Skip to content


Gelassenheit published on

Gelassenheit is for me synonymous with nirvana.

It’s a word that comes from German and doesn’t translate easily. I love those words. They give you permission to devote a whole paragraph to their honour. You’ll need at least a paragraph to describe the exotic decadence of loanwords to your monoglot friends. Although Gelassenheit is not yet accepted into English, if I have my way, it will be. English is just one big quilt anyways, what’s another stripe?

Gelassenheit comes into English and breaks into some very different translations, like a river that breaks into smaller ones and covers a wider terrain: composure, calmness, serenity, repose, imperturbability.

It’s the noun form of the adjective gelassen, which translates to cool-headed, composed, or poised. Gelassen comes from the verb lassen which does a lot of semantic heavy lifting. It’s in partnership with a lot of other verbs, but essentially boils down to let, or to leave be. Now you see how the word “composure” doesn’t capture the aspect of release that is part of Gelassenheit?

Strangely enough, I did not brush elbows this word from any of my German classes or the endless sea of vocab lists that comes from them. Instead I encountered it in an article on spirituality and jazz, where the author described it as “’releasement’, the unbinding of all preconceptions and expectations”. That’s some risky territory. In a musical context it means “openness, the willingness to let go and forego ownership to the music at hand”1.  This word is my new friend. I have a lot to learn from it. You don’t have room for creativity if you don’t have room for mistakes. Oh hi Miles, I hear you there. Lil Doc Davis has a word for us all.

[Public Safety Announcement:

Until Gelassenheit is seen for what it is the English language, it will keep masquerading as calm, cool, and released. You’ve been warned! The meaning it carries is operating under various false identities! It only shows a fraction of itself at a time. Educate yourself! Until Gelassenheit is exposed for what it is, it will continue to enjoy the cushy status of italicisation of foreign words. Wake up people!]

So the moral of the story is that I’m growing into this idea of release where music and artistry is concerned, and that I’m a nerd because I make friends with words.

  1. Reynolds, Thomas E. “Jazz Spirituality: Human Transformation in a Musical Key” Emmanuel College.
Who do you want to share this with?

Wisdom from Duke Ellington

Wisdom from Duke Ellington published on

I often reflect on what sets prolific artists apart from those who only created a modest amount of art. How do the most productive musicians allocate their energies? All of our energy must go somewhere, whether that’s in circles or in a somewhat straight line. Perhaps the difference lies in the consistency of going in a particular direction. Going to five places at the same time means that you won’t get to any of them! There’s a proverb I like to remind myself of, whenever I find myself trying to do too many things at the same time. “(S)he who chases too many rabbits ends up hungry.” There’s a lot to think about within those words. Duke Ellington also sums it up nicely saying “I merely took the energy it takes to pout and wrote some blues.”

There you have it! A snippet of sound counsel for a day like today.




Who do you want to share this with?

Primary Sidebar