Saturday, December 27, 2014

Music and Fear October 4, 1997

    Before I'm through, this essay will have been about many things. After all, the author is an old man, has studied much and thought even more, and already written a great deal, not a little of which is either music or about music, in the form of fiction. But in order to begin well, it seems necessary for me to say that at first and for some pages to come, this essay is about music and fear, and especially about the fear of not being musical. Anyone who has ever conquered a fear, or had it conquered for them - is ever after anxious to help anyone he finds with the same fear. Fear is the opposite to hope, as St. Augustine taught long ago, and while fear can be useful - I am writing this essay this late and rainy afternoon in early October, partly in fear of being not only bored but wasting inspiration if I don't get going - hope is what we really want to acquire, and what we so delight to share, unless we are arrogant or perverse.
    Once upon at time, I was very much afraid of not being very musical, even though I sang anything at the drop of several species of invisible batons and I was quite convinced that the study of music was neither possible for me - even though I had a gift for mathematics - nor interesting, even though I generally loved the sound of musical instruments. The once-upon-a-time fear was actually much upon-a-time being with me throughout my elementary and high school years, and not being sent away until I went to university. And this fear was sent away rather quickly. My hope is that wherever this essay falls into receptive hands, it will have the same effect. When I enrolled at the University of British Columbia in September 1953 I was, instrumentally speaking a complete duffer. By February or so, this personal conviction had been swept away. I was hardly ready for Carnegie Hall, but I was no longer convinced I was unteachable.
    I do not mean that I enrolled in a music course , UBC had the tiniest of music departments then and for some time and I was, anyway, on fire with the knowledge by then some eighteen months old - that I was a writer, a novelist. With this vocation in mind I was utterly involved with the campus newspaper, the thrice-weekly published Ubyssey, learning to hunt and peck my little assignments on ancient typewriters and discovering that finding the most efficient words to write in the most insignificant story for a real live audience was much more interesting than working on a paragraph or essay for a single teacher. The Ubyssey published three thousand copies per edition, and for years - because I was born for the long labours of making fiction out of the doctrine of Catholic mysticism, the students of UBC were the largest regular audience I was to know. I was delighted with my campus situation and thus it made life even fuller, by the time I had settled into my classes I began to work on my first attempt at a novel. That too was all consuming and the last thing I would have expected was to be curious about developing musical skills as well. But then, in the course of following my literary inspirations, both with the Ubyssey and the novel, I ran into a profound inability to ignore instrumental music.
    In the early days, I kept no writer's diary so I may not list the order of events in precisely the order of their occurrences. But the effect was precise enough and that is what really matters, and I will try to get the order as good as I can.
    I'm pretty sure that the party at the Kerrisdale Lawn Bowling Club was the first link in the silver chain of discovery. I'm going to dwell on it at some length because it illustrates some of the enemies of our development of our abilities. Never before that night had I had scruples about going to a party held by friends or associates and off hand neither can I remember having them again, but that night they landed hard and heavy in the hour before it was time to leave, and I think it was for the sole purpose of keeping me away from what was to be a profound musical experience. I lay down after supper - I was living with my family not in residence - before the long bus trip to Kerrisdale and immediately became filled with nagging spirits trying to tell me I should spend Friday evening at home with my text books. These petty Nazguls must have lingered for half-an-hour before I finally shook them off and headed for the bus. Well, buses. It took thrice of them to get me where I was going, as did my daily travels to and from the university for my first two years before I was able to buy a car. Once I was up and moving the enemy vanished as if it had never come, but I probably pondered the event. After all, Friday night is everybody's holiday, and I in particular had gone out on Friday night ever since grade eight, when I had joined a scout troup.
    At first, the lawn bowling club gathering was low key, affable and chatty, no doubt with some anxieties for it to go well because it was the first party of the year and was not in the more comforting warmth of someone's home. Most Publication Board parties that I remember were in private homes, some of them quite impressive. As souls trickled in we sat around chatting, and the older lad that I had decided to cultivate as a friend offered me a beer, which I happily accepted. I suspect it was my first bottle of commercial beer, as up to then I had drunk only my father's home brew, and that -except for one occasion - sparingly. Neither the other lad nor I had brought girl friends, and of course one of the utterly marvellous features of the North Brock basement crowd was that unless you happened to be seriously in love there was no need to bring a girl. There were already lots of them on the publication staffs - The Ubyssey, the Totem (Annual) and the Raven, the literary magazine. They were good looking and lively as any group of girls I'd known and of course, rather well read, although at this point I knew none of the girls very well and the freshman's distant worship were of young ladies in other settings.
    I had been accepted professionally, with my stories getting printed and my editor-in-chief - Allan Fotheringham - soon to appoint me to a small but educating responsibility, that of Canadian University Press editor, and now I was testing the choices of friendship. Writers can be a prickly lot in general and in principal, and my simultaneous membership in the Canadian Officer's Training Corps at UBC was a contradiction to the common ethos of my fellow scribblers.
    But the beer was friendly, and the older lad and I were getting along well. We were in fact to become fast friends over the next years and he finally gave me the banjo I used for some time, in part as the result of what happened next. This was the arrival of some young men who had some association with the Pub Board and were also musicians. I think there were three of them including a string bass player, but what affected me the most were the pianist and the trumpeter. They were an intense and fiery combination and seemed capable - to my none too experienced ear - of improvising on any tune they agreed on.
    The next provocative encounter with a live player came at the next Ubyssey party. He was a guitarist, with an electric guitar, not a staff member but brought by someone who was. Again I was quite overwhelmed, especially as I was sitting in a chair right in front of him.
    It was probably between these parties that I started the novel - The Yacht Novel - as I was to call it for the decades it took to assume its final text - and at some point not too far along in the plot I not only invented a character who played the guitar but I found myself somewhat lamenting the fact that this character's creator did not share this skill.
    In the Christmas season I had two more contacts with live music that I found left me feeling regret that I did not know how to play an instrument. Both instances were in the United Church settings and had to do with people my own age who could play the piano to accompany hymns, one of them being a rousing version of "Good King Wenceslas." That was by a girl, before Christmas, the second performance came after Christmas, at the Older Boy's Parliament conference at UBC, and featured therefore, a young male artist. If I'd had suspicions that making music was somehow unmasculine, these were now all swept away.
    It was early into the second semester that I received my final inspiration, - in this series - and this time a challenge that was not out of the reach of my immediate possibilities.
To be continued.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Good bye to our dear Ranger

On August 26, 2014, the Kootenay Ranger left his beloved mountain valley and entered eternity, leaving us to mourn and celebrate his wonderful life and the incredible range of his writing career. We will endeavour to continue posting his blog Contemplatives with a view to also establishing a print on demand version and e-book. This will be a long project as there are eight books in all and a sequel too.
 Good bye to such a dear friend and mentor and thank you to all the people that read this blog.
The Ranger left behind many different essays and poems that were never published and I intend to slowly add them to this blog. MT

Thursday, May 15, 2014

More Like Three Months in Beijing

    No, there is certainly no way an exhausted health caregiver extraordinaire named Marianne Tremblay is being summoned to provide information to the health care industry that it already knows is there. That would be like an elementary school teacher doing his pupils' homework for them. I do need to say that my rowing programme is is yet to fall in place, partially because of the chemical drugs that were still in my body as a result of the treatment, and otherwise my exercise schedule has been much more challenging than I first believed it would be. Diet has also been a huge problem. The chemical drugs were as much a mask as a solution, if not more so.
    Nonetheless, for weeks now the herbal medicines have been doing their work. As from the beginning, I enertain the household first thing in the morning with lining up two little piles of finely ground bayberry bark on a teaspoon, in order to in-hale them, like cocaine, through a very short straw. Once in my nasal membranes they cause an awful bout of sneezing and snotting the mucus up out of my lungs. I love being able to participate in the process. Awfully good for morale. Shawn has a trick for washing out the oversized handkerchiefs.
    Then breakfast, which for weeks has been a full cup of porridge, half bran, half five other grains or so. One of the greatest tastes I know. And quite a few weeks the only one I was interested in. Milk usually warmed, and a bowl of fruit.
     Getting the chemical drugs out of my system it seemed to me took a starvation diet, so for some weeks there was no normal appetite. This situation is improving, along with hints of more appetite and capacity for exercise. I sure need it. My upper arms are mere sticks, and yesterday morning my wife sent on a walking tour of the yard by informing me that my butt muscles had disappeared!

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Three Weeks in Beijing

    No, I did not actually go there. Of course not. In the computer age, and living where I do, I think of travelling as a complete waste of time unless it is absolutely necessary, and it was not at all necessary for me because what I needed from the unique genius of Beijing I already had in Nelson, albeit somewhat shape-shifted because the Oriental half of my medical treatment was primarily Ayurvedic, with a little Chinese phys ed thrown in.
    You see, I had a heart attack, or if there is a subtle difference, congestive heart failure, something I had actually never really heard of. As I said to our GP, except for literature on fitness, I've never been fond of medical studies. I thought what I had, after a profoundly unusual  and painful physical attack two years ago, was something called bronchiolitis, inflammatiion of the bronchial tubes, a situation that invites water into the bronchial tubes, thus interfering quite substantially with one's oxygen supply. I lost about a third of my habitual efficiency for striding up and down the hills of Nelson. I did not learn this from my doctor, I learned it from the Net, and it seemed to answer my questions even unto its return the next year and again the next. I never even thought of going to my doctor, because as  mystic in the seventh and final mansion I assumed that the extreme pain of the two full days' exercise was simply part and parcel of my spiritual life. The 48 hours of agony had immediately followed a lengthy discussion with a young Jehovah's Witness person, dealing with that religion's teaching that the Cross was simply a single stake, and lacking the cross-piece.
    Also, I was aware of the stigmata that was given to Francis of Assisi and Padre Pio, from whose order, the Capuchins, comes our present bishop, John Corriveau, once a year at least, a most welcome guest at our dinner table. When I first read Jorgensen's Life of the medieval saint, in the 58-59 winter of my conversion, I totally believed not only in Francis' affliction. but also that there was no problem at all with getting the same thing myself. It was not that I could think of myself as that holy - far from it - but I had only weeks before been given the spiritual experience of being drawn into the spiritual womb of the Blessed Virgin. I prayed mightily that God would leave my hands alone, as I was a guitarist and folk singer and could not see how the stigmata could in any way improve my musicianship. To this day, bless Him, God has listened to my prayers. In fact I am at the moment designing the opening segments for fretted instruments on Microstation Minstrels, simply because I had such a triumphant first lesson ever on the five-string banjo with my grandson Nathan when he was here with his parents last weekend, come down from the Cariboo to see how I was doing. I don't think we're going to see any blood.
    It turned out that my oldest and her husband and son were and essential part of what we can now call the Beijing Experience.
    About a month ago Marianne had made up her housekeeper's mind that it was high time that the eastern wall of this very study, covered by a very loaded bookshelf, should get the hell out in order to make room for the Concept 2 rowing machine. When she heard that Mon and Matt and Nathan's young adult muscles were showing up the weekend after I got out of KLH, she decided to take the bull by the horns, or the rower by its fly wheel, and have the Concept 2 moved to the study, a much warmer and convenient place than the attic. 'Twas done between breakfast and lunch on the Saturday morning. A ton of books went to the attic, and the rower came into its own. It was on the following Monday morning, after reading from Drs. Michael Murray and Julian Whitaker, that I - and the Holy Spirit - took myself off the prescription drugs.
    I do not exagerate the importance of the rower.  I had a problem with sporadic irregular  heart beat until Thursday night or so. A little scary admittedly, but the rower has definitely been part of the solution. I possibly put on more Henleys than I needed to (a Henley is the rower's equivalent of 2 kilometres, or 105 calories), pushing for four or five Henleys a day,  or rather a night, as that is when most of them are done, but the evenings with the radical heartbeat are gone. I am now a nice, steady, 80 at rest, which means I can keep up a modest 100+ on the machine. I row in 15 calorie reps, taking lots of time to read in between segments.
     And as the first Chi Gong exercise Marianne showed me as soon as I got home from KLH was basically Looking Back at the Moon, from The Eight Brocades, which is fundamentally a massage for the heart, I was able to realize that rowing is also an excellent, natural, massage for the heart, just like bending foward from the waist while sitting and reading the Summa or MT's spanking new Douai-Rheims Latin/English Bible.
    How do we know about that hospital in Beijing, where they have the western medicine side-by-side with the Traditional Chinese? Because it so happens that the aunt of The Economist's Beijing correspondent is a business woman in Nelson and mother of a former girlfriend of another grandson. Ted's wife own's the hospital combo.
    As I said, living here, I don't need to travel.
    I'll deal with MT's wonderful herbal medicine and diet solutions in Part Two.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Music Instruction Bulletin

    I desperately need to inform those good souls who read both the Ranger and Mr. Cameron's Conservatory that there have been some radical changes made to chapter seven of MCC. The old version has been much chopped at the end. Much too much information for starters, and worse, the real simplicity now available in the rewrite was much obscured. Part of this complication and confusion is due to my too great a reliance on triads as a discipline in themselves in one piano hand, as I had not yet applied number theory to converting the triad into a pair of intervals, one for each hand, and certainly had not yet realized in myself that sort of study in all its applications, thus enabling me to become didactic with the most basic basics.
    Sorry for the inconvenience.

Sunday, January 5, 2014