Last night I went to a Swing Kids "Jasmix" (I think the "s" is for "summer") on campus, and I have to thank two people for making me glad I stayed awake all the way to midnight: Jason for the last waltz he played, and Rachel for dancing it with me. Three people, perhaps, since I'll extend the gratitude to Vienna Teng for writing and recording "Recessional" on her latest album. In spite of it not being a cross-step, it's my new favorite last waltz.
The magic of this song is in how you have to let yourself be completely and utterly absorbed in it. While we were still nominally leader and follower, the only way to really dance to this was to both be followers of the music. The fluidity of the tempo changes, the fermatas, the pulses, all prevent you from letting your attention stray for even an instant. But the closeness and intimacy of it draw you in to the point where you don't even want anything other than to be a part of it. The incredibly restrained vocals especially give the impression of hearing her heart speaking directly to you from inside her chest. You not only have to listen to it, but to really feel it and experience it, to "breathe with it" as Jason said, so that it's flowing through you. Ending the dance was like waking up and having to come to terms with the real world again from scratch, though we'd only left it four minutes ago.
Vienna Teng has described "Recessional" as a sort of reverse emotional strip tease. It begins at the most open, raw, touching point, and slowly covers itself back up. It took me a few listens today, though, before I realized that it's still chronological, and not going backwards in time. The music helps show that, and once I realized what was going on it made the song even more intense and poignant. The emotional effects of this song have stayed with me most of the day today.