Suggested Listening: “Be Still My Soul” by Rhonda Larson

This week’s installment of SUGGESTED LISTENING for the CLASSICAL MUSIC SKEPTIC presents one of the coolest pieces I have ever experienced.  Here’s Be Still My Soul, composed and performed below by Rhonda Larson, flute (US).

About the Composer:

Bozeman, MT -- it really is gorgeous!  Courtesy of
Bozeman, MT — it really is gorgeous! Courtesy of

The biography of Rhonda Larson is an eclectic one.  She grew up in Bozeman, Montana, where, she writes on her website, “the sky is endless and the breath­taking mountains cut through your soul.  It is not difficult, then, to understand that the depths of Rhonda’s music comes from a place in her heart that celebrates the beauty of the human spirit, found most alive in nature.”  Her attachment to nature led her to decline an invitation to study at Juilliard, choosing instead “to remain in the inspirational, natural surroundings of the west and study at the University of Idaho in Moscow, Idaho.”  This worked out well for her: in her senior year at U of I, she won the National Flute Association‘s Young Artist Competition, while a student from Juilliard took second place.  Shortly thereafter, Paul Winter invited her to join the Paul Winter Consort — a group blending jazz, classical, world music, and sounds from nature — with whom she spent eight years touring and recording and casually winning a Grammy award.  Today, she performs with her band Ventus, runs her own music publishing company, gives masterclasses, and, of course, composes.

About the Piece:

Larson first began composing in order to build a repertoire that could continue to challenge her incredible technical skills on flute.  Be Still My Soul is certainly a technical challenge — the notes never stop moving!  The music is based on the hymntune heard in Finlandia by Jean Sibelius — the melody, standing freely of Sibelius’ famous tone poem, is of even more cultural importance in Finland than the country’s national anthem.  The same melody, sung with different words, was eventually adapted into a popular Christian hymn, and it is this hymn — with the line “bear patiently your cross of grief or pain” — that inspired Larson’s composition.  This piece is absolutely hypnotic.  The technique of singing through the flute while playing produces a haunting, resonant sound; then, Sibelius’ hymn is transformed through endless waves of notes.  Mesmerizing.

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