s music has been valued in the contexts of theology, dance, film, and personal narrative, and we considered the reasons for its audience’s repeated claims of generative listening in the face of trauma. In what ways does Pärt’s music harness silence and hold witness? To what degree, and how, might it be viewed as a spiritual act?

In particular, I investigated how choreographers have employed Pärt’s music as rendering of and witness to human loss. In this context Dancing on the Front Porch of Heaven (1993), a work by the American choreographer Ulysses Dove, serves as case study for exploring the relationship between music and embodiment, and music and passage.



A Conversation about the music of Arvo Pärt
Harvard Divinity School
Cambridge, MA; March 2018

Learning How to Mourn - Dove image