Self-deprecation is worth its weight in smoldering phoenix-ashes and baby unicorn tears.
or; Eric Whitacre's "Water Night"
Published on January 8, 2007 By SanChonino In Music
Wrap your ever-lovin' heads around this here scenario.

A cold night, October 2005. (Man, that feels like forever ago.) This was a much different San Chonino – I still wasn't sure exactly what I wanted to do with my life, hadn't discovered the beauty that is Spanish literature (a love that would eventually dictate my current plans for the rest of my life). It was my first semester back at school after a two-and-a-half year break. Two years to serve as a missionary for my church (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, often referred to as the Mormons) and a half a year to wait for the next semester to roll around. It was a trying semester, to be sure – getting back to school after that long off was not so easy. Consequently, I took mostly generals. One of the classes I had the (mis)fortune of taking was Intro to Jazz. (I really thought I'd like this class, because I love cool and west-coast jazz. Crazy stuff like Dizzy Gillespie is a bit out of my league, but give me a disc by Wynton Marsalis, Miles Davis, or the inimitable Brubeck and I'm a happy camper.) Of course, like most music intro classes, I was required to attend some concerts during the semester to obtain full credit for the course, writing an essay on the performance, etc.

My friend, Hannah, was in the choirs at her college in Salt Lake. I, being strapped for a better idea of appropriate concerts to attend (I really don't think that an Opeth or VAST concert would've done for this) decided to go to one of her choir concerts. I mean, they have a jazz choral group, that would count, right? (Of course it did, but my credit for that assignment isn't the point right now.)

I eased into my seat as it was about to begin, thankful that I'd asked her previously for a ticket, wishing there was an attractive little thing sitting in the seat next to me to occupy me for the next two hours. There wasn't. I was alone, doomed to suffer interminably until the end of the long set list.

It was a typical community college choir concert – nothing too incredible, but pretty okay. The Jazz choral group went first, singing predictable (and less-than-jazzy) renditions of a few tired old Big Band hits. Then the intermediate choir came out and bored me for half an hour. (My, I sound critical. Such is life.) Then the concert choir, the select choir, came out and began their little set.

I was more impressed by the quality of this choir (of which my friend was a member). They sang some really cool a cappella tunes, in strange keys, time signatures, and rhythms, all things that get my musical guts just-a gyrating. Then they arrived to their final song, and split into sections. Odd, I thought. They've been singing just fine in mixed groups up to now. What's so special about this song?

Little did I know what would be in store for me.

It was a song called Water Night, by a young composed named Eric Whitacre. He's quite popular on the college campuses these days, I don't know if any of you have ever heard of him or by him. I hadn't. But as I sat in that concert hall, I could only bask in the glory that is Water Night.

Night with the eyes of a horse that trembles in the night,
night with eyes of water in the field asleep
is in your eyes, a horse that trembles is in
your eyes of secret water.

Eyes of shadow-water,
eyes of well-water,
eyes of dream-water.

Silence and solitude,
two little animals moon-led,
drink in your eyes,
drink in those waters.

If you open your eyes, night opens doors of musk,
the secret kingdom of the water opens
flowing from the center of the night.

And if you close your eyes,
a river, a silent and beautiful current, fills you from within,
flows forward, darkens you;

Night brings its wetness to beaches in your soul.

(Words by Octavio Paz, translated by Muriel Rukeyser)

I sat in complete awe of the choir as the waves of sound washed over me. So many harmonies – five, seven, ten, even fifteen in some places – all spinning my head about, turning me like a top, slowly but surely taking everything I thought I knew about music, piecing it apart, calling it bad names, and sending it packing, expanding my horizons and changing the way I would understand sound forever.

I had never (and have since never) felt so strongly towards a piece of music. My spine felt as if ghosts were playing a mean marimba up and down it, xylophone style. My hair began to stand on end; I could feel the little hairs at the back of my neck snapping to attention, demanding to be heard. My heart began to ache with the beauty of this piece of music. I couldn't bring myself to open my eyes, end the moment, even long after the song had ended, the curtain was closed, the final applause had finished and my friend came running down the aisle to ask me what I thought.

I couldn't put it into words. In fact, it's taken me until this very moment to figure out exactly how to put that moment into words, and I don't find them adequate to explain the way I felt. Or still feel about this song. For the following Christmas, I received a collection of Whitacre's a cappella works, and it has received a lot of play time in my stereo, especially when it's time to decompress and chill a bit.

But no piece of music, no matter how powerful, no matter how touching or intricately written, has ever touched me the way that one did in that moment. I wish I could find the URL for the entire song. This is the URL for the little clip they have on Amazon (listen to it here) or you could go to Eric Whitacre's homepage to hear it. Look for the song Water Night.

Maybe it will change your perception of music, poetry, and the world the way it did mine. It still makes my heart beat faster and makes me want to smile, laugh, and cry every time I hear it. What powerful music . . . and what power music can exert over a person.

on Jan 08, 2007
Braeden this is so beautifully written, your description of what you felt and how you felt was just so moving! I can just imagine how you felt when you heard it!

I couldn't hear the piece but I'll try again and thanks for the links. I'll definately look him up! Great article!
on Jan 08, 2007
I'll try again and thanks for the links. I'll definately look him up!

Please do. He's absolutely amazing - everything he's written is stunning, but most especially this song, Water Night, another one called Cloudburst, and When David Heard. Wow. Chills just thinking about it again.
on Jan 09, 2007
WOW! I got so involved in listening to the different clips on Eric's website that I forgot I was here on JU.
Thank you so much for sharing this! I always love finding new music.
on Jan 10, 2007
Ahh, the power of music. I know it well... Thanks for pointing it out. Will have a listen and get back to you.