Morten Lauridsen prizes his solitude.
The celebrated American composer spends much of the year in Los Angeles, as a USC professor; but he grew up in Beaverton, which had a lot more farms and orchards than now. He also loved exploring the quiet forests of Northwest Oregon as a kid.
Lauridsen really discovered the joy of solitude as a fire lookout. He was working on the top of Mount St. Helens, the summer after his first year of college, which he calls one of the most important episodes of his life.
“It was just so glorious all the time,” Lauridsen says. “But it was a time for me to really connect deeply with the path of my life, and it was on that tower that I decided that music needed to be a much greater part of my life.”
Later, Lauridsen combined his love of composing and solitude in a choral piece called O Magnum Mysterium, perhaps his most famous work.
The piece plays a central role in a new documentary about Lauridsen called “Shining Night.”
In the film, Lauridsen tells the story of where he wrote this piece. It’s another place of solitude: an old rundown general store on Waldron Island in the San Juans.
He says, “I bought it and I moved in there with a 50-dollar spinet piano, a golden retriever and some hand tools. And it’s in that rustic setting, that I finished O Magnum Mysterium and several other works of mine, by candlelight – I have no electricity or running water – in the silence and beauty of a remote island in the San Juans.”
Michael Stillwater is the filmmaker behind “Shining Night.” He says the documentary is not your typical biographical film. It’s slower, more contemplative, much like Lauridsen’s music itself.
“It’s more a poetic interpretation of the art of that artist,” Stillwater says. “This is one film of many which are part of a movement of the arts to help remind people of that quiet possibility of slowing down a bit.”
“Shining Night: A Portrait of Composer Morten Lauridsen” will be shown at the Reel Music Film Festival in Portland this weekend.