Sunday, September 7, 2008

Le Grand Serviteur de la Beauté

photo by J. Lepage

dear sisters
As you have heard, last Wednesday the world lost a great musician and composer, Pierre Van Dormael and, with pain in my heart, I have to say goodbye to a dear friend.

This account is a personal one to shed light on some of the ways he means so much to me. Having known him since I was about 14, he has always been a guiding light. He defined friendship for me. Very soon after we met I consciously decided he would be my friend. He had many friends, I am aware, and was known and loved by many. I don't know if I ever did him justice, or if these words come anywhere close to describing what a wonderful person he is.

He always gave more than he ever expected to receive. During difficult times he would point out the positive to me. One time, coming back from Africa, out of his shirt pocket he took a colourful bundle: a beautiful string of antique coloured glass beads. He said, as he gave it to me: 'just so that you see colours again in your life'. They are on my mantlepiece in a wooden box: on my 21st birthday the thread snapped and they bounced in a colourful explosion in a syncopated rhythm all over the art college floor, a delightful sight. This is what his music is like.

"Nous sommes des serviteurs de la beauté" he'd say.

When visiting him at home I'd bring a potted flower which he'd promptly plant in his garden, the one with the apple blossom and the singing birds. After working he'd cook me dinner, fried tomatoes, etcetera, a true art of living, and then serve me wine older than myself. He'd expect the best from people, and put the stakes high, creatively, yet always in that maintained great vision, and simplicity in its complexity.

This is the way he has always been. In his life and his music. I hear his soft voice and kind advice, and the fact that he has always been there for me, caring and protective. Hugs warm enough to run your internal power generator for a month...
I can see the round, confident, positive shape of his handwriting in the letters he sent -such joy at seeing his airmail envelopes arrive! His accounts of living in Senegal opened up a world for me - and in the parts of the songs we wrote together. His songs always open doors, if not hearts.

I'd see him play in a green shirt, a red one, depending on the mood he was in (red was for power) and a glass of Orval in his hand. A chuckle and a glint in his eye. A professionalism of a standard I've rarely seen. An encourager of singers, young musicians, a composer and performer of brilliant music. His chords a solace and joy. He created many opportunities for countless people, many of whom have gone on to become excellent musicians and extremely succesful. The Art of Love, which he composed with David Linx for the amazing Baldwin Project (the CD has been reissued), of which he was also a producer, is a song in huge demand at many musicians' weddings, if not elsewhere. Here my friend Constanza Guzman sings it with him; orginally it was sung by Deborah Brown in duet with David, both versions delightful.

His music can best be described as an intersection between European, American and African music, which he studied each on their own continent. As a composer, performer, teacher, and organiser (he is one of the founders of the by now legendary Kaai) he is also in my mind instrumental to forging the creative spirit of an age (which thankfully continues). Pierre understood that art, a cooperative process, comes out of shared experience, and he created many occasions for this to take place.

He'd beg me for words and write astonishing lyrics himself.
His is a parting in utmost elegance and dignity. I feel so privileged to have been his friend and I hope that the bulk of his teaching (as shared with so many creative musicians and other kinds of creatives) was not lost on me. He has written a fabulous book: Four Principles To Understand Music; on this site you may also order some of his music.

"Il faut combattre ce qui est laid par ce qui est beau" he'd say. Pierre was a family man, and my thoughts are with his family, the close one, to which he was devoted, as well as with the extended musical one, to which he was also devoted. He will be sorely missed and the gap he leaves is a challenge for many to fill.

I don't know if I will ever meet another like him and can only try to be like him.

I find it difficult to end this post, just like I play his myspace page over and over again, and listen to his North Country Suite at high volume and scour the internet for other people writing about him. So let's say the story about Pierre will never really end.... and besides: words cannot approximate this gentlest of men.
love from S2


Patrick said...

Thank you for articulating many of my own sentiments, I too feel privileged to have crossed his path.I was Pierre's student for over a year. I'm Irish, and 23 years old - I was studying under Pierre in Leuven for a year, about two hours per week, and again last summer for a week in Wepion. Both experiences were some of the most profound and inspiring of my life - Pierre taught and told me about many great things, not all musical.

I remember often having the feeling that every word that he said was pure gold, and many of his anecdotes I can recount almost word for word, such is the depth of meaning that they hold for me.

When I was in Pierre's class in the jazz camp last year, I got to know him a bit better. Soon after, I requested a reference from Pierre so that I could apply for a Fulbright scholarship and study in his footsteps at Berklee in Boston. He obliged me with a wonderful and glowing reference, that, I am in no doubt secured the scholarship for me - so I have much to be thankful for.

I write this from Boston, where I have just moved to. Only yesterday I bought the book from his website and went to send him a note via his myspace page letting him know how I was looking forward to reading it. Reading the account of your relationship with him fills me with joy and is helping me come to terms with this loss.

My favourite memory is from the summer 'stage' at Wepion;
I was eating breakfast at Pierre's table. He noticed that I did not feel well and asked if I was okay. I told him that I was not planning to eat the sugary cereal from the cafeteria as I thought it would do more harm than good. Without a pause he told me to follow him to his room, whereby he proceeded to make me a bowl of his delicious homemade muesli filled with dried fruits and fresh juicy strawberries - which he took particular delight in sharing with me. It was great to be around Pierre as he loved to share what he loved with you, and loved when you told him what it is that you love.

Pierre was my mentor - he changed me, and is still my role model. His dedication and kindness will always stay with me and I plan on carrying on his positive message through my life, teaching and music. I cannot say enough good things about Pierre, and I only wish there were more people like him.

Patrick said...

Also, today I listened to the whole of 'Vivaces' and had a big smile on my face throughout! Can't wait to hear and see Jaco's next movie. P

scatteredsisters said...

Lovely post S2, I was really sorry to hear about Pierre.
I also remember being your chauffeur when you were 14, taking you to the jam sessions at his house and in various bars across town. S1

Anonymous said...

The jam sessions wouldn't have been at his house, I don't think. But yes, he would certainly have been there :-)along with many of the other friendly faces who will be missing him.