Saturday, May 3, 2008

Of roots and surprises

    Let me say right off that for the moment at least I cannot think of any reason for complaint, either against the government of the province of BC or that of the city of Nelson, on the subject of support for arts and culture in general. Even if we are only talking about my wife's domain of the past 25 years, the museum, archives, and art gallery, plus her long worn other hat, the arts council, we are talking bucks into the millions. And I would be guilty before Ottawa if I did not include the feds as well.
    With my own personal projects however, even if it seemed to me that they were all directed eventually to the common good, I have always drawn a blank. Thus, when I began this run for the roses nine days ago, I was simply too battle wise to assume that either Victoria or the Queen City of the Kootenays, as it likes to call itself, would be happy to hear from me yet again, so I also wrote to an out- of- province jurisdiction. And for the first time in a long time it was not the Vatican. For some while I've had to assume that the only community I could expect practical results from was Rome, and even these were less than ideal. You should have been around about three months ago when my senior agent was blowing off steam about the Vatican propensity for publishing less than perfect stuff when all along it had had the genuine literary descendent of John of the Cross right under its nose.
    It's probably just as well you weren't in the room. Jill, mother of the great Caitlin, has a temper like mine. I know. I ran into it one day when I happened upon her talking discipline to one of her kids. There are five of them, the oldest a weekend rugby player, and another a daughter, a voice student of mine who once shut down a very big room singing Gershwin's "Summertime" a capella.
    I encountered it another time as well, when I once too often brought up the subject of approaching Microsoft over the software possibilities in the music scheme. In the natural order, I thought I had good reasons. Jill, after all, is related to someone very high in the that organization. But there was just something about that route she didn't like, so we didn't go that way.
    And all the time I don't think she had any idea of the channel that would eventually open up. After all, who in this day and age would think that a provincial government would decide that maybe music should be a compulsory subject, not just some frill that comes or goes?
    Then, some months ago, both houses caught the tail end of a news clip saying that Ontario was looking at such a change. Everybody's noses went up like an infield fly, including later, my oldest grandson's. He is now making CD's, singing, playing guitar with different bands, touring the country. And, at his age, busy being cool, but he grew up knowing authority, and I could see that the idea of a music teacher having as much clout as the other guys appealed to him, too, some day down the road.   So I brooded over possibilities, I kept researching, and when I could no longer stand the idea of my more and more exciting discoveries being kept away from children, I fired up the Dell. To our own mayor, to the premier of BC, to the premier of Ontario. It was the furthest leader who answered first, yesterday. Dalton McGuinty has invited me to start talking with Kathleen Wynne, his minister of education. I began immediately.
    He could, of course, be just trying to be polite. BC, and especially the south-east corner, are well known for oddballs and pseudo visionaries - at least in the minds of certain authorities and media outlets - and if you really go looking through the records you'll find out that for eleven years, back in the crucial days of Nelson's unfolding as an arts centre, I supported my numerous brood on the dole.   Under one Welfare director, the reasons were understood. He and I had done kid care work together over the phone, without even meeting. Then came new Pharoahs, and the rules changed.
    But I have always been an incurable optimist, who takes people at their word until they do something that robs them of that credit in my esteem, so I'm assuming that Ontario is at least willing to be serious until a fatal flaw shows itself, and that we're in business. I even took out my new Gibson Hummingbird last night for the sake of tidying up some loose numbers, and I don't mean tunes. It's a Sheryl Crow signature, built in Bozeman, Montana, the same state in which my great grandparents were married in 1889. (Great Falls had been a city but a year, and my great grandfather had just come out from a farm in Ontario, at Nanticoke,originally homesteaded around 1795 by a couple from Erie, Pennsylvania.)You should hear that baby sing, even if it's only doing my version of a scale. No, no. I didn't buy the Hummingbird on welfare. It was my late parents' estate that has given all that research a front end.
    There's a kind of justice in this opening to the East. I first learned to sing in Vancouver as a little fellow. "Jesus loves me; You are my sunshine; Santa Claus is coming to town." I also remember finally getting the lips and the tongue just right for whistling, going up the lane east of Lincoln Street to see my friend David. But in Nova Scotia in grade three, in the school in Eastern Passage, the director of the upcoming musical rejected my attempt at an audition for a singing part.
    This was hardly traumatic, and 15 months in Nova Scotia were a substantial part of my very good war, but I was left puzzled over this incident.
Enter Ontario. Cherry Valley, June of 44. My Dad is now a lieutenant and a gunnery instructor at the anti-aircraft range at Point Petre. Mom and I have a nice little house in town and I'm set up for a Tom Sawyer summer if ever there was one.
    Around about August, the nice elderly lady across the street, noticing that on Sunday mornings Mom and I do not head out for the church down the road, even though I was a regular playmate with the minister's boy - he had a thousand toy cars and trucks on a nice square of dirt outside the back door- asks my Mom if she can take me to church. My Mom's name was Evelyn, and she says yes.
So off we go, and I suppose because it's summer, there is no Sunday school. I'm therefore on tap for the whole adult service, in a very full church. And they started to sing, all adult stuff of course, all those grand old hymns that built Upper Canada. My proxy grandmother hands me a hymn book and I join in.
    Wow. Take that, Nova Scotia. I'm not just chirping, I'm in full roar, surrounded by grown ups and holding my own. Nobody was more surprised than myself. And no doubt my mother, who was a most attentive Mom in every sphere except church, was relieved to hear about my triumph when I got home. Probably the Eastern Passage thing had disturbed her much more than it had me, for she was a singer herself, occasionally in public, a sensitive soul who knew all about the negative effects of bad beginnings.
    There was more in Ontario, too, as the months went by. But that is for later. What is for now is the sense of fitness in reconnecting with that part of my life, thanks to the current Premier's
swift reply.
    Which reminds me that Nelson's first mayor, John Houston, came from Ontario.
    And so did Nelson's first bishop. Martin Johnson was rector of Saint Michael's Cathedral, Toronto, before Rome carved the diocese of Nelson out of the Archdiocese of Vancouver, in 1936.
    One wonders what he thinks of all this. I'm sure he has a very good view.

No comments: