Monday, June 16, 2008

Best Laid Plans

It was all so calm, and apparently certain, half-way through Sunday morning Mass. After our post-church stroll along the lake shore, to enjoy the frolicking dogs and hopefully catch sight of the pair of turtles that show up every year at high water, I would come home, ascend to the study, and tap out the twentieth post, about how in a farm house near Point Petre, my father's ack ack gun site on Lake Ontario, I was mightily affected by hearing a piano played live. I have mentioned the effect of the guitar piece on the radio, back in Falkland two years previous.
To get this second experience right, I for some reason had to think a lot about the art of painting, because the effect of the music was very much wrapped up in at the same time being profoundly aware of colour and light. This was the factor emphasized and clarified at mass, to the point that I had to wonder if I one day might try to paint a picture of the event.
My mother had taken me with her while she visited with a new acquaintance. I was eating something while the grown ups talked adult stuff and someone came into the room - or perhaps a next room - and started to play. From where I sat I could see the lake, brilliantly blue in the morning sun, and I was also aware of the whiteness of the interior walls of the room where we sat. Marian hues, of course, heraldic as all get out, although of course I then knew nothing about heraldic colours, and no one had ever let me near an image of the Virgin Mary.
The music was played well enough and I was very conscious of the texture of the chords, but, again, had no idea of the method of putting so much pleasant sounding art together. It was not painful this time; I simply assumed that I had no ability in such matters.
As I said, all this was very clear in my head by yesterday morning, if only because I'd had a satisfying few hours at the spruce stump on Saturday. I'd bought a reciprocating saw, with longer blades as well as the standard short issue, and this and the sledge and wedges had made comfortable progress, all under a clear sky, on our very green street with its view of the lower town and the arm of the lake. With the big spruce gone, taking its water-sucking habits with it, the west side of the privet hedge is already making a valiant comeback, and this too is lovely to look upon.
I always feel good when I have the grace to stop and study the immense variety of greens this earth can boast. In our first year of marriage, when Shawn was teaching on the North Coast, I happened to remark to an aspiring young painter, returning home on one of the coastal ships from his year at teachers' college at UBC, that I missed the richer palette of the lower mainland foliage, and found the northern lack of reds and yellows a little grim. He exploded, quite bitterly, actually, for he had grown up in the latitude of green predominance, and learned to make a good canvas out of it.
I was on the ship, by the way, because of my first visit to Nelson, a quick foray into Notre Dame to see if I could get a job teaching English. Luckily, I was turned down and spent the next four years at the elementary level, where I even learned about varieties of green in the process of making myself capable of teaching art. Thank you Gerald Vann, also a member of the Order of Preachers. His "The Water and the Fire" made me feel sinful about not upgrading my art education skills, for the children's sake.
You'd think all this would be head of steam enough, right? That's a real image, by the way, as the BC 150 celebration steam train was just about to pull out of the old CPR grounds as we crossed the tracks and headed for the lake shore.
Well, it wasn't. I climbed the stairs, fired up the blog, and went creatively numb. Not a hint of Wordsworth, even though I had seen one of the turtles, my first sighting of the season, as he warmed himself on the sun drenched bank above the flood pool.
So, a snooze to catch up on the night owl's research schedule, lunch on the porch above that million dollar view of the arm, a perusal of a newly acquired biography of Leo XIII, and then scratching the skull of inspiration for the next step, in lieu of a post, which turned out to be an email to Yamaha, which in the clumsiness of my personal computer skills I assumed was a note to Toronto.
But oh no. Not Canada, our home and native land did it go to, but to good old Blighty. And by this morning I had received a most interesting answer, containing some remarkable questions. I was much encouraged and replied immediately, and then subsequently realized that the last time I sang in public other than in church was in Nelson courthouse, at the celebrations marking our city's first century, when I was asked to lead "God Save the Queen".
And now I'm on my way, hopefully, to utterly torpedoing Miss Glover of Norwich. You know, movable doh?
Nor is the continental method going to fare any better. I recently had the opportunity to talk with a young violinist educated in Quebec. He was taught the solfa names for the staff lines and, again, was initially puzzled by my stressing the numbers, but then became interested as I talked about my success with my students. With piano, with guitar, with the octave mandolin, bass, and cello.
Now, those well up the instructional food chain, from what I have been told in a few private conversations, might insist that there is already an employment of the numbers, that in some harmony classes for example, students are even encouraged to sing them. I can only say, too little, too late. Way too late. In fact, one of the reasons this blog began to fly was because I was thinking out loud about trying with a three-year old at the piano a repeat of the great success I'd had with a granddaughter of five. The agent at hand marched me to this computer and the rest, as they say, is history. And so is my spruce stump, almost, so we need to ponder its symbolism. The tree was planted around 1970 I think, five years before we moved in. It stood on the west side of the front lawn, with a companion that occupied a spot on the east, just below the living room window. Once the eastern tree grew tall enough to threaten the view, I chopped it down. But the western tree carried on, its life suffering only a minor setback for a lot of years in our first winter when, in the attempt to ski down the yard, I had to manage the two foot drop of a break in the slope, then instantly nip to the right of the little spruce. But I missed the nip and slammed the toe of my left ski into the trunk. Ouch. A sore ankle for a couple of weeks and a setback in the tree's growth cycle for a couple of years.
But it finally grew huge, got topped for a Christmas tree, and then came last autumn's decision to have it brought down entirely. It had not only utterly robbed the old view to the west, but I had realized that it was also not much use as a shade tree, because in its geographical relation to the house, it provided shade only just before evening, by which time the sun had done all its overheating damage to the upper floor and the attic. The skill of the two lads who did the job was happily admired by three small grandchildren who happened to be visiting at the time. They sat in lawn chairs at the top of the side yard, much entertained by the sound of the power saw and the thumps on the ground of succeeding falling rounds, while their father captured the drama on his digital camera.
As I had started this post before I headed out to the stump, I pondered, while I worked, Miss Glover and the French. Like the tree, neither one of them are as useful for keeping the student's brain cool as the numbers are.
In the autumn of 75, I was playing and singing Matthew Cuthbert in the NDU production of "Anne of Green Gables", running into difficulties with the technique for one of the songs. A reviewer nailed me for it, too. This was the beginning of the provocation toward stronger disciplines than those I had assumed would do for folk singing. But in the nice weather, I would
sit on the top of the front steps, admiring the view and reading, in those weeks, Wheeler-Bennett's biography of George VI, pondering writing a play about the king, Allenbrooke, and Winston Churchill. This I did not do, but I enjoyed thinking about England, almost as much as I do at this moment.
At the stump, just before lunch, I managed to chop out one of the big roots. It was shorter, and easier, than I had expected.

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