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

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Visit with an Old Friend

In late August Bill and I traveled to Maine to visit friends and take a break from Maryland's punishing heat, timing the trip so that I could play a recital at St. Saviour's in Bar Harbor.  I confess to having wondered what in the world I'd been thinking as I packed for the trip AND spent hours and hours practicing.

The first morning there, after having limped north 750 miles in a car with flashing service warning lights, I walked into the church with a fair amount of anxiety. I imagine it was like arriving at a reunion where it had been awhile since you'd seen the people there. The organ at St. Saviour's is a colorful individual, to say the least, and I had two days to practice-would that be enough to get reacquainted?

Tears flooded my eyes as so many wonderful memories came flying at me. I went to say hello to the two small Tiffany windows near the organ which were my constant companions while practicing all those years.

And then it was time to play...but the bench was too low and too close to the keyboard...well, of course, there is a new organist here!  But all the same I felt betrayed, as if the organ had been disloyal. After readjusting the bench I pulled out some stops and began to remember just why I had a love affair with this instrument for years.  The keys, made of rosewood, feel so good.  The tracker action breathes life into each note. The beautiful 4-foot flutes wafting thru that ethereal space made me feel as if I were in heaven.

Within five minutes I knew I'd be ready for the recital and the next few days were just like sitting down with a good friend over a cup of coffee and talking non-stop.  After the recital I reluctantly said goodbye to this Visser-Rowland instrument, not realizing that only a few weeks later I'd be back again, this time to play for the memorial service of my dear friend Sarah. On that occasion the organ and I worked as one to give Sarah a loving farewell.

Yes, I miss this instrument and the musicality I discovered while playing it. You might even say I grieve it. But I have another organ to play now-it's blander and with a more muted palette-but I know it wants to sing.  We are slowly getting to know each other.

Saturday, September 10, 2016


Driving to Maine a few weeks ago our first night happened to be in Lowell, MA, a worn-out mill town outside of Boston.  Purely coincidental, that happens to be where Bill's mother was raised. After a long day of driving in fast traffic and with the car acting funny we sat down to a glass of wine and a delicious dinner.  We were talking about both Lowell and Bill's mother, when I asked Where is she buried?

I never knew my mother-in-law- she was gone long before I came on the scene.  We did share some things, such as being excellent pianists and loving Florence.  She suffered from melancholy and today would probably be diagnosed as having postpartum depression.

After a little internet research we discovered that she was buried only about 5 minutes from our motel, so first thing next morning we headed to the cemetery.  After checking in at the office for the location of the grave, we headed down one of the many small roads of this huge, sprawling burial ground.  No luck-other family members were buried there, but no Helen Bagshaw Myers.  So back to the office we traipsed, where we were given a map with the exact location and told that, yes, there is a gravestone.

Bill began digging with the heel of his shoe at the place where the stone was supposed to be, and voila! he hit something hard.  We searched the trunk of our car for some sort of tool and the best we could find was a metal music stand.  We took turns loosening the sod and moving it, and about 4-5 inches down we found the stone in the photo above.  The lettering was filled with dirt, which we removed with twigs.

It was a bittersweet moment to find that this sad woman's gravestone had disappeared under the sod. What if we had not stopped?  Most likely there is no other family member who would go to this trouble.  And seeing the dates brought back a tragic childhood memory for Bill-his mother died the morning after his 12th birthday, after taking an overdose of sleeping pills the night before.

For both of us I think this unearthing of the stone provided a moment of forgiveness and reconciliation.  We stopped by again on the drive back to MD to see the stone newly set on top of the earth and Helen no longer hidden and forgotten.  Next year we will bring flowers.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Herb Garden Supper

One of our biggest projects here in our new place has been to establish gardens.  Perhaps decades ago someone had a vegetable garden here, but we couldn't find any evidence of it.  Rather than try to tame the local heavy clay soil we opted for raised beds.  Back in January we ordered the wood and Bill began building them.  We had some rich garden loam delivered and a choir member brought over a load of horse manure.  The garden was in business!

As you might expect, gardening is a bit different here than in Maine and it's been a summer of trial and error.  Some crops, such as garlic and beans, were a wipe-out, while others went on a rampage, like the squash, of course.

My first project was an herb garden and I'm sorry to say I didn't keep up with it.  But yesterday, in the midst of the weeds and bolted plants I managed to collect enough for one of my favorite summer dishes, Pasta with Fresh Herbs. This is adapted from the Moosewood Collective's Simple Suppers. It makes just the right amount for 2 servings but can easily be doubled or quadrupled-whatever you need.

Bring a pot of salted water to a boil and add about 1/3 pound of pasta and cook until al dente.  (I like to use penne, but use whatever you have on hand.)

Mince a large clove of garlic and 1/2 cup of 3 or 4 fresh herbs (basil, parsley, chives, oregano, thyme, mint or others).  Try to use approximately the same amount of each herb.

Warm a generous tablespoon of olive oil in a small skillet on the stove and add the garlic until it is golden, not brown, about 1 minute.  Add the herbs and cook for 30 seconds, stirring constantly.  Add 2-3 tablespoons of the pasta water and remove from heat.

Drain pasta when done and place in a serving bowl, adding the herb and oil mixture and salt and pepper to taste.  Toss in some grated parmesan and serve right away-enjoy!

We braved the heat and sat out on the front porch.  Add some red wine and a green salad and you have a lovely summer meal.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

A New Life

What makes the pull of family so strong for some of us? Ten months ago, in September 2015, we uprooted ourselves from a beautiful life in Maine to move to the Eastern Shore of Maryland.  And all because of this darling little boy, along with his parents.

When Emily, our daughter, was growing up, we lived in Maine and her grandparents were in Texas.  A visit with them was a BIG DEAL-lots of planning, a long plane flight and the need to stay for a certain period of time to make the trip worthwhile.  Expectations on both sides were huge and the flurry of cooking and cleaning exhausting.  We made it work-had to- and Emily was close to her grandparents.  We all had some wonderful times together and I cherish those memories.

But that's not what I wanted, as a grandmother. I wanted to be day-trip close enough. Forget the missed birthday parties and the need for plane reservations months in advance. Drop the expectations of occasional visits.  I wanted to be a part of Zev's life on a regular basis and now it's a fact.

We are close enough that just about every week Zev gets home baked blueberry muffins.  He expects them (an expectation I can handle!) and that simple thing makes me pinch myself, to see if I will wake up from this good dream. "Nana's house" is a place he loves and he doesn't just visit once or twice a year. We have our favorite books and songs and he always gets a 'cello lesson from Bill.

Yes, this post is an ode to my grandson, but not at the expense of daughter and son-in-law.  Being a part of their lives, too, is a great gift.

It has been hard to get this blog started and please don't worry, it won't be just about grandparenting. I just thought I'd say why we have started life anew.  If you'd like to know more, check out Lost in Maine.