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An Architect's Morning Music

Gideon D'Arcangelo

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Libeskind and D'Arcangelo
(Elan Lipson)
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"I don't think I would have a good day if I wasn't able to start by listening to music," says Daniel Libeskind in his studio, perched high atop the skyscrapers of downtown Manhattan. "So it's not something of a luxury, it's almost a necessity. And it's not background. I don't do it as the hustle bustle of domestic life and in the background there's music. I sit down, when I have time, and mostly I do have time early in the morning, just to listen to a piece of music."

On his morning play list this week is Fugue #22 from the "Well Tempered Clavier" by Bach, played by the incomparable Glenn Gould.

"There's a lot of tension in this piece," Libeskind explains, "because it's almost like a slow motion machine of some sort. You can hear the gathering thunder behind the very deliberate notes, and they do gather, but without the kind of fury of an effect. Somehow to me it's like an unfolding of reality. And it's particularly incredible in the morning, when it's early. And it's almost like a figure of - an emblem of how the world opens up."

Libeskind's bright blue eyes shine through his blue-rimmed, rectangular glasses with special intensity when he's listening to music. He was a talented musician himself before becoming one of the world's busiest architects. In addition to the many buildings his studio is currently working on, a grand piano he recently designed will come off the production line later this year.

"The idea, when I listen to music, is not to be distracted by anything else. It's to go into it, and not to think, and not to think about what you're doing or anything intellectual at all. It's an emotion."

Next up is Cab Calloway's take on the classic "Saint Louis Blues."

"To me, this is almost like a compression of Walt Disney, Marx Brothers, the vitality of America in some sort of indescribable way," says Libeskind, "which is in this music. So I kind of love it for that reason. I particularly love it when I listen to it and I see the skyscrapers of New York out of my window. And this is New York of the 1920s, and it's still got that vibrancy.

"I love this piece here," he says as Calloway scats on the album. "This fantastic invention of language´┐Ż I mean, look at the inventiveness! Talking about 'out of the box.' These musicians were out of the box way before architects discovered they can introduce a new thing into their works."

Libeskind queues up an obscure free-jazz improvisation by pianist Keith Tippett, recorded in Berlin in 1989. It's one of his long time favorites for the morning, because it mirrors the beginning of the day.

"It kind of starts with some choppy inventions that don't seem to go anywhere. And then breaks into an amazing crescendo of total fantasy. It shows that life itself is based on improvisation. You test certain paths, and some of these paths lead you to nowhere [or] they lead to a very short sort of notion, but others open up into frontiers that you had no idea were accessible."

I wonder aloud, as we listen to this eclectic mix of music, what the common thread is that runs through it.

"I suddenly realize that all of them were individuals. There was Glenn Gould playing by himself. There was Keith Tippett playing by himself, the great organist. And there's Cab Calloway. So, they are individuals."

It seems that, for Libeskind at least, listening to personal music, made by individuals, really works at that intimate time of morning when one is trying to organize oneself to face the day.

"I would never listen to a Beethoven symphony in the morning. Or a choral work by Monteverdi. I just intuitively would think it's the wrong time of day to do this. Maybe in the afternoon, or towards the evening.

"So maybe there's something, because it's an individual facing reality, whether it's jazz, whether it's improvisation, whether it's an organist playing a mystical, whether it's a Bach toccata, it's someone. And you can identify somehow with that act of individuality, which to me is the most precious thing. "

Leaning over, chin in hands, with his elbows on the massive table in his conference room, Libeskind gets fully immersed in the music. Is having a morning music ritual the kind of all-absorbing focus one can get when listening to music?

"It's the equivalent for the soul, what running and jogging would be for the body. It's not for the body, it's for the soul. But the soul also needs to be fed. Otherwise it's empty. And that music, when you fill your mind with it, your mind isn't empty during the day. It's furnished."

Weekend America "Songs to Start Your Day" Listener Playlist

Last week, we asked you what music gets you ready for your day? What songs do you listen to in the morning before facing the world? Here are some of your responses:

"War Ensemble"
"There's something about Slayer that has stuck with me from my angry adolescent years. I listen to 'War Ensemble' and other songs from the 'Seasons in the Abyss' album almost every morning, in private while I drive my truck to work. It gives me the energy I need to work an entire day."
Garrett Lubow
Seattle, Wash.

"Umi Says"
Mos Def
"Instant inspiration. Beautiful words to start your morning. It reminds me that each day is a chance to cultivate our own special gifts. And that we're meant to share those gifts with the world around us. 'Umi,' the Arabic for mother, reminds me of my mom chiding me to get up in the morning."
Alozie Nwosu
Providence, R.I.

"La Vida Es Un Carnaval"
Celia Cruz
"Not only does the music force me to get moving (I literally mean force; I defy anyone to listen to this song and not tap their feet), but the lyrics ring true. She reminds us that life is beautiful, change is possible and that our bad times will pass."
Lisette Rubio
Hawthorne, Calif.

"The Walk of Life"
Dire Straits
"I walk four to six miles each day, always with my radio plugged into my head. One day I was out, and the song 'Walk of Life' came on. My pace picked up, my mood lightened, and I sang along at the top of my lungs! Oh, yeah, crazy stares! But, ever since, it has been the song in my head as I walk!"
Barbara Fowler,
Orlando, Fla.

"Somewhere Over the Rainbow"
Israel Kamakawiwo'ole
"The words to this song themselves speak of a better day (whether today, tomorrow, in some distant future). Israel Kamakawiwo'ole's ethereal version of this song is just one of the greatest songs to listen to to begin one's day!"
Ken Bowman
Parkers Prairie, Minn.

"Put Your Records On"
Corinne Bailey Rae
"It's a great tribute to women, especially women of color."
Alise Pedro
Pasadena, Calif.

"Anglagard's hard-edge super progressive rock wakes my brain up and gets it working in morning! The folk influences, varying tempos and time signatures, with demanding instrumentals, extensive vamping and intricate melodic phrasing as well as heavy syncopation, minor key tonality, electric guitar riffs, prominent flute and organ arrangements are awesome!"
Bob Tregilus
Reno, Nev.

More stories from our Listening In series


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