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

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.