Monday, February 23, 2009

Help! I've fallen down and I can't get up.

Well, not literally. But my get-up-and-go got up and went and apparently it took my knit mojo with it.

I am not sick anymore, but my energy level has not bounced back and I am ALWAYS tired. I've been trying to recover and get ready for yesterday's concert (which went just wonderfully, thank you, if I do say so myself) and that's taken up the sum total of my attention, motivation and strength.

But it's a sorry knitter's state I'm in. When I look through the list of WIPs in my Ravelry notebook or pull things out of my mountain of projects to visit with them for a while, all the enthusiasm I can muster is a feeble: "meh."

Any suggestions would be welcome. What do you do when the knitting blues come down?

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Why we do what we do.
Art vs. Entertainment: the spirit, power, purpose and truth of music and art in our world.

The following is transcribed from the welcome address to parents of freshman, given by Dr. Karl Paulnack, pianist and director of music division at Boston Conservatory.
“One of my parents’ deepest fears, I suspect, is that society would not properly value me as a musician, that I wouldn’t be appreciated. I had very good grades in high school, I was good in science and math, and they imagined that as a doctor or a research chemist or an engineer, I might be more appreciated than I would be as a musician. I still remember my mother’s remark when I announced my decision to apply to music school—she said, “you’re WASTING your SAT scores.” On some level, I think, my parents were not sure themselves what the value of music was, what its purpose was. And they LOVED music, they listened to classical music all the time. They just weren’t really clear about its function. So let me talk about that a little bit, because we live in a society that puts music in the “arts and entertainment” section of the newspaper, and serious music, the kind your kids are about to engage in, has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with entertainment, in fact it’s the opposite of entertainment. Let me talk a little bit about music, and how it works.

The first people to understand how music really works were the ancient Greeks. And this is going to fascinate you; the Greeks said that music and astronomy were two sides of the same coin. Astronomy was seen as the study of relationships between observable, permanent, external objects, and music was seen as the study of relationships between invisible, internal, hidden objects. Music has a way of finding the big, invisible moving pieces inside our hearts and souls and helping us figure out the position of things inside us. Let me give you some examples of how this works.

One of the most profound musical compositions of all time is the Quartet for the End of Time written by French composer Olivier Messiaen in 1940. Messiaen was 31 years old when France entered the war against Nazi Germany. He was captured by the Germans in June of 1940, sent across Germany in a cattle car and imprisoned in a concentration camp.

He was fortunate to find a sympathetic prison guard who gave him paper and a place to compose. There were three other musicians in the camp, a cellist, a violinist, and a clarinetist, and Messiaen wrote his quartet with these specific players in mind. It was performed in January 1941 for four thousand prisoners and guards in the prison camp. Today it is one of the most famous masterworks in the repertoire.

Given what we have since learned about life in the concentration camps, why would anyone in his right mind waste time and energy writing or playing music? There was barely enough energy on a good day to find food and water, to avoid a beating, to stay warm, to escape torture—why would anyone bother with music? And yet—from the camps, we have poetry, we have music, we have visual art; it wasn’t just this one fanatic Messiaen; many, many people created art. Why? Well, in a place where people are only focused on survival, on the bare necessities, the obvious conclusion is that art must be, somehow, essential for life. The camps were without money, without hope, without commerce, without recreation, without basic respect, but they were not without art. Art is part of survival; art is part of the human spirit, an unquenchable expression of who we are. Art is one of the ways in which we say, “I am alive, and my life has meaning.”

On September 12, 2001 I was a resident of Manhattan. That morning I reached a new understanding of my art and its relationship to the world. I sat down at the piano that morning at 10 AM to practice as was my daily routine; I did it by force of habit, without thinking about it. I lifted the cover on the keyboard, and opened my music, and put my hands on the keys and took my hands off the keys. And I sat there and thought, does this even matter? Isn’t this completely irrelevant? Playing the piano right now, given what happened in this city yesterday, seems silly, absurd, irreverent, pointless. Why am I here? What place has a musician in this moment in time? Who needs a piano player right now? I was completely lost.

And then I, along with the rest of New York, went through the journey of getting through that week. I did not play the piano that day, and in fact I contemplated briefly whether I would ever want to play the piano again. And then I observed how we got through the day.

At least in my neighborhood, we didn’t shoot hoops or play Scrabble. We didn’t play cards to pass the time, we didn’t watch TV, we didn’t shop, we most certainly did not go to the mall. The first organized activity that I saw in New York, that same day, was singing. People sang. People sang around fire houses, people sang “We Shall Overcome”. Lots of people sang America the Beautiful. The first organized public event that I remember was the Brahms Requiem, later that week, at Lincoln Center, with the New York Philharmonic. The first organized public expression of grief, our first communal response to that historic event, was a concert. That was the beginning of a sense that life might go on. The US Military secured the airspace, but recovery was led by the arts, and by music in particular, that very night.

From these two experiences, I have come to understand that music is not part of “arts and entertainment” as the newspaper section would have us believe. It’s not a luxury, a lavish thing that we fund from leftovers of our budgets, not a plaything or an amusement or a pass time. Music is a basic need of human survival. Music is one of the ways we make sense of our lives, one of the ways in which we express feelings when we have no words, a way for us to understand things with our hearts when we can’t with our minds.

Some of you may know Samuel Barber’s heart wrenchingly beautiful piece Adagio for Strings. If you don’t know it by that name, then some of you may know it as the background music which accompanied the Oliver Stone movie Platoon, a film about the Vietnam War. If you know that piece of music either way, you know it has the ability to crack your heart open like a walnut; it can make you cry over sadness you didn’t know you had. Music can slip beneath our conscious reality to get at what’s really going on inside us the way a good therapist does.

I bet that you have never been to a wedding where there was absolutely no music. There might have been only a little music, there might have been some really bad music, but I bet you there was some music. And something very predictable happens at weddings—people get all pent up with all kinds of emotions, and then there’s some musical moment where the action of the wedding stops and someone sings or plays the flute or something. And even if the music is lame, even if the quality isn’t good, predictably 30 or 40 percent of the people who are going to cry at a wedding cry a couple of moments after the music starts. Why? The Greeks. Music allows us to move around those big invisible pieces of ourselves and rearrange our insides so that we can express what we feel even when we can’t talk about it. Can you imagine watching Indiana Jones or Superman or Star Wars with the dialogue but no music? What is it about the music swelling up at just the right moment in ET so that all the softies in the audience start crying at exactly the same moment? I guarantee you if you showed the movie with the music stripped out, it wouldn’t happen that way. The Greeks: Music is the understanding of the relationship between invisible internal objects.

I’ll give you one more example, the story of the most important concert of my life. I must tell you I have played a little less than a thousand concerts in my life so far. I have played in places that I thought were important. I like playing in Carnegie Hall; I enjoyed playing in Paris; it made me very happy to please the critics in St. Petersburg. I have played for people I thought were important; music critics of major newspapers, foreign heads of state. The most important concert of my entire life took place in a nursing home in Fargo, ND, about 4 years ago.

I was playing with a very dear friend of mine who is a violinist. We began, as we often do, with Aaron Copland’s Sonata, which was written during World War II and dedicated to a young friend of Copland’s, a young pilot who was shot down during the war. Now we often talk to our audiences about the pieces we are going to play rather than providing them with written program notes. But in this case, because we began the concert with this piece, we decided to talk about the piece later in the program and to just come out and play the music without explanation.

Midway through the piece, an elderly man seated in a wheelchair near the front of the concert hall began to weep. This man, whom I later met, was clearly a soldier—even in his 70’s, it was clear from his buzz-cut hair, square jaw and general demeanor that he had spent a good deal of his life in the military. I thought it a little bit odd that someone would be moved to tears by that particular movement of that particular piece, but it wasn’t the first time I’ve heard crying in a concert and we went on with the concert and finished the piece.

When we came out to play the next piece on the program, we decided to talk about both the first and second pieces, and we described the circumstances in which the Copland was written and mentioned its dedication to a downed pilot. The man in the front of the audience became so disturbed that he had to leave the auditorium. I honestly figured that we would not see him again, but he did come backstage afterwards, tears and all, to explain himself.

What he told us was this: “During World War II, I was a pilot, and I was in an aerial combat situation where one of my team’s planes was hit. I watched my friend bail out, and watched his parachute open, but the Japanese planes which had engaged us returned and machine gunned across the parachute chords so as to separate the parachute from the pilot, and I watched my friend drop away into the ocean, realizing that he was lost. I have not thought about this for many years, but during that first piece of music you played, this memory returned to me so vividly that it was as though I was reliving it. I didn’t understand why this was happening, why now, but then when you came out to explain that this piece of music was written to commemorate a lost pilot, it was a little more than I could handle. How does the music do that? How did it find those feelings and those memories in me?”

Remember the Greeks: music is the study of invisible relationships between internal objects. This concert in Fargo was the most important work I have ever done. For me to play for this old soldier and help him connect, somehow, with Aaron Copland, and to connect their memories of their lost friends, to help him remember and mourn his friend, this is my work. This is why music matters.

What follows is part of the talk I will give to this year’s freshman class when I welcome them a few days from now. The responsibility I will charge your sons and daughters with is this:

'If we were a medical school, and you were here as a med student practicing appendectomies, you’d take your work very seriously because you would imagine that some night at two AM someone is going to waltz into your emergency room and you’re going to have to save their life. Well, my friends, someday at 8 PM someone is going to walk into your concert hall and bring you a mind that is confused, a heart that is overwhelmed, a soul that is weary. Whether they go out whole again will depend partly on how well you do your craft.

You’re not here to become an entertainer, and you don’t have to sell yourself. The truth is you don’t have anything to sell; being a musician isn’t about dispensing a product, like selling used Chevies. I’m not an entertainer; I’m a lot closer to a paramedic, a firefighter, a rescue worker. You’re here to become a sort of therapist for the human soul, a spiritual version of a chiropractor, physical therapist, someone who works with our insides to see if they get things to line up, to see if we can come into harmony with ourselves and be healthy and happy and well.

Frankly, ladies and gentlemen, I expect you not only to master music; I expect you to save the planet. If there is a future wave of wellness on this planet, of harmony, of peace, of an end to war, of mutual understanding, of equality, of fairness, I don’t expect it will come from a government, a military force or a corporation. I no longer even expect it to come from the religions of the world, which together seem to have brought us as much war as they have peace. If there is a future of peace for humankind, if there is to be an understanding of how these invisible, internal things should fit together, I expect it will come from the artists, because that’s what we do. As in the concentration camp and the evening of 9/11, the artists are the ones who might be able to help us with our internal, invisible lives.'”

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Well, hello!
Nice to see you here, too. Thanks for all the good wishes.

There's an ancient chinese curse, possibly apocryphal, that says:
"May you live in interesting times;
May you come to the attention of those in authority;
May you find what you are looking for."
It seems apt because I just had a couple of very "interesting" weeks. It’s been rather like the perfect storm! So it’s entirely possible my body and mind decided to abdicate and flee reality by getting me checked into a hospital or sanitarium.

I sprained my ankle pretty badly on some ice a couple of weeks ago, so I was housebound for a while. Then just when I could safely get around again, I developed an infection and was put on a 2-week course of antibiotics. Meanwhile I’m stressed from swimming with sharks (aka the property developers who want to buy our house and build condos) and the shifty contract they put together that essentially would let them reclaim their deposit almost on a whim, and though I have a good lawyer, all the correspondence and wrangling back and forth can be tricky while having a fever and pain and therefore no concentration.

But the guano really hit the proverbial fan around here last week when our bedroom ceiling leaked and then crumbled by my side of the bed around midnight last Monday. We had to let it dry, which was not a speedy thing, given the wet sort of weather we've been having in the last week. This past Monday night, my handy neighbour came over and helped us put in a new piece of drywall. I suspect our 2004 roofer screwed up (or perhaps left a hole deliberately), but we can’t find him anymore - the company doesn't seem to exist. Anyway, there is no point in replacing the roof because the house will be demolished in ~ 18 months. We will just have to patch the roof a bit in the spring.

So, thanks to the stress and all the crap in the air from the wet building materials and the formerly squirrel-&-raccoon infested attic, I spent several days with bronchitis, as well as the awful side-effects from the antibiotics, which included GI spasms and a blood pressure spike.

I've had maybe half a nerve left, it was always getting trampled and poor Richard was continually caught in the crossfire. He has been amazing, taking very good care of me, not to mention being possibly more worried about my condition than I've been. But thanks to my health challenges, my temper's been hair-trigger for all of February so far (please don't poke the wounded bear), and he’s been walking around like a shell-shocked war veteran.

I kept feeling worse and worse, but I thought it was just a tenacious bug and I should soldier on until the end of the prescribed course of treatment. WRONG! I went back to the doctor yesterday and now we know that it was a case of the cure being worse than the disease: apparently, I am allergic to the antibiotics I was taking for 12 days!

Now that I've stopped taking the offending drugs and started popping Benadryl like candy, I feel much better already and should be absolutely fine after a couple of days. Whew!

It will be nice to sing again. I've missed singing. And knitting. And sleeping well. And thinking clearly...

Sunday, February 08, 2009


stitches in fever
sick knitter's delirium
will ever be ripped

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Too sick to blog more now, but have to mention I REALLY want to go to this. Please, please, please, please, please...

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Introducing: QUINTIMACY!
a Toronto-based group dedicated to rebuilding a close working relationship between composer, performer and audience.

Please join mezzo soprano Ramona Carmelly, composer Chad Martin, pianists Elaine Lau and Joseph Ferretti, with producer Eleanor Johnston and special guest artists for intimate performances of rare and wonderful selections from the repertoire of vocal and chamber music. Selections for this season include magnificent songs by Ravel, DuParc, Mompou, Rachmaninoff and Wagner, as well as the premiere of a new commissioned song cycle from resident composer Chad Martin, and much more.

Our season of soirees opened with the debut event, Conversation, Canapes and Cancions, on November 16, featuring seldom heard songs by Henri Duparc and Federico Mompou, as well as some witty new inventive pieces for toy piano by our own Chad Martin, was very warmly received. The concept of a return to an intimate salon-style of music presentation with conversation, proximity and artistic immediacy is making a bit of a buzz among performers and audiences.

For the next concert Ravel and other pleasures, on Sunday February 22, 2009, at 5 pm, we are planning another eclectic program featuring Ravel’s fabulous Chansons Mad├ęcasses for voice, piano, cello and flute, with special guests Shauna Basiuk (flute) and Liza McLellan (cello), as well as Ravel's piano duet La Valse (the single piano, 2 pianists version by Lucien Garban) and Ravel's whimsical Ma Mere L'Oye (Mother Goose) Suite, and some special surprises. We hope to see many of you there!

And our program for spring, i will open petal by petal myself: love, poetry and song! on May 3, 2009 will be about love, poetry and song, featuring Wagner's lush and rapturous Wesendonck lieder and the exciting premiere of a newly-commissioned song cycle by resident composer Chad Martin,"i will open petal by petal myself", setting love poems of ee cummings. Don't miss this fabulous concert!

Come hear these gems performed in an intimate and accessible environment of camaraderie, with conversation, good company and complimentary refreshments. Then come back next season as we begin to explore the impact of socio-political events in the early 20th century, in particular the dissolution and/or evolution of the more intimate and accessible musical forms and performance styles, especially after the escape or expulsion of many composers from Europe during the growth of the Nazi regime in Germany and beyond.

for more information, please see Facebook: Quintimacy or click on one of the links above.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Really?! REALLY?!!!

I am usually on owl hours, because I’m often up and rehearsing or performing at night and too high on adrenaline to sleep before 2 or 3 (A.M.), so for the most part, nothing is in my calendar before the crack of noon and the phones are usually off in the morning. In fact, I should probably be asleep now, for so MANY reasons, but I’m up and starting to juggle my to-do list before the crack of dawn which is the only reason I can take a minute to post this little rant so early.

I am swamped (almost literally), with no break in sight until mid-May, juggling prep for work (upcoming concerts, etc…), business and legal transactions (house) and several personal crises all requiring my immediate attention at once, and culminating in, most spectacularly: the crumbled collapse of the ceiling and flooding in my bedroom around midnight last night from water damage with the incredible amount of snow we've been getting and the freeze-thaw-freeze-thaw-freeze-thaw-freeze-thaw roller coaster of the local temperatures!

So I slept "al fresco" last night, listening to the slow repetitive residual drip while gazing through the new unplanned skylight in my bedroom, with the window open too (to vent any unwanted mold, dust, dirt, insulation material or other breathing-friendly crap) and the heat off (no sense heating the outdoors). Toronto temperature was -8 C last night, in case you're wondering, and it's not much warmer now. And - just to motivate me - it's going to -16 C tonight. So the bedroom ceiling is rather high on the priorities list right now.

I'll try and take a picture of it for you when I can function a little more, but I can’t even look at it right now or I'll start to hyperventilate.

Meanwhile, I'm in quite some pain and discomfort - it's got me too frazzled to knit, which is why I've been spending so much time on Ravelry, distracting myself with wishful queue enlargement beyond life expectancy. I'm under doctor’s orders to be doing nothing more than resting (LMAO), recovering from my infection (and the antibiotics with nasty side effects) and fever (which made it a little okay to sleep in a room with an open ceiling and window last night), with gastrointestinal muscle spasms when I'm not cramping from my period (and vice-versa), as well as recent injuries to my ankle and shoulder, and exhaustion from the peri-menopausal menorrhagia (BTW: shouldn't a Super-Plus tampon last longer than 2 hours?).

I did manage to get a few hours of drug-induced sleep (or was it coma?), but woke up coughing (surprise?). DH slept downstairs on the sofa (both to keep warm and to spare his asthmatic lungs from breathing in the debris and fumes) - which, of course, has totally screwed up his back.

So things are a little rocky at Casa MezzoDiva. The unrelenting weather, all the stuff on our to-do list (house, lawyers, MILs, work...), plus my illness, his anxiety and our mutual fatigue already had us both at DEFCON 1 with little concentration, hair-trigger irritability, and less than one nerve left between us - and that's before the potential swimming pool in the roof came crashing down. Let's just say we're not playing nicely and unless someone whisks away to a Caribbean island for a day, wipes our memory of the current situation, plies us with pina-coladas and mojitos, and fixes the roof and ceiling while we are somewhere else, oblivious and warm, I fear that one of us may not come out of this totally unscathed. It's a toss up as to which one.

Three things are becoming abundantly clear.
1. The universe is trying to tell me something.
2. I am clearly going to need much better drugs or I am going to have to take up medicinal alcoholism.
3. Despite the impossibility of finding a free uncommitted week before May, I will need a vacation soon - for medicinal purposes, as well as recovering any semblance of sanity.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Ooops. I seem to have missed January somehow.

It’s been a quiet time for me. I haven’t been in touch with almost anybody. And I haven’t written a thing on my blog in a month. There was nothing to report, mind you, other than sleeping (hibernation) , a lot (A LOT) of reading, and very little in the way of knitting, just working through lots of of internal matters, personal evolution, processing baggage and such, mostly with good results, but taking time and energy. And honestly, I have scarcely knit a row or two, though I have wicked want-to-make-it-itis and many things are clamouring for me to cast them on right now.

This week I'm handling a lovely econo-sized multi-pack of minor illnesses and iritations, on a daily roller-coaster ride through mild discomfort to lots of pain:
(pardon me - TMI coming up - not a pity party, I just need to vent a little and get it out of system, so feel free to skim/skip):

1. sprained ankle (repeatedly freezing and thawing slush creates icy and uneven ground, makes the sidewalk terrain all twisty)

2. I'm in another perimenopausal period-from-hell (though glad it's here because I skipped the last two in November and December and that made January's return brutal, like a three-in-one!) Seriously - I am SO going to rewrite a satirical version of this number I enjoy being a girl and include all sort of fun things about when my cramps have cramps and I'm feeling cranky and bloated...

3. I have an infection (don't ask) requiring ginormous antibiotics (ugh)!

4. I am mildly hypertensive (mostly due to stress), trying to avoid further blood pressure problems by practising holistic approaches (nutrition and mediation), but I may have to go back on a "water pill" because I am at risk for chronic venous insufficiency. I am even more crazy about the idea of taking any long-term pharmaceutical medications than I am about the short course of antibiotics.

5. I've been fighting with my husband daily for the last two weeks or so (poor guy - just because I am a premenstrual bitch on wheels, doesn't mean he didn't screw up, but I could be handling it a lot better). Unfortunately I have maybe half a nerve left and he's stepping on it all the time because he's retired and always here. Also, I am struggling with the post-retirement realization that he's acting like he's on perpetual long-term holiday and there are things to be done that need our attention and I feel like I'm the only one here for that and it's driving me crazy. Seriously, I adore this man, I would take a bullet or step in front of a train for him. However in the game of day-to-day he's often part of the problem and rarely part the solution (though he's great in emergencies, he comes running when I holler for help). He is smart, funny, sweet and great with the TLC and affection. He may even be the reason I'm still here as a couple of bouts of clinical depression in my life have had me in despair and it's largely his love that drew me out. But he's seems oblivious to most of the daily responsibilities necessary to keeping a household from crumbling around our ears, and when he does help, he often disappears again as soon as the crisis part of the party is perceived to be over.

6. We had a long meeting with our new lawyer on Saturday (yesterday) morning, revising lots of very shady crap in the sale contract with the property development company that wants to buy our house and build condos. It's full of smoke and mirrors, trying to obfuscate the conditions all to their benefit and pull off some dirty maneuvers. Any clauses not directly copied from the standard real estate transactions books are legal drivel, not close to English or good legal form. It's all the kind of thing that makes me glad I didn't go into law after all (as I thought I might in junior high) because apparently this is fairly common practice these days and it makes me a little sick. Seriously, even our lawyer said he was amused and almost embarrassed by association with it and confirmed our view that anyone who'd sign that thing as it is written (without serious ammendments, as well as codification and clarification) is an idiot, as it's not worth the 8 pages of legal size paper on which it's printed.

7. We spent Saturday afternoon lunching and visiting with my 89.5 yo MIL - which is great because I adore her, but hard when I'm unwell. Still, I am glad we went. She's a fabulous old lady, feisty and independent, mobile without assistance and generally in remarkably good health. She's also funny and clever and interesting - and I want to be just like her when I grow up.

8. I did not go to the Shaw play yesterday afternoon, a local movie theatre showing of the Shaw festival's [correction:]the Stratford festival's production of Caesar and Cleopatra from 2008 (with Christopher Plummer!), similar to what they are doing with the opera broadcasts from the Met in the movie theatres. I REALLY wanted to go, but after the lawyer I was in so much pain, largely stress-induced, that I couldn't have sat through it.

So today, though I'd LOVE to play hooky and go hang out at one of my fave fibre-enabling venues, I really need to stay HOME to recuperate, putter around the house, to research some background info and practise music for my upcoming concerts and auditions, and get all (or maybe some of) my personal and household stuff done (like 4-5 loads of laundry) before my "date" this evening with a friend I haven't seen in years and the next busy week starts.

I'd so much rather be knitting/learning to ply or spin/inhaling new yarn fumes/visiting with all of the yarnies. I actually tried to trick myself into it last night, in spite of all the above, by making arrangements to go to the LYS with a friend – because I know how much I hate blowing people off when I've made arrangements with them. But I decided to bow to my better judgement this morning that fibre-frolicking was not going to happen. And thankfully she understands.

I realize that I have just posted a long whiny blog entry. And that I have nothing knitterly to show for January. Sorry. Hope I can get my act together and post some pix this spring, but it's not likely to be sooner than April or May because my schedule in the next few months is about to go ballistic - in a good way, but still...