Archive for the ‘Music’ Category

On listening to Rimsky-Korsakov…

September 14, 2012

Yesterday, Martha, who is disassembling her life here and moving to London, brought me a plasti-bag full of music CDs she is de-accessioning. “Keep what you want,” she said.  “Most of these are from a time when I was trying to develop a taste for classical music, but no longer play regularly.” In spite my promise to myself to acquire no more possessions, on studying the labels of each CD, and what composer and piece of music was exampled on the different discs, these gifts from Martha seemed appropriate to where my head and heart are these days, reveling in memory, revisiting long-assumed to be dormant pleasures of sensory nature. Perhaps because it is September, a treasured time of the year for me, when memory causes me to anticipate the joys of this season, that aides memoires such as the sound of winds in the late afternoons, and specific passages of sound make me revel in being alive.

So, I popped onto my player the Scheherezade of Rimsky-Korsakov as I prepared hot water and vinegar with which to wash the tile floors in my apartment. I should know myself better by now, because, all of my life I have been unable to multi-task, especially when music is a component of what must compete for attention. After hearing about the fourth bar of the overture, I collapsed into a heap on the couch, dripping scrubbing cloth clutched in my hand – and all ears.

Memories arose, unbidden.  Of kneeling on the floor in my childhood home, right next to the radio, of a late September dusk, Anyu and Apu sitting close-by in the scuffed leather chairs, Idiko perched on the piano bench, all of us silent as Scheherazade piped through the cloth covering the radio speaker.  A few years later, coming home alone  in the afternoon from Catholic school in Kingston, after parting from Ildiko at the church where she had her daily piano practice session, letting myself into the empty brownstone parlour and for company putting on the Rimsky-Korsakov record which had arrived as donation in a box of household goods from our church. On hearing the second movement, my eyes filled with tears of gratitude in the memory of how that music had helped me then assuage feelings of nostalgia for my lost homeland, and how it had kept me wonderful company when I was feeling particularly alone.

After an unexpected lassitude overcame me, my thoughts strayed to doing guided meditation sessions while recovering from Leukemia treatment, which involved the therapist verbalizing a scenario in a soothing voice – so sound and meaning implied by word content and context was able to transport one beyond quotidian concerns into a place of respite. That fleeting moment of puzzlement was replaced by a sense memory of holding my new-born son and a reminder of the special place of safety and oneness a mother and infant shared moment can be.

At some points in the music the sound made me experience temperature change, taste sensations, colour variations and the texture of varied fabrics.  Sinewy arabesque threads wound along the lines of melody Instrument sounds implied tapestries woven of different weight and colours of fibres. A taste of fresh figs, honey, acrid sweetness of plums vied with pungently spiced  taste tidbits, the texture of roasted almonds. I was awash in sensations.

Sudden silence when the music stopped brought me back to the clammy touch of the cool washrag in my hand, the sunlight streaming through the windows, the sound of wind teasing through the aspens outside. The noises of nearby construction re-asserted itself. My tile floors remained uncleaned, but after relaxing in my newfound sense of comfort and pleasure, I tackled that chore with a vigour which surprised me.

I do wonder though, do creators of works of art ever comprehend the effect of their creations, because they are ever varied, and largely unpredictable. But the riches bestowed on the individual appreciator are thousand-fold.  Was Scheherezade an artist? She of the Thousand and One tales, the one Rimsky-Korsakov references as muse, to aid us in reviewing tales of our own, read about, told to us, or directly experienced. Hmmm…

Not another sweater…

November 26, 2008

Anyu always held close to the belief that appropriate Christmas presents for men in the family were either a sweater, an LP of music beloved by the recipient or a book of some esoteric character that was to edify the recipient.. She really looked askance when I gifted Renaissance man on his 18th Christmas with a stuffed ‘Bill the Cat’. Rumpole has long disabused me of the gifted sweater. So for these two men in my life, Christmas gifting has proved to be an adventure, of sorts.

A couple of years ago I gave Renaissance Man a fold out huge cultural history of the world. It opened up the length of his living room, and he seemed to enjoy reading esoteric bits of information from among the ages. The gift that both he and Rumpole took particular delight in was when they received guitar lessons for 4 months. This was 18 years ago, and I must say, it has been a gift that has kept giving. They joined a band, and have played together for 12 years now, and entertain us at home with musicales regularly.

This Christmas seemed particularly problematic. What does one gift a grown man who has alost everything his heart could desire? I stewed and fretted about this for months now. I want him to enjoy life, to keep learning while he can and to model that learning and enjoyment for his young daughter.

Last weekend, he and Glasgow Girl brought Mousey over for a visit. Here was the perfect occasion to put the query to him. I had cleverly and casually placed the new second-hand recorder I had bought at the thrift store, as an inducement to pique Mousey’s curiosity. True to form, as soon as she spied it, she picked it up and asked, “What is this?”

“Blow in the end,” suggested Rumpole, “It’s a recorder.”

She picked it up and tooted away with it in great delight. “Here, Mouse, ” said RM, “I’ll show you how to put your fingers.” He played the scale for her, but she couldn’t when she tried; her hands were much too small.

She marched about the kitchen and tooted away, experimenting with blowing through breaths.

“Mom, you’re such a trouble maker,” said RM. “Every time you introduce her to new things, she keeps bugging us to keep playing with them.”

Heh, heeh, that’s the plan – I thought to myself. it’s never too early.

“You know, R.M., you have a really good singing voice,” said Rumpole.

“Yeah,” I agreed, ” you have perfect pitch. Every time you sing with the band I have to pinch myself. You nail the songs so perfectly. But you lack confidence.”

“How would you like to receive singing lessons as a Christmas present, this year?” asked Rumpole.

Renaissance Man looked at each of us in turn. “You know,” he said, “it might be kind of fun. Only I don’t want to go to someone’s house for lessons.”

“Okay,” I said, ” I have the perfect place to order up lessons for you, the local music school. See if you like what they have on offer.”

So, that was that. Renaissance Man is intrigued by the possibility of voice lessons. My job was to do the research on this possibility.

So this week’s job for me was to find the singing teacher, which I did, and to order up lessons, which Rumpole and I did, this evening after having dinner with Lookingforbeauty. We drove to the music school in the dark of evening, and made arrangements with the pleasant director of the school. In January, Renaissance Man is to start his weekly lessons on Tuesday nights. I think he will be well pleased.

While at the music studio, I asked about replacement strings for my cheapo violin. They had them, and Rumpole bought a set for me. We drove home in the dark, well delighted with the possibility of making more music, en famille. I can hardly wait for Christmas – a book of songs for Renaissance Man to go with his singing lessons, and perhaps my newly strung violin along for Christmas dinner to play some reels. Of course, I shall have to practice during the coming weeks. I know for sure that Jessica, our Scottish Terrier will accompany me on the violin. She hates my music, or my singing, and joins in a chorale accompanyment appropriate to my level of playing.

It promises to be a musical New Year for us all. I can hardly wait to hear Renaissance Man let loose with his wonderful voice.

Evenings and early dark…

November 21, 2008

Headed toward the Solstice, the days are shortening, light diminishes and darkness increases. While darkness has been much feared by humankind, it does have its own peculiar beauties. The firmament glows with scintillating fire, we cling together in groups for comfort and reassurance and to tell tales. The earth subsides into a pregnant darkness, unseen growth and enrichment burgeon beneath the darkness which pervades everything. We wait, with hope and with dreams of the fruitfulness unleashed by nature in the springtime.

Here, for your enjoyment is a song which never ceases to make the night magical for me.

Esti dal – Zoltan Kodaly, King’s Singers

Mozart, Mousey and me…

August 21, 2008

Mozart is probably revolving in his grave, what with his ethereal music being recently used to entertain a two year old. He had no idea, really, that his Marriage of Figaro might provide a lip-synching miming oppportunity, accompanied by invented costumes, for a grandmother and grand-daughter duo.

Well, I thought, nothing ventured, etc.. It occurred to me that babysitting Mousey has given me grand occasion for embarking on unorthodox play, or at least play which painlessly introduces forms of music to a young child which in some adults of my acquaintance causes pained expressions and demands to turn the music down. Think Opera, and then think Rumpole and Glasgow Girl. They both concur that listening to Opera is akin to torturing cats in a back alley in the dead of night. Somehow, trying to develop an appreciation for such an art form in my delightful grand-daughter is such a deliciously subversive idea. Why, I can already imagine her as a teen-ager, playing deafeningly loud recordings of The Magic Flute, or The Tales of Hoffman whilst singing along in passable pitch and with great passion while her mother, Glasgow Girl, cowers in chagrin in the bathroom with the shower going full blast to drown out the wonderful music. Ooh, the delightful frisson of a possibility!

Mousey is used to me arriving with my purse and the black bag which she anticipates looking into to see what new thing I have brought to show her. On this particular day, it was loaded with long scarves that would completely swathe her little person and The Marriage of Figaro CD that I like to play and sing along to whenever I am alone at home. It doesn’t matter whether the singer is a soprano, mezzo, tenor or baritone, I tackle all the songs with great vigour.  I like the idea of such power lurking in the depths of my black bag!

As soon as Mousey saw my black bag she made a grab for it, pulled the scarves out with flourish and immediately cast them aside, but brought the CD into the light and looked at me with a quizzical expression. “Pooh and Tigger?” she questioned.

“Oh, no.” I said with a stage whisper. “It’s Mozart. Just wait till you hear it.”

“Yeah, just wait till I’m gone before you play it, ” announced Glasgow Girl. “can’t stand listening to that screechy stuff.” She made hurried motions to put on her work shoes, kissed the Mouse, grabbed her purse and made her getaway.

I put the CD in the machine, grabbed a long scarf and dressed Mousey in it. Took her little pillow from her bedroom and tied it on top of my head with another scarf and brought the opossum mom hand-puppet and her baby into the living room. Possie, the mom, was my prop. The baby possum was the Mouse’s. We sat on the floor and listened as the opening strains of the music wafted through the room.

Mousey immediately began to bob her head in time with the music. She tapped her toes. She moved the baby opossum toward Possey in my hand with mincing motions, very Mozartian and playful. When the first aria arrived, I mimed the song, lip-synching  and craning my neck and head with exaggerated drama toward Mousey and then toward Possie who I engaged in dramatic accompaniment. Keeping with the Music, the Mouse made rhythmic motions with her hand puppet and with her mouth.

We got up off the floor and danced around, weaving and flowing with the music; stepped with exaggerated care keeping with the crisp qaulity of sound. In the more melodic portions, we subsided onto the floor and kept the beat with the hand-puppets. Mousey is remarkable in that she shows great love of music and has a way of activating her little body with sound. At times, she listens with great acuteness, her brown button eyes take on a faraway look. She tilts her head as if she let the music inside it and it courses through  first her head, and then through the rest of her little body. Then she moves in automatic accord with the rising and falling sound. This is so magical to see, such an unselfconscious and honest response.

It was remarkable how long she was able to engage with the music, for the duration of the CD. She seemd to like the baritone passages which had a booming quality. During the soprano bits she became somewhat languid and danced around making gentle swooping movements with her arms. In moments of drama, she’d come up to me, bring her face close and lip-synch with emphasis punctuating with the baby opossum hand-puppet.

By the end of the recording, I was quite pooped out. Mousey was relaxed and alert. “Moosick finished,” she said in her quiet voice. We lay on the floor with our feet propped on the seat of the couch and covered ourselves with our scarves. She had brought a book over and we read and talked quietly. The opossum puppets lay beside us, now forgotten, or temporarily put aside.

“Would you like me to leave you the music? So you can listen to it whenever you want?” I asked her after we had finished reading.

“Yes, pwease. I like it!” Mousey said with enthusiasm.

Mozart would be pleased, I like to think. He is continuing to delight yet another generation. What a pay-off for a composer – long life for his “moosick”.

A tag from Nita…

May 10, 2008

Fritz Wunderlich, tenor – Das Land des Lächelns

Nita – – has tagged me with a writing tag… to select a song which compels one to entre into a state where writing (or making images) is stimulated. While I rarely work with music in the background, preferring silence or ambient sound, certain pieces of music cause me to disconnect from mundane preoccupations and let my spirit soar into regions where imagination, or “what if”, lives.

This beautiful aria is one I fortuitously found on a record from an obscure little record store, back in 1973. It was a recording of Fritz Wunderlich’s great arias. A heartachingly beautiful tenor, this song is one I always listen to in the springtime. Especially when looking at my apple tree in bloom, which, this year it has not done in April, but rather late right now in May – I hum along in an atrocious alto with glee and intense pleasure.

“Die apfelbluete ist einen kranz…” (The apple tree is a crown…)

I hope you enjoy this lovely song, by someone who was one of the finest lyric tenors in the 20th century, one whose sad, abbreviated life, yielded so much musical pleasure for us all.


The Operation…

April 27, 2008

The operation is behind me. Now, I sport a swollen eye, itchy from the minuscule French Knots which secure the newly carved punctures placed at ten oclock and two-oclock in the white area of my eyeball. Rumpole, bless his little red socks, is doing all the leaning and bending I am not allowed to do right now and being his courtly and endearingly attentive self. However, being courtly and attentive does not preclude him chiding me and bossing me around; this he seems to relish. Martha has been supplying us with a variety of culinary masterpieces – home-made bread, impossibly delicious soups, tempting desserts. Lucky has come to cast her professional nurse’s eye on my newly acquired wound, but she does this subtly, without giving rise to anxiety on my part. She has been encouraging and has said that compared to last April and May’s operation disasters, this recuperation seems to be progressing without hitch so far.

Dr. Seemore, who is Dr. Blindside’s replacement, had earlier asked if I wanted to undergo this operation under local, rather than general anaesthetic. I opted for the local, this time. I wanted to be in the know as to who was performing the surgery, and what exactly went on during the hour or so it took. Dr. Blindside had put me under for all three of the operations he had performed last year, and in pre-op he had introduced different Opthalimic Surgical Residents who would also have a go at my eye during the procedures. This didn’t exactly fill me with reassurance minutes prior to being given the nectar of Lethe.

Dr. Seemore introduced Dr. Sandman to me in the pre-op room on Friday morning. He had rather Puckish ears poking out from under his surgical cap, a dry British wit, and enough miles on him visible to reassure that he knew what he was doing. He slipped in the intravenous needle into the top of my hand with deft economy, told me he was giving me rations of salt water for the operation’s duration, stuck the heart monitor electrodes into place and clipped me into the hospital shroud with well-practiced motions.

“Relax,” said he, tapping me on the shoulder. “You’ll be able to hear what’s going on. If you need more sauce for pain, make a noise.”

Dr. Seemore adjusted my head to the angle he wanted it to be. Surprisingly, he didn’t immobilize my head with straps. this was something I had expected, little realizing that whatever relaxant Dr. Sandman had administered cause a lassitude that would allow any sorts of procedures, including plucking the eyeball out of the head if the surgeon so felt inclined, to be performed, with the complete willing participation of the one operated upon.

It was rather interesting to be able to see the probes in the field of vision; to hear Dr. Seemore order one instrument after another; to follow his directions for the room light to be dimmed, for the operating lights to be calibrated for brightness; and for his orders to have the laser activated. Every, so often, the blood-pressure cuff wrapped around my right arm would constrict, puff off, cut off circulation and then let go with a sigh and a short mechanical ping. My hands, clenched on my chest, started to go numb. I could feel my neck muscles seize with tension. My feet were dull bricks at the other end of my body, but I declined to keep tempo with the awful 70’s Soft Rock that played in the background. That much hated tune of “You are so Beautiful to me…”, for some reason assaulted my ears with its cheesiness. Billy Joel crooned. Carol King warbled, and Oh No!!! Please No!!!, not John Denver. However I was too out of it to gag! Had we inadvertently slipped back to a serious 70’s time warp, with long-sideburned medical professionals swathed in fitted polyester floral scrubs and platform-soled white shoes? Dr. Seemore and Dr. Sandman were of the same vintage as me, early sixties of age, and wrapped the operating room in an aural atmosphere of nostalgia that would be better forgotten.

I wanted the operation to end, if not to put merciful conclusion to the execrable music. The light show in the eye operated upon was somewhat more reminiscent of the light shows in concerts. You know, the kind where coloured inks poured into oil were projected on the large screen behind psychedelic musicicians. However, Soft Rock was all wrong.

At one point, Dr. Seemore adjusted the angle of my head. For all I cared, he could have severed it from my neck. But that Music! That gave me problems during the operation!

“We’re done.” announced Dr Seemore, patting my shoulder. ” I’ll see you in the recovery room in a few minutes.”

Dr. Sandman unconnected the blood-pressure cuff and the heart monitor clip from my forefinger. He pulled the I.V. needle and had me put pressure on top of its site and wheeled me back into the pre-op holding room. The kindly nurse brought a cup of welcome apple juice and watched me sit up, swing my legs over the gurney’s edge and sip away. Dr. Seemore emerged from the O.R., looking decidedly ordinary in his blue scrubs, nary a floral pattern in sight on his costume, no long sideburns, no platform-soled shoes. He looked just like his ordinary, reassuring self. What a relief!

“We didn’t put the lens in. Scar tissue was extensive and was pulling on the retina. So I removed it and put oil into the globe to help seat the retina. In six weeks, I’ll remove that in another operation and then give you the new lens.” He took pains to explain these specifics and warned me to not bend down while healing and to keep my head back for the next couple of weeks. “I’ll see you tomorrow at seven A.M. in my office.”

The Pre-op Nurse chased me off to get dressed. On the way to the changing area, a man waiting for his operation commented “You seem pretty chipper. I hope I feel like that too when I come out.”

I dressed and sat waiting for Rumpole to come back to pick me up. The nurse covered me with a warm blanket and I watched the next patient being wheeled into the O.R. Soon, the pneumatic door hissed open, and there was Rumpole, looking ever so natty carrying my large black purse. No coffee in his hand though. I would cheerfully have killed for a cup of good Joe.

“Coffee!” I croaked piteously. “Please, get me to some coffee!”

Rumpole, obliging as ever, complied and whisked me out of the hospital to partake of that marvellous substance. And so we got through the operation.

Today, as I sit here typing away, every so often I shut my good eye and try to assess what change there is to the bad one. Amazingly, I can see shapes much more crisp than before. Colours are more clear, less hazy. This operation seems to be successful so far and I am much encouraged.

The Dream Home…

August 21, 2007

There is a song from the 60s musical “The Fantasticks” that I particularly loved and these days still sing in a cracked-alto version whenever I am doing mundane chores around the house.

” Hear how the wind begins to whisper -see all the leaves go swirling by – smell how the velvet rain is falling – out where the fields are warm and dry.

Now is the time to run inside and play – now is the time to find a hideaway – where we can stay.

Soon it’s gonna rain, I can feel it; soon it’s gonna rain, I can tell; soon it’s gonna rain, what are we going to do? (Girl)

Soon it’s gonna rain, I can feel it; soon it’s gonna rain, I can tell; soon it’s gonna rain, what’ll we do with you? (Boy)

We’ll find four limbs of a tree; We’ll build four walls and a floor; we’ll bind it over with leaves and run inside to stay.

We will let it rain; we’ll not feel it; we will let it rain, rain pell mell, and we’ll not complain if it never stops at all.

We’ll live and love in these four walls; happily we’ll live and love, no cares at all; happily we’ll live and love, within our castle walls. ”  (Boy and Girl, together)

This romantic song contains all the idealism and lack of practical experience of the young, the yearning for a love that helps one transcend all difficulty. I find its delicious naivete appealing. The Girl and Boy in the musical are supposed to be in their late teens, innocent, inexperienced and full of hope.

There is no hint of the Girl spreading tried-on and discarded brand name clothing on her bedroom floor and on every available surface. Her mother does not call her into the family room to catch the latest HGTV program on tacking together a fun and fashionable teen girl’s room with cool colours and kicky accessories. No “House Porn” for the Girl in The Fantasticks.

I often wonder what kind of longing is set up in sixteen-year old girls when they peruse the flyers that fall through their home mail-slot regularly, the flyers advertising the XXX Hospital Lifestyles Lottery, where the top prize is a million dollar Dream Home fully outfitted with the latest must-have luxuries and gadgets. And only $50 to $100 buys a chance at winning this Dream Home. Of course, the money goes to a good cause – Hospital Funding – so when one gambles one has expiated lingering feelings of guilt by being assured of gambled money going for “The Public Good”.

Some good friends bought a Dream Home from a lucky winner, who really couldn’t make a life in that house, for a variety of reasons. The house was designed by an architect, had soaring windows the three floors height, was situated in a semi-rural setting and had a gorgeous view of the ocean and islands. Outside, deer wandered by and had their way with garden plantings; racoons visited after dark to search for handouts; ravens flew by in the forest during the days, calling to each other and eagles soared in the sky.

There are unexpected downsides to Dream Homes, designed for a generic Mr and Mrs Average. The location of my friends’ house necessitated a two hour commute to and from work. They lived next door to another lottery home whose new owner left the house uninhabited.  Most of the neighbours were retirees.  Provisioning the home required trips into town a fair distance away. Power outages were frequent in the wintertime.  However, they lived there for five years, until the long commute to and from work became tedious, and the children needed to be closer to amenities, jobs and friends.

Lately, lottery homes are being built in suburbs, near amenities and schools, often on golf-course developments. My sister lives in such a community, and there are a few Dream Homes built on recently developed streets in her enclave. The new row of these lottery homes goes by the name of “Street of Dreams”. 

I toured a couple of these with Martha and Jeanie, and a crowd of other people, a couple of years ago. For the life of me I could never picture Rumpole and me living in one of these houses – we’d be like the Beverly Hillbillies and never fit in. The houses are tricked out to look like a hotel of sorts. People are expected to transport themselves via their imaginations into these places. All I could imagine was endless washing and cleaning of the granite counters in the kitchen and maybe occassionally chiding Rumpole for leaving acid rings etched on the granite from his orage juice glasses.  And the bathrooms! What sane woman wants to spend her time loping around the numerous bathrooms shining chrome taps. Besides which what woman could ever keep her eyes open watching Oprah  whilst slumped on the leather theatre chairs in the Media Room, exhausted from her rounds of incessant household maintenance!

Some dream! More like a nightmare wished on the unthinking and unwary women of North America! I think The Fantasticks version of castle is much more attractive and although the song didn’t mention ensuite bathrooms with rain-head showers and water-saving toilets, one can safely assume the idea of outdoor biffies never even crossed the librettist’s mind as he plinked away on a piano trying to fit words to the melody of “Soon it’s gonna rain”.

Jazz and Blues Festival…

August 13, 2007

My friend Kay ( of is our new neighbour.  She has halfway moved into her house and is in the process of acquainting herself with neighbourhood services. On Friday we drove to civic center where she can access the Government Agent’s office to renew her driver’s licence, to Municipal Hall where she can pay her house taxes and apply for a business licence, and to the Public Library where she can freely feed her extensive reading habit. Yesterday, we drove around to garage sales to help her look for storage shelves to house her vast number of drawings and paintings and she scored a good set of shelves. Afterward we went to the farmer’s market, a local weekly outlet for people engaged in small scale vegetable gardening. We met a lot of my acquintances, to whom she was introduced and to whom she extended invitations to visit her in her new home.  One advantage to living in a small community like ours is that very shortly one can establish a group of like-minded friends and acquaintances with whom to share in interests and activities. Kay is rapidly becoming comfortable here.

Rumpole, Martha and I had planned to take in the Jazz and Blues festival last night, and invited Kay along. To simplify our going as a group to this concert, I invited Kay and Martha to a casual supper at our house. Martha declined, as her son (who lives in Victoria) expected her to make supper for him before returning home via the ferry.  Kay had spent yesterday afternoon painting her basement floor, so she was happy to not have to cook for herself.

I had dinner ready by the time Rumpole had arrived home from his office. He was not ready to eat, and, excited by the prospect of meeting fellow musicians at the festival, left without eating.  Kay and I were to meet him somewhere on the grounds of the Festival; Martha had prearranged to meet us at one of the coffee purveyors on the site. Kay and I ate, set aside some supper for Rumpole to eat when he returned home that evening and drove downtown to the Festival venue.

I am somewhat embarrased to admit that I requested senior admission and was granted the same without question. The ticketseller taped a silver-coloured wrist-band on my arm and gestured in the direction of the gate. Since I could not see well, I had missed the sign at the ticket booth that listed admissions.  Seniors were 65 and over.  (Oops, I am only sixty, but now that I think back on it, if anyone wants to see me as older than I am, that is fine by me – as long as I get the senior’s discount. Is it my fault that I look older than my years?)

Kay spotted  Rumpole right away.  “Where do you see him? I asked.

“He’s right over there! Can’t you see him?” responded Kay. I looked and looked over the crowd seated on the lawn, a vague, flickering, foggy multi-coloured sea. A poorly-defined black oblong, up-thrust above the surface of this mass wavered back and forth. Rumpole’s arm in his black jacket? I aimed myself toward that uncertain sign-post and crept toward it cautiously.  Up close, the dark seated shape resolved into a grinning Rumpole.

He took my collapsible chair and set it up, and asked “Where is Martha?”

“She should be over by the Starbuck’s kiosk. Where is it anyway?” I said, peering about uncertainly.

He aimed me in that direction and I approached, wending my way slowly along the path separating two groups of seated attendees. I hung about the kiosk trying to glimpse Martha’s characteristic silhouette topped by a mass of gray curly hair.  No Martha approached, nor was she standing anywhere nearby.  I gave up and made my way back to Rumpole and Kay.

The music was blasting away in a rather kicky toe-tapping blues rhythm. Rumpole was seated, grooving to the music. Kay was standing and craning her neck around to see if she could recognize anyone she knew. I goofed and bounced around to the sounds, and hoped that Martha would spy where we were.

“What do you think of this crowd of seniors?”asked Rumpole at the end of a particularly lively song by a growling duo.

“Just because they are all sitting down doesn’t mean every one here is a long-tooth” I retorted.

“Well, there is no one dancing! And look at all the canes and walkers going by on the sidewalk.”

Beside us, on a rug on the grass, two teen-aged girls sprawled, not really affected by the music.  They were intent on playing about with some lit-up fibre-optic gizmos and chattering on about who knows what.  Their parents, sprawled on portable chairs, looked to be in their late thirties. (Surely, they were not the only youngish people at this concert?)

Martha materialized, shortly. She looked quite glamorous, wrapped in a pashmina which matched her grey hair. (She also wore slacks and a shirt) ” I gave up waiting for you guys and grabbed a good spot close to the main stage” she announced. Kay explained the reason for our tardiness.  I held out my silver wristband and commented on how good it was of the organizers to allow people of 60 and up to enter the venue on senior tickets. Wordless, Kay, Martha and Rumpole held out their wrists. Their bands were a royal blue; this meant they had paid twice what I had. They looked at me as at a lowly worm.

“I suppose, this means you guys expect me to pay for your coffees this evening,” I grumbled.

“Nah! You’re too cheap! You didn’t even pay the correct ticket price to get in here.” admonished Rumpole.

I was spared continuing criticism, by the announcement from stage introducing one of the headliners, Sonny Rhodes. The band performed a musical stroll, quite rhythmic and sprightly, as a warmup. Sonny Rhodes growled, groaned, and complained in a marvellous blues set. Rumpole waved me to stand up, grasped me under the arm and led me through the crowd closer to the stage.  Martha and Kay remained back at our chairs. Close to the stage, a huge crowd had congregated in the area reserved for dancers. (Strangely, no-one seemed to be dancing.)

“Can you see the band better from here?” asked Rumpole.

Nope. They were vague shapes well lit by stage lights; but the sound was sure good up this close. The musicians took turns soloing their instruments during the numbers. The steel slide-guitarist made the most deliciously clear melodies; the lead guitarist coaxed some unearthly, impossible voicings of his instrument; the mouth organist chuffed, chugged, arpeggio-ed, and ranged his music from subtle whines to shattering screeches; the bass guitarist held together the songs with his skilled percussive beat variations.

Rumpole commented on the absence of a drummer. “Surely, there is a drummer”, I offered, only the band was so tight that no insistent drumbeats could be heard. He looked and considered the stage. “You’re right”, he admitted, “there he is, at the right rear. It’s so neat when the instruments interweave so well that they seem to play with one voice!” We stood there, holding hands, eyes closed and feet shifting to the music.

A light rain started to spit, intermittent at first. We walked back to where Kay was holding down the fort. She was chatting up the seated neighbours. By the time the Sonny Rhodes set ended, darkness had fallen.  The techies broke down the instruments and started setting up for the Powder Blues Band. Rumpole’s band-mate came up to us in the dark. He wanted Rumpole to go down to side-stage to observe the workings of the sound system for the coming set; the band he and Rumpole belong to – Pyro Bob and the Maniacs – used the same company to operate their sound system for the recent Pyro Bash in July. The Powder Blues band needed a more complex sound system, so Rumpole eagerly went off to see what he could learn.

The rain was starting to fall faster.  Kay and I were huddled on our chairs, commiserating about the coolness of the night and debating how long we could last sitting in the rain before running for cover. The Powder Blues Band began its set.  I closed my eyes, felt the rain sprinkling my face and hands and listened to the wondrous interweaving of instrumental sounds. It occurred to me that these musicians had listened carefully to the big- band instrumentals of the 40s and 50s, because they married a big-band horn and saxophone sounds to the blues. As the rain continued, Kay and I bopped along, while seated. Soon, people seated near us began packing up and leaving. Rumpole emerged from the darkness and suggested we pack up the chairs and duck under cover nearby. We moved to a nearby building’s overhang and stood, listening.

The trees, planted around the perimiter of the big grassy square, were back-lit green silhouettes against a filmy pinkish grey night sky. The main stage glowed at the bottom of the field like a multi-coloured jewel. The gentle rain kept falling and the ambient temperature dropped.

Kay was moving around to keep warm.  Rumpole showed no signs of wanting to leave.  My sweater was moist and cool against my arms and I was becoming fidgety and cold. I suggested to Kay and we return home to the house for a good cup of tea. “You gals go ahead!” agreed Rumpole, “but I am staying to the end”.

Kay and I returned to the house. By the time we arrived here the rain was falling down in earnest.  We wondered how long the concert would continue in the increasing downpour. We sipped our Rooibos in contented silence.  Soon, Rumpole arrived home, wet, but very energized. He sipped some orange juice while he told us that the organizers shut down the show because the amps were not under cover, and could be shorted out by the rain. “They just pulled the plug” he said, ” and the audience scrambled to leave.”

We sat companionably in the warm kitchen discussing how much we each had enjoyed this concert.

Ki kopog…(who is knocking)?

April 18, 2007

We are busying ourselves to not think about the possibility of bombing tonight.  By lamplight shining on to her hands, Mother is seated in the green velvet armchair knitting the back of a sweater for Father.  Her lips move, in silence, to keep count of her row; her practiced fingers dance as the yarn passes on to the needles.  Father hunches near the turntable, an open score spread out on his lap, and follows along Saint-Saens’ “Rondo capriccioso” with one finger moving along on the sheet while the other waves to keep to the tempo. This is his favourite violin piece, one which he has been working hard to master. He knows his record well, the melody – whenever he returns the needle to a part with which he has difficulty in playing, he has an uncanny ability to put the needle back near the correct spot on the record. Ildiko is engaged in taking out duplicates from her stamp collection’s album pages; she has plans to trade stamps with Karolyka the next day. I have spread out my treasured paper napkin collection on the dining-room table so I can order them in some sort of arrangement that might make sense when comparing them.  This is problematic for me. Do the napkins become ranked by colour, complexity of surface patterns or by the nature of the edges, whether simple or fanciful in design?

The music weaves around us all as we are engrossed in our private passions. No air raid sirens disturb our concentration, and yet, we expect them to sound at any time this night. Time passes.  We are not going to bed early this evening. Our routines have been thoroughly disrupted by recent events, though there are efforts to retain some semblance of normalcy,  to maintain calm.

Suddenly, frantic knocking, rapping and banging sounds impinge on our consciousness.  Distracted, we glance at each other with quizzical expressions. It is late in the evening and no visitors are expected.  Who could this be, why is our quiet disrupted tonight?

Father rises to his feet as Mother, suddenly fearful, jumps up and starts to run into the hallway. We hear her question, “Who is it?” and muffled tones of a man’s excited voice. She walks back into the front room and beckons to Father to come. “It is someone for you, Bela.” He leaves the record playing and walks out to the front door.  Ildiko and I trail after Mother to see who has arrived so unexpectedly.

We watch as Father shepherds an older grey-haired man in drab brown work-clothes and a very young man, dirty and disheveled into his surgery. The young man is limping and seems very pale.  Father calls Mother to also come inside the surgery.  The door closes on them, leaving Ildiko and me in the hallway. We wait, but while doing so we have our ears pressed up against the door to better hear the conversation we have been shut out from.  Fragments of the exchange filter through, enough so we learn that the young man was shot in the buttocks while engaged in a raid on the local AVO who had been armed and hiding out in the station on Stalin Utca, toward the edge of town.

Mother comes out of the surgery and shoos us into the living room while explaining that Father has to perform some surgery on the young man and once repaired, the young man would stay the night in the maid’s room off the kitchen. She bustles off to prepare the bed. I get this sinking feeling in my stomach, knowing full well that she will find the mattress and blankets missing. Ildiko is completely in the dark about this!  The mattress and blankets are in the basement where I had dragged them earlier in the day.

Mother returns in what seems like no time at all. She beards us with the question “What happened to the mattress and bedding in the room?”  I have no choice but offer an explanation as to why these missing items were essential to be moved to the basement, particularly on this day. “Come with me! You have to help bring them back upstairs” she ordered.

Mother marches me to the elevator. On the way down to the basement she says nothing to me, won’t look at me.  (I sense a scene brewing!) Once there, she flicks the light on and scans the empty spaces. In the far corner lie the two mattresses, made up into tidy beds. The coils of sausage, round of cheese and loaves of bread are piled on the brick pallet nearby. The water jugs stand like obese sentinels, one near each “bed”. “Who arranged all this?” she quizzes. Blubbering, I manage to get out the whole story.  Mother shakes her head and smooths my hair with her hands.

“I don’t think there will be an air raid tonight” she says softly. “Come on, help me drag these to the lift. We’ll take them upstairs and you can help me make up the bed for the young man.”

“What about the rest of this stuff?” I ask.

“They can stay down here tonight.  Tomorrow I will deal with it all” Mother suggests.

A while later, after we replace the mattress in our maid’s room and make up the bed with sheets, Mother leads the young man in and bids him goodnight. She sends Ildiko and me to prepare for bed.

We wash up, change into pajamas, creep into our beds and wait for father and Mother to tuck us in and say good night.  Mother sits beside me and strokes my hair.  She looks quite pleased. Father kisses me and tells me I was a kind and thoughtful girl, and that my friends were good kids.  We had done the right thing, he says. 

“Don’t worry and sleep well” they say as they flick off the light.

From the dark on the other side of the room issue Ildiko’s questions – “What was all that about? What did you do that pleased Mother and Father for once?” 

Anitra’s Dance…

April 13, 2007

An early overcast morning, at the beginning of November 1956.  Father has gone again, Mother is clearing out breakfast dishes, Ildiko opens up the piano and begins to do scales. I take up “War and Peace” and continue reading, lying on my stomach on the divan.  Eva our maid arrives to make beds, dust and sweep.  Quiet, subdued, she moves around with girlish grace doing her chores.  The light in the room is under-watery, low, peaceful.

Mother comes into the room and announces that Tibi is in the hall asking for me.  She spies the book I am reading, snatches it up, looks at the title. “You are too young to understand this book!” she announces, as she goes to replace it in the bookshelf.  “Go, play with Tibi!”

Tibi and I lie about the steps in the stairwell, exchanging news we have sussed out despite our parents best efforts to keep us in the dark about what is really going on.  That very morning, he had overheard his Father mention to his Mother that our town was most likely going to be bombed the coming evening. We decided to call out Marta and Karolyka to confer with us about what we could do ourselves about this. The four of us met in the main lobby to draw up our plans. We agreed that Ildiko should be kept out of our doings as she was known to rat us out whenever she thought we were doing something the adults would not approve. Marta  and Karolyka were delegated to scrounge up food from their family larders, water in empty wine jugs and sneak these into the basement. Tibi and I were to raid the maids’ rooms off our kitchens and remove matresses and blankets down to the basement via the elevator.  We dispersed to get on with our appointed tasks.

I ran back into our apartment.  Mother was in the kitchen preparing food. I needed to get her out of there. So I sat in the waiting room and deliberated at length as to how I was going to distract her. Through the doorway into the front room filtered the strains of piano music. Ildiko had warmed up and had moved on to playing “Anitra’s Dance”, and it seemed to be rough going for her – she got stuck at the same place over and over again, struggled with the fingering of melody. Aha!

The solution presented itself, rather naturally.  Mother was quite anxious that Ildiko be very competent playing the piano, and could be easily convinced to stand over her making multiple corrections.  So, I casually strolled into the kitchen and mentioned to Mother that Ildiko was having considerable trouble with some passages and needed immediate help. She bustled off to do the piano practice monitoring, and thus left the coast clear for me to move the mattress and blankets from the maid’s room to the lift. I hauled my treasures down to the basement and dragged them into a far corner.

Soon, Tibi arrived with his load of bedding.  We set to making separate family spaces, and made up the “beds”. The elevator disgorged Marta.  She was wearing several necklaces of sausage and had a round of cheese under one arm and a bundle of bread cradled in the other. We found a pile of bricks and made a little pallet to put all the food on. Karolyka descended next and dragged several big jugs of water to the corner.  We were most satisfied with the results of our efforts and lounged about on the mattresses discussing what it might be like to be bombed the coming evening. We imagined our parents being pleasantly surprised that we had the forethought to provide some little comfort for us all while we found ourselves hiding out in the basement. Tibi thought it might be a bit scary to be down there in pitch black, so suggested we go back and steal some candles from our pantries. Karolyka said he would be the music director and distract us all during the long night hours by organizing us kids as an entertainment troupe. We argued about what kinds of songs we could perform, and I  put forward that I knew some disgusting variations on folk-songs which might provide some humour and distraction.  So we practised these in the half-dark basement.

Soon, it was time to go to our apartments and have an afternoon snack, so we dispersed. I let myself quietly into our hallway, hoping to get by Mother without being noticed.  She heard me anyway, came out of the kitchen and scolded me for having misrepresented Ildiko’s difficulties with her practice.  She ordered me to go inside the front room and sit quietly listening to Ildiko practice.

Chastened, but privately pleased with myself, I climbed up on the divan and quietly sat.  Ildiko played “Anitra’s Dance” over and over again.  The sprightly tempo echoed my feelings of pleasure and excitement with having had a part of making a little haven of safety for my family and those of my friends.