Category Archives: Music

Post Easter week snow and the troubador

photo compliments of morguefile.com

photo compliments of morguefile.com

 

Good Friday was warmish. We saw green bits in the brown of the grass and smiled. Easter was cold but the afternoon warm enough for a walk through wet paths and fields. Easter Monday it snowed. My husband did dinner dishes yelling every time he forgot and raised his head that he refused to look outside the window. On the way to school, Boy two remarked how strange it was, here it was one of the most beautiful snowfalls of the year and we weren’t happy about it.

It’s true. The trees were lightly covered in just the right amount of snow. No plows had gone through throwing brown sand around the edges. The roads had fixed themselves. Their black winding path went through a world of unbroken white. Fields and branches perfectly baptized, a grey blue sky was especially free to shine as the only real colour in town.

My son has this same problem right now. I have always wanted him to love music. To share this part of joy together. He loves music now more than I’d dared to hope. Except he doesn’t play what I think he should. He plays loud pieces when it should be quiet. He practices endless chord sequences instead of scales. He teaches himself songs from musicals or rehearses pieces from two years prior when I know he should be preparing for an upcoming evaluation.

If anyone had shown me a picture of the snow on Tuesday morning, I would have thought it impossible for my response to include anything other than rejoicing and gratitude. Likewise if anyone had told me four years ago listening to my son’s great boredom and disinterest in music, that he would be sticking his trombone out the window to serenade whatever country neighbours might be driving by, that he would be unable to stop singing or humming as he went about the business of the day, or that he would be unable to pass the piano without setting his hands down to play a few bars, I would have bet the farm that the tidings would bring nothing but joy.

In both things I have been wrong. I want to say to son and God – timing is everything. And if it is not everything, it is at least something. But the hoped for vision is the grander one.

We prayed for snow leading up to Christmas. We don’t want it anymore. Yet there is no denying it’s perfection. Shimmering and glinting in the morning light. I spit out my no thank you, and it stands unheeding. Behold all things are new. Come, dance. The music that you love is playing again.

I made my peace with the snow (which was good because it snowed like five times last week before it finally left). Perhaps there will be grace for the chord loving, composer dreaming, discipline eschewing troubadour as well.

Along the Way

 

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I found child A’s 100% spelling test in the toilet and a very strange conversation ensued. Who did this?

No one.

Who knew about this?

Child B only knew a little.

Why did they do this?

They didn’t. Child B had balanced the test very carefully so that someone else would knock it in. Whoever did it should get in trouble, but they don’t know who that is. When Child B left the test was not in the toilet.

 

Girl Two is engaged in an “ing,” contest. The idea did not excite me. I envisioned my six year old chained to a chair wailing while I begged her to write down a fourth word ending in ing. Either I misjudged based on visions of a related child, an alien has invaded her body, or her teacher knew something I didn’t about ing words. Girl two has sat enthralled and almost dizzy with excitement writing ing words on three separate occasions. Her biggest worry when we left for skiing on the weekend was that she would miss on times to write more words.

I was invited for  Lego worlds expo by my youngest three. The designated explainer gave a long and detailed review of the intricate worlds. I thanked them and stood to leave. The kids laughed. That was just one person’s part, they said. I settled back in and tried to concentrate on all the plots and sub-plots. I stood again when the third explainer finished.

Thanks a lot for coming, said one.

She can’t go yet, said another. Remember about the test?

The Mom-is-tested-on-retention-of-Lego-villain-names did not seem like it could be fun but I was assured it was the best part. There were at least fifteen villains. There had been no advance warning so that I could sift out name information from discussions of battles, special powers, or castle fortifications. I failed the first time. They laughed if I called Banana, Asparagus, or Skeleton Dude, Donkey. They took turns giving me clues. I took the test a second time and passed. Somehow by the end it really was a lot of fun.

 

The Optimist is all legs and feet right now. He is happy at school but steps gingerly across the ice of his social world worried it will break with the weight of oddities thrust upon him by his parents. He punishes us with music played loudly on the piano. I stop him when I need to hear myself think, but there are worse ways to lose. My rattled brain remembers myself in another life doing the same thing. He’s on track to become a better musician than me. That makes me happy and keeps me from moving the piano to the garage.

For the Story Tellers

The Israelites Crossing the Red Sea. Circle of Juan de la Corte (1580 - 1663)

The Israelites Crossing the Red Sea. Circle of Juan de la Corte (1580 – 1663)

I had naked tea last week. A friend and I talked storytelling (that wasn’t the naked part) and then sitting in a donut shop, we quietly told our own. Naked is better with a tea cup than without, but given one cup of tea and three places requesting coverage, it isn’t easy. If the tea weren’t so hot, the best solution may be to keep the cup moving in a triangular blur, but the thought of burning tea is scary, so you take your chances, keep what you can behind the cup, and trust that your uncovered self can manage an hour of exposure. (The value of a practical imagination for diversion in the midst of emotionally difficult subjects cannot in my mind be underestimated.)

Awake in the night with no tea to consider,  I wondered a question whose answer I have debated for years. Why do we tell our stories?

There are all the noble reasons people say they write . . . to save everybody else, etc. but I take those pronouncements with a grain of salt. They may well be true, but the only thing one can reliably say about preachers is that they preach.

Ten years ago and even five, the desire to tell my story was almost a burning. Then I put the pages in a drawer and gave them a time out. To my surprise, the words took to what I thought would be a brief sabbatical and requested an indefinite one.

Why now, I also asked in the night after my metaphorically nude tea time, do I want to forget my story?

The next morning I wrote a sincere list of reasons in favor of forgetting. It ended with, I don’t. I can’t. Even if I could, I wouldn’t.

My desire for written memoir is either dead or deeply dormant, but that isn’t the same thing. I don’t wish to remember out loud very often. But sometimes is good. When the children of Israel escaped safely through the Red Sea, Miriam wrote a song to tell the story. She named the terrors of the past to be present to the joys of her new unfolding reality. Deliverance foresees a future. Telling our stories assumes we were delivered for a purpose.

Writer, Andrew Solomon tells a story of an experience in Senegal where he tried a traditional treatment for depression. At one point of the day long ceremony, he was asked to repeat the following:

Spirits leave me alone to complete the business of my life and know that I will never forget you.

I like that quote. It captures both my reticence towards gazing backwards for too long and my conviction that remembering is a gift. I found the musical celebration below after I’d written about Miriam above, but ending with it helps say what I’m trying to say. We may tell our stories with tears but telling them dares us to dance.

 

 

Maria Von Trapp, the 12th Dalai Lama and my Mom

It’s General Douglas MacArthur’s birthday too, but his name didn’t fit in the title.  This is for my mom, who taught me to write grateful lists . . .

Happy Birthday, Mom. I made your favorite cake for the kids. Blue icing just like the one I made you when I was seven.

Angels, Flying and Reckless

We have fallen in love with a song called, “Sergeant Reckless.” It’s another off the Hoofbeats CD, from Marie-Lynn Hammond, that I mentioned in another post. “Sergeant Reckless,” is the true story about a horse that served in the Korean war. Wikipedia tells me the horse was purchased by a U.S. marine for $250 from a young boy in need of money to buy his sister a prosthetic limb. The song, which was researched and included an interview with one of the marines, does a nice job telling the story of the mare’s heroism.

Maybe we’re a little bit smitten with music right now, but you try to listen to this song (with pictures of Reckless) without your heart and eyes filling up. See how far you get.

All I can say about that song is . . . oh, how very much we all want an angel riding Reckless through the fire.

If that didn’t get you, here’s one based on kids at a therapeutic riding facility:

 

I know, I know, I should really get a job marketing this woman’s work. Except I can only sell french fries and I hate marketing. Otherwise, yes, I should apply for the position.

Songs, invitations, and miracles

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I am in a music group. Sometimes there are thirteen of us. Sometimes there are four. Backgrounds are varied. Retired business manager, school teacher, computer tech, farmer, accountant and so forth. Musical backgrounds are equally varied. Jazz, folk, musicals, guitar, classical training. One woman sang country western in bars every Thursday – Sat. for years. She had a chance to make it big, go to Nashville, but her husband said, no, that straw would break the camel’s back. So she stayed and sang her heart out here.

Without discussing temperaments, it’s safe to say not everybody gets along 100% of the time. At the worst times, people avoid each other. At the best, we don’t agree on how many measures to bridge between verses, or how long to make the introduction. We certainly don’t agree on which pieces should be sung when, and especially whether it is a glory or a torture to do the occasional piece in Latin.

We are very nearly like a family.  A little microcosm of personalities who love to sing, and irritations notwithstanding, we really love each other. Most people in the group live within five minutes of the church where we sing. I live almost half an hour away. A year and a half ago when I was sick, seven different meals were delivered to the house for our family.

We are musicians and little things bother us. Musicians, I observe, live closer to the edge than some. It makes us touchy. It might also help us step outside ourselves into the music. Outside the music, our footing may at times lack the steadiness of others. Inside of the music, we are loosed from ourselves. Ready for a mini-Pentecost, we are free to let the music speak for us and through us.

Sometimes the music our group makes is good. Other times we muddle through without the spark of something bigger. We don’t decide which day is which. We sing to offer up the grand invitation, hoping for the mighty wind to move among us. Every once in a while we feel the tongues of fire from our heads, through the depths of joy and sorrow, to our toes. We become the sum which is greater than our parts. In the cry of our own hearts we raise the longing of the hearts beside us. Our own voices lost, we are found in a single voice, together.

It doesn’t last forever. For all the wishing in the world, there’s no hanging on, only the chance to ask again and wait and hope. Say thank you and be changed. It’s not imagining. Sometimes for a second, a few minutes maybe, heaven opens up a window. In glimpsing what we will be, it changes who we are. Not just for a minute, but forever.

 

Pianos and me

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI have in mind to write about pianos but sitting down to do it, I feel myself pulling back. I feel about pianos the way some people feel about God. The thing that’s between us is so personal it hurts. It runs deeper than the realm of something as limited as language.

Listening to me play, you wouldn’t know about us. You’d be sitting there thinking about what my fingers did with the notes. Fine for country churches, fine for a group, not even in the ballpark for a professional musician. But playing for other people was never the point. What connects us isn’t about what I do with a piano, it’s about what the piano has done for me. My throat fills up trying to say it.

I heard my mother practicing a Bach Invention when I was younger. I fell in love. I didn’t care about the piano. I took lessons because I wanted to play that Invention. My beloved, eighty year old Mrs. Murdoch took me there and beyond. A wonderful high school music teacher, Ms. Liszka, let me learn to accompany, giving me a lifetime of ways to be part of music. These two who helped me, without whom I could not have known the piano in the same way, will get their own piece someday. This imperfect piece with the wordless tears is for the piano.

For a lot of high school, I was afraid. There were lots of things to be afraid of.

Play me, it said. And I would open the hymn book and touch those promises until I believed them.

I wanted to dream. About all kinds of things – acting, writing, boys, running a home for kids nobody believed in, happy endings.

Play me, it said. And I would take out sheet music from our choir and play my heart out with, “Somewhere Out There,” and other such.

I was sad. Life was sad. I was young and I didn’t want it that way.

Play me, it said. Weep into me for as long as it takes. So I did.

I was so mad I wanted to smash things. If cars ran on rage, I could have driven to Pluto and back. Ten times.

Oh for heaven’s sake, it said. Do you honestly think there’s not something your fingers can do here that will fit the occasion? When in doubt, play louder, dear. Play softer, and you’ll figure out how much you need to cry.

To worlds gone mad, it gave me chromatic scales played contrary at lightning speed, rhythm perfectly precise.

For my sorrows, my hopes, and my happiness, it spoke to me in the places without words and gently filled them with music.

I don’t know that I ever sit down and play without remembering. When we are alone together, I am home.  A thousand thanks, beloved friend of my heart.

Celebrating Forever

We have no set traditions for our anniversary. Sometimes we go out to dinner. Sometimes we go to a bed and breakfast. Once, when we lived in a house with an unfinished basement, I secretly hung blue tarps and made a room. I hauled down a mattress and decorated our makeshift get away. I called it the blue lagoon. In another part of the basement I made a restaurant and movie theatre.

This year we invited the kids. After a candlelight dinner for six, we pulled out the video of our wedding. The audio was bad, but looking a little younger, there we were.

Tigger was relaxed, grinning from ear to ear. The priest was back from retirement and extremely nervous. It didn’t matter. He could have passed out and Tigger would have held him up and given him his lines until it was over.

I was in a different state. One step onto the carpet and I started crying. Except when I was speaking or singing the hymns, I couldn’t stop. I have never been so scared in my life. The video proves that I was there and that everything was beautiful. I’m glad of that. I cried again the next day because I truly couldn’t remember any of it except for the music and my smiling groom.

“Twenty years,” I told my beloved in advance of the wedding. “I can’t say forever. I’ll give you twenty of the best years of my life. After that, if it’s hell I’m out of there.”

He said he would take twenty.

“You’re only saying that because you have no idea what you’re getting into,” I said.

My goal when we were dating was to find a good father for my children. It seemed easier to stay objective and what was true love anyway? I hated the idea of becoming one. It sounded like you got married and ended up only half a person. A real prize in the world of the romantic I was.

The wedding was perfect, even if I can’t remember it. We had stunning taste in music and despite the crying bride, that groom’s joy is still contagious, even on low quality video sixteen years later. I sat in my living room with Tigger and the four greatest gifts of our marriage, overwhelmed at the mystery and miracle of it all.

Here we are. Together like it was always meant to be. Surrounded, pushed down, filled up, and overflowing with the blessings of love bigger than the sum of us.

“I’m good for forever now,” I said some years ago. “I’m glad you stuck with me.”

“It’s been worth it. I’m glad you said yes,” he said. “And by the way, I’ve got no regrets, but you were right. I had no idea what I was getting into.”

We laughed.

Forgiveness Project Last Chapter

I’ve tried to write what comes for the Forgiveness Project. I considered something on liars.  I wondered about failed friends. I am both these things, but neither piece seemed like it needed that much attention. The most compelling reason for writing them was so that I didn’t have to write today’s post.

With admonishments to myself to suck it up and be a real man, I proceed.

What I would really like for Christmas is to be perfect. In thought, word, and deed. (Not to mention appearances, impressions, and memory.) I am far from these things. For this reason, I am running madly through the house tearing apart the cushions, looking under couches, beds, and in the closets, trying to find any last pieces of bravery I can muster to forgive myself. I do not want the harsh emptiness that comes with refusing to accept forgiveness. This isn’t about not saying sorry. All of me is sorry. This is about accepting freely offered forgiveness. I don’t want to smile, then quietly spit the gift back out, insisting it is ill advised and undeserved. The burden of my failings is heavy. It’s time to let go.

For not being the person I dream of becoming, I forgive myself. For not loving as gently as I picture myself doing someday, I forgive myself. For being a nasty, finger pointing, flaw finding person, I forgive myself.

Sometimes I take other people so personally that it short circuits my insides and I can hardly function. It doesn’t matter if the slight came from someone insignificant, if it hits just right, it can shake me for days. I dream big, talk big, then let the little stick girl living inside the inflatable body of me, go hide in the corner because she’s just so tiny and she’ll be lucky if she can figure out how to brush her teeth properly, much less be a truly decent mother, or make it as a writer.

I don’t like to write about my husband. In my head, I picture us as two oxen hooked to a plow, pulling side by side. Not the usual description of love. I know. The other ox doesn’t feel like something outside of me. He’s at work, he’s at home. It doesn’t matter, he’s pulling with me, loving me and cheering me on. The days I do that for him too, feel good. The days I change from dearest friend to behaviour modification specialist with charts for subpar oxen performance . . . well I hate that self. When I’m not being her, I want to take those damn charts and shove them down her throat. Anything to convince her to be human again.

I am not who I wish I was, but I am forgiven and I am trying.

I accept the beautiful gift of forgiveness offered to me. And I forgive myself.

A thousand pounds gone.

Music. Dancing. It’s almost Christmas.