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Our Daily Breather

Our Daily Breather: Tom Huizenga On Víkingur Ólafsson's Restorative Rameau

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Vikingur Ólafsson performs a piece by Rameau.
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Vikingur Ólafsson performs a piece by Rameau.

Twenty seconds of hand washing. 60 to 90 percent alcohol. Five to 12 (14? 21?) days of incubation until the dry cough comes. People worldwide have absorbed these guidelines as the coronavirus pandemic has closed its fist around the world. At least hygiene directives are quantifiable. There is also the question of how to care for the psyche.

It's a deeply personal matter. Some turn to prayer, or to a song, a story, a ritual, a favorite corner of the house. Psychic health is not just about becoming calmer, either. Anger and frustration and fear have to find their channels. Humor has to be preserved. So, somehow, does joy.

Humans need to keep the spirit moving, as did Charles Dickens — who lived through a few epidemics — by taking a daily "breather" in the fresh air. Our Daily Breather seeks recommendations for psychic health from people who go deep into their own hearts and minds: artists and writers. Creative people have been uniquely affected by the onset of the current pandemic. Still they continue to dream, and to create. They can help us understand how. —Ann Powers


I'm finding both comfort and inspiration from this recent video featuring the Icelandic pianist Víkingur Ólafsson playing his own arrangement of music by the French Baroque composer Jean-Philippe Rameau. The piece, called "The Arts and the Hours," moves gently forward as a kind of chilled out processional. It's constancy in rhythm, combined with its uncommon beauty of melody and harmony, provides a certain sturdiness that I need right now in this moment of extreme uncertainty.

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It's appropriate that the video is set at home – three separate dwellings to be precise. We eavesdrop on three people, each at home finding peace of mind, and joy, amid their most treasured belongings. The first invites us to view his collection of colorful toy robots; another ushers us into his vast library; and a third plays and repairs her brightly flashing pinball machines.

The video speaks to me, working from home amid my library of some 10,000 CDs and collections of antique clocks and snow globes. Its twin feelings of nostalgia and nesting provide a safe harbor, and a generous serving of comfort food for the ears and eyes.

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