Monday, October 23, 2017

Wild Edges

Earlier this month I traveled to Inis Mor, the largest of the Aran islands off the west coast of Ireland.  I was part of a spiritual pilgrimage with a writing emphasis, led by Christine and John Valters Painter of Abbey of the Arts

Inis Mor is basically a large piece of granite protruding out of the sea with a year round population of about 850.  For centuries it has been a place of pilgrimage, contemplation and rest. The landscape, mostly pasture dotted with miles and miles of stone walls, is home to dozens of ancient Celtic and Christian ruins.

There were twelve of us pilgrims, hailing from the US, Canada and Britain, plus one lucky American ex-pat living in France. We spent six lovely nights at the Kilmurvey House, which was the base for our trip, and each day consisted of ample writing opportunities, group excursions and a generous amount of free time (yes!).  

One afternoon, in a steady rain, we headed to the ruins of the church of St. Kieran. A hawthorne tree ablaze with ribbons greeted us and we each had the chance to tie our own ribbon to the tree. To me this was similar to lighting a candle in a church-a prayer for self, loved one, peace. Next to the tree was a holy well and we were invited to take seven small stones from a container and then walk around the well seven times while depositing one stone back in the container each time.  What did we want to leave behind?  What could we give up?  Assign that to one of the stones. A short stroll away was the church ruin, full of the spirits of many pilgrims and saints visiting before.

My traveling companion was my good friend Pamela from Maine.  About a year ago she lost her beloved partner to cancer and brought ashes with her to spread. We hiked the steep path to Dun Aungus, a stone fort from about 1100 BC, and from the high cliffs scattered Sarah's ashes.  Sarah was my good friend, too, and I could sense her smiling at us as we laughed and cried at yet another farewell.

Free time every day was a blessing-I read, wrote, slept and wandered the back roads.  Every bend brought another breathtaking view.

This horse and I became good buddies.  His pasture was near our guest house and we just hit it off-maybe it had something to do with my slipping sugar cubes to him?

The challenge now is how to keep the sense of balance and peace that I felt while in Ireland.  Coming back to a busy life and a country in turmoil are at odds with that.  What a blessing to have had that time.

Saturday, September 30, 2017

What Just Happened?

I think something unusual happened at the concert I attended on Thursday night...

My Sewanee friend Lyn was visiting DC and we met for some good food, culture and conversation. That included the National Symphony concert shown above, an all-American program. After a spirited national anthem ( it looked like everyone stood) a man three rows in front of us got up, pumped his fist and yelled God save Donald Trump!  Rather disconcerting, to say the least.  There were a few murmurs throughout the hall, but that was all.

John Adams' Short Ride in a Fast Machine was exciting and a great way to start off a concert. Unfortunately I found Copland's piece for organ and orchestra rather ho-hum, despite the presence of Cameron Carpenter, bad boy of the organ.  There was pleasant, respectful applause.

And then...after intermission Copland's Appalachian Spring...I have heard that piece many times and have even played the piano part, yet never has it affected me the way it did on Thursday evening. It is quintessentially an American piece-I daresay just about anyone could hear it and know that it's by an American composer.  Yes, it has Copland's signature sound, but it's more than that-hopeful, wistful, innocent, playful and just plain gorgeous.  I shut my eyes and let the sounds just roll over my entire being.

And then, at the end, a brave woman near the front stood up, quickly followed by another and another until we were all on our feet, clapping.  A standing ovation in the middle of a concert?  That's what it was, but oh, it was also so much more.

The divisiveness of our time is tearing us apart and I am yearning for peace, for beauty, for my country to heal. I am worried sick.  I know I am not the concert the Copland touched that part of our souls, reminded us of what America can be and we stood up to acknowledge that in unity.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Memories of MDI

MDI...that's short for Mount Desert Island in Maine, home of Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park. Bill and I have just returned home from a wonderful vacation there, seeing friends, making music and soaking up the beautiful landscape and spirit of coastal Maine.

We spent several nights in our friend Debby's guest house, which doubles as an office for her rare print and book business.  The many books there were such a temptation that I'm afraid I didn't read a single word of the novel that I'd hoped to finish over the vacation.

Have you ever seen such a big pepper mill?  It is truly inspiring and makes one want to use a lot of pepper!  I believe Debbie said it belonged to her grandparents.

No trip to Maine is complete without a fresh lobster roll...there is just nothing like it.  Sure, you can try one somewhere else (even in Annapolis), but it is not the same.  This one is from the Bar Harbor Inn and was served at an outdoor table overlooking the harbor.  Couldn't be better.

One really should follow a lobster roll with some locally made ice cream. I love to treat myself to a single scoop at the above place once a year.  Interesting and unusual flavors combined with lots of cream-a winner!  Now I hear they are opening a shop in Washington DC- a fun outing for Zev and me, perhaps?

Bill was thrilled to see his chamber music friends Heidi and Nancy.

Our time on MDI was partially a working trip for me, work that I was more than happy to do.  I played a noon recital at St. Saviour's in Bar Harbor and spent several days with my good friend, the Visser-Rowland organ.  How I love to make music on that instrument.

My dear friend and organ technician extraordinaire, Bill, surprised me by showing up for the recital. Just a couple of days earlier, when I'd been in touch to complain about the Swell Gedacht, he'd claimed to be way too busy to make the trip from MA.  How I miss his good ear, troubleshooting ability and concern for the instrument, not to mention his ever-present sense of joie-de vivre.

We spent a couple of nights with Debby and Paul, their three Corgis and four cats, and had our annual lobster dinner.  Just before I took this photo one of their kitties was peering down from the piano lid, eyeing the lobster with a gleam in her eye.

A sense of sadness came over me as we drove off the island and headed home to Maryland.  But I also felt such a sense of gratitude- for our many years in Maine, the friendships we continue to hold, the natural beauty and the knowledge that life is deep and meaningful.  Thank you.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

The Maritimes

For some reason I have not posted on this blog for over 6 months.  I don't know why. I have wanted to write about many things and have taken a lot of photos.  But still, no post.  Perhaps I could blame it on the sorry state of our country and the way that's messing with my head and heart.  I feel like it's now or never, so here goes...

This photo was taken on the Cabot Trail in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. Do you see the winding road in the background?  Some scientists surmise that Cape Breton used to be attached to Scotland and that's not hard to believe. The mountainous highlands literally bow down to meet the sea.  The road is up and down, top to bottom, over and over.  One awe-inspiring view after another.

You might be surprised to see my friend Ray and me wearing these silly lobster bibs.  We are normally pretty serious folks, concerned about just the right articulation in Bach's Wachet auf! or the soprano's wobbly vibrato in Mozart's Laudate Dominum.  Here we are just having a bit of fun on Prince Edward Island and making a big mess eating lobster.

I accompanied Ray's choir on a tour of the Canadian Maritimes.  There is something very special about that area of the world-peaceful and spiritual-and I find myself returning over and over. This was my 4th foreign tour with the group and I experienced once again the power of music to bridge all types of barriers, whether it be cultural, language, race or others. (And I wonder if Congress might function better if they sang in a choir together?)

Many days were clear and bright, with a fresh breeze and a gentle sun. But several were foggy, and I mean FOGGY- visibility was measured in feet.  There were many complaints about that, but not from me.  Bright colors just "pop" in the fog and it makes me feel alive and well.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Daily Dose of Bach

For the past several years, instead of making a New Year's resolution, I've chosen a word as sort of an overview of what I want for the year. One year it was "health"-much too broad-and last year it was "open." Being in a new state, new town, new church, etc., I thought it would be a good idea to be open to the way things were done instead of bringing in my own ideas right away.  That actually worked very well, unsurprisingly.

For 2017 I wanted to change things up a bit.  As I said farewell to the old year I felt great anxiety and fear for what was coming in our nation. I knew I had to "do something"-sign petitions, contact my congress persons, advocate for the refugees-but I also felt I needed to take care of my own frazzled soul.

So, I've chosen to either play or listen to Bach every day.  Why Bach? Simply put it's because of the deep peace and joy I feel from his music. Whether it's a complex, dense fugue of many voices or an elegantly ornamented melody, his compositions take me to a place I want to be.

It is really not so hard to do, this daily dose of Bach. So far I've listened to the entire Christmas Oratorio, consisting of six cantatas, while cooking several weeks of dinner. For years I've brought out that recording at the beginning of Advent and only managed to hear the first few tracks! I've already discovered that listening to Bach is a much more calming influence that the afternoon's All Things Considered.

If it's a day when I'm not working and I want to play my daily dose, the Goldberg Variations are sitting on the music rack of my piano.  These 30 variations of the exquisite Aria have long been my go-to in times of personal upheaval.  But I've never played them-only listened. Now I'm trying to wrap my fingers around even a few of them.

Then if it's a working day I play some Bach on the organ- a real no-brainer, right? I could play a page a day for years and never repeat but I've decided to work and get to the nitty gritty of what makes this composer great. For years I've programmed his chorale prelude Schm├╝cke dich, o liebe Seele and have always been dissatisfied with my performance. It is dense, the pedal is hard and there are ornaments galore, yet the organist must make it sound easy! This has been my daily dose while at church and it has been a gratifying step-back, start again experience.  Maybe I will finally play it well.

So far, so good... I will keep you posted. Thank you, Bach.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Remembering Dad

Last week was the 5th anniversary of my dear dad’s death. Not a day goes by that I don’t miss him from the deepest part of my being.

Our house on the Eastern Shore is across the street from a cemetery.  Despite the expected jokes about the neighbors being quiet, it is a lovely location, sort of like having a park nearby. Perhaps this cemetery is special, being in a small, family-type town, but the thing that has most caught my attention is how people adorn the graves.

Especially now, in the Christmas season, there are hundreds of wreaths with red bows, fake poinsettias and all other sorts of decorations set out on the tombstones. Some of the wreaths are individualized with photos of the beloved or trinkets that give me a good idea of the deceased’s personality and interests.  For example, one extra-large wreath for a man who was clearly a hunter is laden with bird calls and empty cartridge shells, complete with red bow, of course.

Early on a cold morning last week while walking Prudy in the cemetery I passed a woman sitting in her SUV-she lowered the window, we exchanged pleasantries and then she said I’m just waiting for my daughter. From my front porch I watched the daughter arrive- she and her mother embraced and then took a beautiful garland of pine boughs and magnolia leaves out of the trunk and together laid it on a grave. Husband and father, I’m thinking.

I wish I could do that for my father, and in a way I guess I could. But as I live 1700 miles away from Lubbock TX I’d have to call a florist and arrange to have one delivered.  Yes, I could do that and I think next year I will.  But what I really want is to lay it down myself and tell Dad and the world that he’s not forgotten.  Despite the gaping hole his death has left in my life, his spirit lives on, within me.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Come Together

Like many Americans (well, actually over half) I woke up on Wednesday, November 9 in a state of shock.  And yes, I was grieving that my candidate lost, but quickly realized that it was more than that. Much, much more.  Looking at the election results it hit me (bingo!) that we were a country scarily divided.

And being a Wednesday I had to prepare for an evening choir rehearsal, the absolute last thing I wanted to do. I would have preferred crawling back into bed and pulling the covers over my head for a week. But it began to dawn on me that life was going to go on and I had to make my way in it somehow.  It turns out that a choir rehearsal was hands-down the best way to do that.

I am still getting to know the folks in this choir, but I'm fairly sure that we are not all on the same page politically-I'm actually grateful for that, believe it or not-it opens my world up a bit.  However, this was not the night I felt like practicing open mindedness and understanding!  Still, it had to be done and we opened the rehearsal with the Book of Common Prayer's beautiful Prayer For Our Country.  Somehow that prayer bound us together and brought us all into the rehearsal.

And then we began to sing...non-stop.  Hymns, service music, anthems-majestic, pleading, yearning. We worked hard on Mozart's sublime Ave Verum and continued with several pieces for the upcoming Advent season.  It was the best rehearsal we've ever had and it gave me hope-these dozen disparate souls overcame our differences and we made something beautiful.

The next night Bill and I heard Durufle's transparent and serene Requiem at the Kennedy Center. Written in 1947, shortly after a horrific period of history, it continues to be a testament of faith, comfort and tranquility in troubled times.  By the third measure I was in tears-the quiet, undulating strings seemed a metaphor for my life, up and down, back and forth.  The idea of a requiem also hit me personally-the death of my own hopes for a woman president who I felt shared my priorities.  Yet as the work progressed from movement to movement I began to feel hopeful, as I'd done the night before. The 200 or so people on stage-orchestra plus a university chorus-could not possibly have all voted the same way 2 days before.  But here they were, joining together to make something beautiful.

Never have I been so grateful to be a musician.

Almighty God, who hast given us this good land for our heritage; We humbly beseech thee that we may always prove ourselves a people mindful of thy favor and glad to do thy will. Bless our land with honorable industry, sound learning, and pure manners. Save us from violence, discord, and confusion; from pride and arrogance, and from every evil way. Defend our liberties, and fashion into one united people the multitudes brought hither out of many kindreds and tongues. Endue with the spirit of wisdom those to whom in thy Name we entrust the authority of government, that there may be justice and peace at home, and that, through obedience to thy law, we may show forth thy praise among the nations of the earth. In the time of prosperity, fill our hearts with thankfulness, and in the day of trouble, suffer not our trust in thee to fail.

                                                                           Book of Common Prayer