Scraping a badly painted deck so it can be repainted
Preparing to cry at my son's high school graduation
Inspired by Cait Flanders.
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Scraping a badly painted deck so it can be repainted
Preparing to cry at my son's high school graduation
Inspired by Cait Flanders.
I just completed 16 performances as Mrs. Lovett in Sweeney Todd, The Demon Barber Of Fleet Street, with The Contemporary Theater Company in Wakefield, RI. Every role's a learning experience, but Mrs. Lovett was an education. Some lessons I'll share with my students, but I know some lessons were just for me.Read More
Conducting Conversations has been a beloved radio show for years. Host Mike Maino has talked to Broadway stars, genius conductors, world-class instrumentalists and . . . me. I'm the first voice teacher to be on Conducting Conversations! The program airs on WCRI 95.9 FM in the Rhode Island area on Sunday, October 12 from 7 to 8pm. It's available on podcast afterwards at www.classical959.com.
Mike was a genial, generous host. I brought a mixed bag of music to share and he enjoyed the variety -- he asked if he could keep the CD I burned for the show, so he could listen to all the tracks again! I started with my own performance from last April, to prove my bona fides. We talked about how I accidentally discovered that I was a coloratura, and then we played some Beverly Sills and Natalie Dessay, who are far more bona fide than I.
When Mike and I talked about teaching voice lessons to children, I presented two contrasting versions of O Mio Babbino Caro, one by Maria Callas and one by Jackie Evancho. Many of my younger students imitate Jackie, who is imitating Charlotte Church, who was imitating Kiri Te Kanawa. No one imitates Callas. (Is such a thing possible?)
Mike and I talked about opera stars singing pop, and pop style in opera. As a voice teacher, I have to help singers figure out what is appropriate and healthy for them vocally and stylistically, and what's better left unsung. I brought two examples for fun: Placido Domingo singing the Beatles and "Catch Our Act At The Met," a great show tune by Comden and Green. Note that Comden and Green do not actually try to sing opera, and that's why the song works. I almost brought Freddie Mercury and Montserrat Caballe . . .oh well, next time!
Thanks Mike, for a great hour of conversation and shop talk! I love helping singers find their real voices. Singers can stretch themselves to stylistic limits and imitate other singers as they try to find their own sound, but every singer sounds wonderful when they are true to themselves.
(Sign up for all my emails, over there on the right hand side of this blog. Want a voice lesson? Click on the "Book Now" button at the top of the blog and choose a time!)
I'm feeling the need to stretch myself, musically. Rapping is out, so I'm learning how to play the organ. I already play and can credibly "fake" my way through a service, but I want to be better than that. I'm serving as an itinerant sub in a few churches and want to serve more, so I've decided it's time to make organ study a priority. Five months in, I guess this is one of my resolutions for the year!
This is my first textbook: Flor Peeters' Little Organ Book. In addition to being a great resource, it contained a wonderful surprise. For years I heard a certain Bach piece played by different organists. I would hear it and think, "That sounds like something I could actually play." But I was never able to locate the sheet music. I finally found it in Flor Peeters -- the final piece in the book! Makes sense.
If you want to donate a minute of your life you can never get back, here is me stumbling through part of that Bach prelude at the back of the Peeters book, for the very fourth time. I was wearing my seldom-used dance shoes (leather soles are better for pedals than rubber soles) but I know I'm going to need actual organ shoes to improve my pedal technique. I'm attracted to the silver ones but worry that silver might be a little too Diane Bish.
I wanted to start organ study with a mountaintop experience, so I had my very first organ lesson - ever -- with George Kent, the living legend who happens to be the organist at Christ Church in Westerly. He escorted me up to the choir loft and gave me a tour of the church's legendary C.B. Fisk organ, completed in 1965. I didn't get a picture in the loft because I wasn't there as a tourist and a selfie might have broken the spell. In the easy way that masters impart knowledge, Mr. Kent explained the stops and their functions ("This is the sasparilla stop . . .just kidding, it's sesquialtera. . "), and gave me permission to find it all a little overwhelming ("Even Biggsy had trouble pronouncing gemshorn correctly!"). The lesson confirmed that in a few small ways, I know more than I think I do. The rest is learnable.
My dad played organ in church at age 11, and he played organ in bars only a couple of years after that (ah, the '50s). I'm clinging to the hope that in my DNA, I'm more prone to be a good organist than a lousy one. I've got many organist friends in low (and high) places, and with their willingness to talk shop and my willingness to beg for help, I'm bound to improve.
Playing beautiful organ music on a grand instrument is worth any mortification. Will I mess up the postlude? Not just possibly; I will mess up the postlude! What's exciting to think about how I mess up the prelude -- in the pedals, in the stops, or in the manuals? Probably all three! I can't wait!
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I can't (won't) do anything particularly taxing on a performance day. No major chores or work unless it's unavoidable. I take it very easy. I hum some scales in the shower and glance at my music. Then, after dropping off my son at his own high school musical performance (I already saw it), I return home to get "Diva Ready." At 1pm, I eat some leftover steak and vegetables from last night's meal, prepared by The Best Photographer In the World. Beverly Sills always ate a steak, salad, and baked potato before her performances, so from age 16 that's what I've done, too. This balance of protein and carbs works for me. What's great is that under this system I can justify a burger and fries . . and oh, I have.
Time to work on the hair. My hair naturally falls forward onto my face and creates a shadow, so I have to counter it when I perform, or no one would be able to see my face. For performances, my mom would always pull back the hair from the sides of my head. She'd push the crown forward into a little pouf and leave the back long, and then pin it all into place. Sometimes, Mom poufed me so much I looked like the Fourth Beloved Wife of a polygamous Mormon. Now I know what to do. After I tease some height to the crown, I add a couple of bobby pins to hold it in place. Did you know that the wavy edge of the bobby pin is the part that's supposed to go closer to your head, and the straight part is supposed to face out? How did I miss this important life lesson? A couple of shiny clips complete the look, and I spray it into submission.
The earrings are a lovely Christmas gift from my mother-in-law, who knew I was always searching for shiny, lightweight "performance" earrings. I also have a pair beautiful Austrian crystal drops that my mom used to wear. I wore them for my headshots and they go with everything. Now I can alternate! I can only wear nickel-free earrings. When I don't, my ears suffer immediately and people give me horrified looks ("Albert! Does that singer know her ears are bright red and bleeding?").
Cosmetics. Every time I get ready for a performance, I kick myself for not getting someone to teach me how to put on stage makeup. I have never really learned; maybe that should go on my New Year's Resolutions for 2015. I use Cerave moisturizer and Pore Perfect face primer (my skin "eats" makeup, but primer makes me break out so I only put in on for a few hours). I follow that with under eye concealer and foundation, and high-definition blush (with a little darker blush underneath for some contour). I just bought a bunch of elf brand products and I really like them. They are lightweight and so cheap I can try out different colors, and give the rejects to my daughter for her play-makeup box. I use a Revlon eye shadow compact with some matte and slightly sparkly colors. I line my eyes with liquid black pencil that came in my monthly BirchBox, and add waterproof mascara, then I curl my lashes and add some more mascara. I brush powder over my nose. I line my lips with red pencil and fill in with whatever I have lying around. I have yet to find the perfect lipstick shade. It's always too pink or red, but for performance that's exactly what I want -- classic and obvious.
Time to get out of my sweats and into the dress. I tried on most of my black dresses (I own six. Yes, six) earlier in the week to see what would work, and I also checked a few stores to see if there were any last-minute finds. I rejected the funereal wrap dress with white piping at the sleeve and waist, and the slinky one with spaghetti straps. I said no to the beautiful Ann Taylor with beaded bodice and handkerchief hem because it was meant to be worn without a shrug or jacket, and I knew I'd be covering my shoulders. Why on Earth does this deserve such scrutiny? Because I am singing chamber music with an ensemble at 4pm in a church, on a Sunday during Lent. The dress can't be floor length because the other musicians won't be in formal wear. It can't be sleeveless or strapless because everyone else will be in 3/4 or long sleeves, and I prefer to cover my shoulders when I sing in a church. But I do want to look a little snazzy, since I don't have a shiny flute or burnished wood violin in front of me. I have three dressy shrugs/bolero jackets, one which I just got yesterday at a consignment shop. It was size large, but shrugs and bolero jackets for formal wear are hard to find (especially on sale) so I snapped it up. Will it work? Only if I hold it together like this:
It's too big; I'll deal with it later. And so I settle on a new combination: A basic black jersey dress (bought last year at Savers in Warwick for $9.99) with a shirred waist, paired with short sleeved black lace bolero with silver sequins scattered all over the front. I've had the bolero for years (it was from some teen store!) but I have never had luck pairing it with a dress until now. It will sparkle in the lights without blinding anyone. The dress is exactly knee length, perfect for an afternoon event. Now, for shoes. I have two pairs of black satin pumps, one slightly higher than the other, which leads to this little dance:
After donning my black earlier in the week, I realized I looked like Death In A Dress so I started applying some self-tanner to my legs and arms, and now I have a nice bit of color. I decided my teeth looked too tan, so I chomped down on some whitening strips as well. I polished my toes earlier in the week. I am a terrible, lazy nail polisher. I lay it on thick, and then let the friction of my shoes rub off the excess over a few days. Since I'm not wearing nylons, I apply a little shimmer lotion to my legs.
One more detail: I don my silver "star" bracelet from Sister Renee. She was the principal at my first ever teaching job at St. Michael School in Annandale VA. She always reminded me that God gives us a variety of gifts and talents; she called me her "star" and gave me the bracelet, and I found that very sweet. So I usually wear it when I perform. And, it goes with everything.
Does this seem like a lot of effort? Well, I put a lot of effort into my singing, so why not make the frame as good as the painting? I rehearse different ways of singing phrases and make sure my score is marked. I try out new ornamentations until I find the ones that work for me and for the song. I listen to my rehearsal recordings and make improvements. I read up on the history of my composers and my repertoire. I write in the translations. Being prepared makes me a more confident performer. So when it comes to getting "Diva Ready" I pay attention to the details, because it's not just about the music, it's about delivering a confident performance. Music hath charms, yes, but seeing is believing.
I appreciate beautifully groomed singers who wear outfits that complement the performance space. I am frustrated by singers who -- no matter how wonderful the voice -- come to the stage with messy hair and distracting clothing that doesn't respect the location or the music. Show me a singer who ignores the visuals and I'll show you Ray Charles. For the rest of us, there's really no excuse.
It's now 2:35 pm and it's time to head to the church. I have already packed my digital recorder with power cord plus three extension cords and duct tape, headphones so I can hear the sound quality before I press "record" at 3:59pm, a fruit and nut bar for quick energy, an empty water bottle to fill at the church, a makeup bag, my music in a black folder, translations of the music to announce to the audience in my best Meryl Streep impression, Static Guard spray in case the skirt begins to cling, and a pair of flat shoes to wear before and after the concert. I also pack a magazine in case I need to clear my brain for a few minutes, but I know I'm not likely to read it. I'm running the music in my head all the time. Just before departing, I open my music and sing through it one time, just to make sure it's all "there." It is. This diva is ready.
I loved that piano. I even held slumber parties under it (I can't believe my mom allowed it!). Our dog Honey came into our lives about a year after the piano. Honey decided that the piano underside was a great place to pee when he was desperate . . even when he wasn't so desperate. We did a lot of carpet cleaning. My piano-based slumber parties ended.
We were one of those families who had music nights. My dad would play from his fake books and would lead sing-alongs for the family, and also at every single party. We had a collection of at least ten hymnals from different churches where my dad used to play, and we'd sing out of those, too. I would play my assigned pieces from my teacher Mrs. Norris, and I would figure out how to play popular hits like "Summer Nights" by ear. My sister and I would dance and spin around the living room while my dad played something that sounded Spanish. The galley kitchen was right next to the living room so when I made mistakes while practicing piano, my mom would yell, "I think that's wrong!" Our house was an open style, and the piano could be heard throughout the house. I learned "Fur Elise" without ever reading the music, just listening to my sister practice it over and over again.
I always knew the piano would come to live with me, I just didn't know when or how. A few years ago my parents moved from their big house to a smaller one. I was ready to take the piano then, but somehow they made room. Last month my parents found a great, light-filled condominium that's perfect for my mom and her accessibility needs. But this time they knew the piano wasn't going to fit.
I did some google searching and asked friends for piano moving recommendations. I got two quotes and went with A-1 Piano Movers from Dayton, OH. Steve Hicks was kind and courteous. I happened to be at my parents' the day they came to pick up the piano. My dad played a few notes of "Dream," by the Everly Brothers, and then he closed the keyboard cover.
Yes, it is weird to see such a big hulking piece of wood and metal resting on its side. And yes, my heart rate did speed up as I imagined all the terrible things that could happen. None of which happened in the previous 36 years, mind you, and didn't happen now, either. The movers were in and out in less than 30 minutes, loading my childhood onto a truck.
It would take ten days for the piano to arrive in Rhode Island. I busied myself with a mad search for a piano dolly. I had read plenty of sensational blog posts about the danger of moving a piano more than a few inches on its own casters -- cracked legs, heavy thuds to the floor, thousands of dollars in repairs. I decided I was willing to pay for the safety and flexibility of moving the piano several feet to make room for a Christmas tree, some recital performers, or some really fun summer party sock hoppers. Maybe even some giggling little girls dancing to Spanish melodies.
And now I've done the homework, so you don't have to.
1. A grand piano transporter works just like a hydraulic tire jack. It costs thousands of dollars, but you can use it all by yourself. It's really only good for professional movers and rich universities. And where do you store it when your piano is not moving? Under the piano? Eeew. Ugly.
2. A spider dolly is basically a rolling trivet that holds the legs in place. Most colleges, music schools, churches and universities use these. They cost about $700. Once the dolly is installed, one person can move the piano with a little muscle. One person can also accidentally shove the piano off the side of a stage if they aren't careful. Drawback: A spider dolly can raise the piano a few inches off the floor, making it uncomfortable to play. And it's ugly.
3. Piano leg dollies look like little roller skates for your piano, available for round and square leg shapes. The cost is about $200 or less, and you can get them for far less than that on eBay. Piano leg dollies are more aesthetically pleasing than spider dollies, but they still look a little weird. I got an up-close-and-personal look at a set in the choir room of Calvary Church in Stonington CT (because aesthetics) and thought they were passable, at least, and probably my best of limited options. I was ready to order, but then I discovered that all brands were too big for my piano's legs. The dollies are all three inches wide on each side and my piano legs are two inches wide per side. An online piano tech suggested that I could add shims to the dollies to make them sturdier, but the whole purpose of getting dollies was to make the setup look more aesthetically pleasing, not less. Also, you have to remove your piano's nice brass casters to put on the roller skates. I thought it was going to work, but ultimately I dismissed this option.
3. Finally, I found the solution: Shop-To-Showroom Dollies! They're double the cost of the roller skates, but I think they will work. You slip them under your piano's existing casters, move your instrument, and then slip them off again. Less like roller skates, more like house slippers. And you can hide them in a closet when they're not in use! I talked to a different tech and he said, yes, he sells them to obsessives just like me and they work fine. After I found this solution, I realized I didn't have to have dollies immediately ready for my piano movers to install, so I opted not to buy anything at the moment. When I'm ready to move the piano a little, I'll probably order a set of these. You can rent them from me if you need to, just pay me in Merlot.
The piano arrived on a sunny Friday afternoon. Again, my heart skipped a few beats as I watched Steve and Sean reattach the legs and carefully turn the piano on those slender legs. Steve looked at the piano and at the space where it was going. "What a great place for this piano!" he said. Steve and I had exchanged several emails about my dolly-caster obsession but once he saw our house, he understood. "And you have a Baldwin Howard, made by Kawai," he said. "It's kind of like a Honda," I explained to my husband. "More like an Acura," Steve corrected. "Great instrument in a great space." They shuffled the piano along some moving blankets until it was centered on my rug. I watched Steve shift the piano a few inches here and there, just lifting a leg off the floor. He said that was all right to do, occasionally. I did reuse my parents' plastic casters to keep the brass wheels from denting the rug.
My own children circled this weird new house fixture that I had been talking about for years, and then they did exactly what I had dreamed they would do.
Then, I did exactly what I had dreamed I would do. I played some Everly Brothers.
Goals for 2013 What I resolved, and how I did:
I want to learn how to prepare a few more healthy foods. I didn't learn how to make the Thai rolls, but I did make a lot of smoothies. That counts, right? I learned the hard way that kale doesn't blend so well in my blender. Bleech.
It's time to say goodbye to brown clothing -- forever. Khaki, you're next. I ditched all the brown, AND the khaki pants! I could never find anything to wear with them! Gray and black are my neutrals. What's more, I've said goodbye to about half of my closet. I just kept giving away stuff that didn't make me feel good, didn't fit well, or didn't fit my life anymore. It felt wonderful. I'm no minimalist, but I am really tired of managing crap I don't care about. Really tired. Let it bless someone else's home and life.
I love teaching, and I love breaks from teaching just as much. Keep doing this. I did this! I welcomed many new students into my studio, and I also started using Genbook to schedule lessons, which allowed me to schedule downtime, too. Genbook rocks!
Pray more and more and more . . . because prayer works. Yes. Yes it does. Prayer saved my brother in law's life in November. While my mother deals with the effects of Multiple System Atrophy, prayer keeps me from despair and overwhelming anxiety. Prayer is the most powerful way I can express gratitude and thankfulness. I pray in the shower, when I'm driving, when I'm running, and yes at church. Pray to whomever or whatever you want. Just pray.
Run a half marathon. Run a 10K. Run a 5K. Run. Or just tone up. Or just look like I've lost 10 pounds. My emergency trips to Ohio this fall did result in a 7-pound loss, so I ate 7 pounds of Christmas cookies to compensate. I ran a 5K on New Year's Day in Phoenix, and I ran a 5 mile race in Narragansett in October, but didn't run anywhere else. I promised my husband I would run a half marathon with him in 2014 so I'm beginning to train again. Happily, my 13 minute miles are quickly decreasing to 11 minute miles. How on earth did this happen? I blame the extra conditioning I have been doing with Fitness Blender and the LoloFit 7-minute HIIT Workout app.
Restrict Facebook and other cyber time wasters. The best thing I did: I removed the Facebook and Twitter apps from my phone. It is very hard to care about tweets when you can't see them on your phone. Glorious.
Say a long goodbye to my 20 year old cat Rebel, and have him make a peaceful trip over the Rainbow Bridge. After the big blizzard last winter, we both got terrible colds. I got better, but Rebel got worse. On Friday, Feb. 22 at 2pm we took him to the vet and said goodbye.
Five hours later I was onstage singing a recital. I had water, cough drops, and tissues on the piano, not sure what was going to come out of me besides music. When I walked in, I asked the (dear) organist Joey if he knew a certain piece. He did, and so I ended my Valentine's Day themed recital with "For I Will Consider My Cat," a love song by Benjamin Britten that was perfect for him and for us.
I'm writing a short children's musical about Saint Francis. I wrote it, I directed it, and it was performed in May. My son stepped in to play Francis, only two weeks after playing Oliver in his high school musical. You can perform Francis Makes A Scene at your church if you like! I dedicated it to Rebel the Cat.
I also wrote a third edition of "Quonnie The Musical," and created a website for the show, and the theater camp that preceded it. It was our biggest cast, and our best show yet!
Paint some landscapes. I aspire to be Winston Churchill. Paint some walls, too. And the garage doors. I painted nothing, not even my wagon.
Travel more. Last year I enjoyed short trips to New Orleans and Montreal. This year: Colorado? Key West? Graceland? India? Nah. I made a lot of trips to Ohio to be with my family. Each trip was worth it.
Figure out that contact lens prescription once and for all, and write it down so I can find the right contact for the right eye. I think I keep mixing them up. Fail.
Plant a smaller vegetable garden, to make room for more flowers and trees. This happened and it made me happy. Eden can only handle so much garden! We demolished most of the vegetable garden and decided to support local farmers' markets instead. I planted more bushes and trees this year; it will be fun to watch them grow. And I think we're getting asparagus this year!
Continue to celebrate the end of orthodontia payments, car payments, and house payments (ALMOST!). My Michigan house finally sold at the end of January 2013, almost three years after it hit the market. On the night of the closing, we went to eat at a restaurant I had been saving for just this celebration. The restaurant turned out to not be worth the wait gastronomically, but emotionally it was the feast I had been waiting for.
Be at peace. That's my resolution for 2014, and my wish for all 8 of you who read this blog. Well, that and . . .
Dear Pete, You started coughing in mid-November. You were hospitalized with pneumonia on a Sunday, and we all figured you would get out after a few days of antibiotics. Five days later, my sister Liana (aka your wife of 11 years) texted me: "Google ARDS. Then pray hard." I Googled ARDS, prayed hard, and was on a plane to Columbus a few hours later.
On the day you marked your first week in the hospital, we celebrated Liana's birthday. We had you on speakerphone so you could participate from your ICU bed. We got her a cake and a few little things. As she blew out her candles, we knew what she was wishing for.
Your wife grinds her teeth at 5am. I know this because I moved into your house and slept next to her for twelve nights. A few times I could barely hear her breathing, so I reached out to make sure she was there. Sometimes she wasn't; she would arise in the middle of the night and go to the ICU to sit with you. She didn't want you to be alone.
Your boys were very worried about you and did some acting out. The boys pummeled each other and made huge messes all over the house. Psycho Sally the dog ripped apart a lot of stuffed animals. Then again, that might not be a stress reaction, that might just be boys being boys and dogs being dogs. There was not much we could do except try to exhaust them all. Each day I would grip Trevor's hand and Sally's leash, and run as fast as possible across the green in front of your house. It seemed stupid until it actually started to work. It seemed really stupid when Sally broke free and took off for the neighbors' backyard at top speed. I don't know what spirit animal Sally is . . . Evel Knievel?
The house was struggling too. The dryer only worked for ten minutes at a time before stopping, rendering the clothes inside smelly and damp. No one had time to call the repairman. The kitchen sink was backing up. The tub where the boys took their baths drained at a glacial pace. The coat hooks were falling out of the walls. Sally was crazy from being cooped up in a cage but no one had time to walk her. The turtle tank was bright green with algae . . . then again, when we could see him, Frisky seemed fine with it.
You grew steadily worse. You needed more oxygen. Your organs were stressed. Each morning the overnight ICU nurse would call with an update, rousing Liana out of her too-short slumber. Liana would hear the report and reply, "Oh, okay," hang up the phone, and go back to bed to fortify herself for another overnight. I paced the house and looked for something, anything to clean or organize, to keep from being terrified. We were expecting eighteen relatives for Thanksgiving. They were coming to be with my mom, who is battling a rare neurological disease. They offered to stay home, but we needed and wanted them more than ever. I decided we would tackle a bunch of home improvement projects, to make it easier on you when you came home. If you came home.
The day before Thanksgiving, my husband was sitting in the tub fixing the drain. My mother was sitting in her wheelchair folding your clean laundry. I was hanging up clothes in your closet. My father returned from visiting you and Liana in the hospital. "There's not much else they can do," he said with tears in his eyes and pain in his voice. The pneumonia was gone but they didn't know why your lungs were still filling with fluid. No diagnosis, no treatments. "Pete will be on a ventilator soon." I couldn't leave the bedroom until my eyes were dry.
Liana came home from the hospital at 4am on Thanksgiving morning. We talked, then she took a sleeping pill and we went back to bed. You called two hours later, your voice soft but clear through the hiss of the oxygen mask. It was time for the ventilator. I awakened the boys, threw them in the car for the short ride to the grandparents', then drove your groggy wife to the hospital to see you before the procedure. You looked thin, tired and resigned. I took this photo because I didn't know what else to do.
Not being an ER nurse like your wife, I only knew one other person who was placed on a ventilator, and she only lived a short while afterwards. I said the same thing my father had said to you -- that I'd take care of your family too, if necessary. I've never had to say that before. And then I asked you for your email password, because your modem had broken too and I had gotten you a new one, and there would be no way to install it without your password. You gave me an incredulous look and told me the password.
I walked Liana to the waiting room. We stared at the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade on TV, with our arms around each other, while they were working on you. We came back in an hour later. Your body was controlled by machines. I held your hand and prayed the Rosary.
Liana began to shout at you through your deep sedation. "Pete! Don't fight the vent! Breathe with the vent." To my astonishment, your eyes flew open. You began to try to shape words around the tube in your mouth, but we couldn't understand. You frantically pointed to your chest. "Heart?" We played a surreal game of charades, trying to figure out what you were trying to communicate. "Heat? Hot? Hurt?" You gestured again and we got you a pen and paper. "I LOVE YOU," you wrote to Liana. Then you wrote, "THIS SUCKS . . . SCRAMBLED EGGS (that's what you wanted to eat) . . NOT SO BAD . . ." and finally, "ANXIETY." Liana had the nurse give you more sedative, and then you were out. You missed the Green Bay Packers game but we made sure everyone knew you were a fan.
We drove home in early afternoon to find the whole family busy, working on projects around the house. My mom was delighted to have all her family around, and we managed to have a warm family holiday. We laughed and even talked about something other than hospitals.
Liana went to bed and I stayed wired and awake, wondering when the phone would ring. It didn't. Day passed into evening and we slowly realized that the situation was very serious, but . .stable. We played our traditional family card game, called Pit. Each of us traced our handprints for Harry's "Family Holiday Traditions" banner project, which was due the following Monday. We wanted him to get an A plus. We wondered how we would trace your hand.
When the furnace died at 8pm that night, Liana and I just shook our heads and piled on a couple of blankets. One crisis per day.
The next morning, I called the furnace repair company. I called every half hour until someone showed up at 10:30. After an initial visit and a second visit to estimate, we discovered it was going to be a very expensive job, and unlikely to be fixed that day. I talked to the estimator as she stood next to the dead furnace. I told her the truth. Then she looked at me and said, "I'm not leaving this basement until your repairman is here." And she stayed and starting dialing like mad. I heard her say, "I need someone at this house NOW. The homeowner is coming home from the hospital tonight and he needs heat." When she got off the cell phone I said, "You know, he is not coming home tonight, he's far too sick. I don't know if he is ever coming home." She said, "I understand, but I have to say it that way to get the repairman to come today." The repairman was there in an hour, and we had heat an hour after that.
You had a lung biopsy on Friday. The surgeon said he didn't know if he would be able to find the cause of fluid in your lungs. He was maddeningly clinical. "Sixty percent of the time we never find out," he said. I heard that, and started cleaning anything I could find. On Sunday morning at 1am, Liana texted that you looked "icky" and her nurse-sense was sending off warning alarms in her head. You turned waxen and unresponsive; you had been given too much sedation. Liana paged the intern, had it reversed, and you began to revive. If she hadn't been there . . . .
After that night, the reports from the hospital began to contain some hope. You needed less oxygen. You could breathe a little more on your own. You were flirting with your wife. The ventilator was buying you time to heal. Meanwhile, a friend of Liana's had read about you on Facebook (I finally decided that respecting your privacy was not as important as marshaling support. TMI be damned!!) and showed up on Saturday morning. She proceeded to clean and organize the house for the next fourteen hours. She made a chore chart, taught the boys to put away their laundry, and gave Sally some obedience training. She MacGyvered the dryer so it worked, and we demolished the large pile of laundry at last. We were nourished by homemade meals brought by your coworkers, and the boys even had a slumber party with Grandma and Grandpa.
At Mass for the first Sunday of Advent, Trevor sang at the top of his lungs. He didn't know the words to "O Come O Come Emmanuel" but he recognized the verse numbers, so he sang them instead. "Three FIVE, four TWO, Eeeemaaaaannneeelll. . .." Whenever the music stopped he would say loudly to the choir, "Good job!"
Incredibly, less than 24 hours later you were removed from the ventilator. A day after that you moved out of the ICU. The miracle we hoped and prayed for actually happened. We brought the boys to see you. When they walked into the room, your heart rate jumped and there was a lot of happy beeping from your monitors. Your sons forgot about you and checked out the monitors, and then they found the stash of chocolate . . .
After two weeks in Columbus, I returned to Rhode Island. You are getting better and better. I don't jump every time the phone rings, and I don't worry constantly about your wife and sons; they have lots of help and support for the weeks and months ahead. You'll be home in a few days to continue your recovery. You're drinking milkshakes and eating delicious food made by your coworkers. Liana brings her laptop to the hospital, and the two of you pay bills and balance the checkbook. You wondered about the large HVAC charge on your credit card that you didn't authorize. Just wait 'til you get home! You won't be able to find a thing! It will be a litany of, "Where are my socks?" (I mixed them up with Liana's.) "Who moved all the plates?" (Nanny Meg moved them closer to the dishwasher.) "What happened to that half-wall?" (It's now a full wall, finished by a group of beer-fueled cousins just prior to a big turkey dinner.) "What's the password for the modem?" (Same as before, bro.)
Is it just me, or does the year speed up suddenly in November? This is problematic, for there is so much I want to savor and remember. . . . 1. I'm looking forward to hearing phenomenal organist David Hill at Christ Church in Westerly on Sunday Nov. 10 at 4pm. It's a free concert and there is great food at the reception! The first organ concert I ever heard was while I was studying in Graz, Austria in 2005. Every Sunday night the local Dom hosted European and Russian performers, and I got hooked. Organ concerts are like no other kind of performance, allowing a very pure form of listening. You can't see what the organist is doing, so you can only marvel at the endlessly fascinating sounds that spill out of the pipes. It's the same instrument, but it's completely different as it's manipulated by different sets of hands and feet. If you haven't been to an organ concert yet, I suggest you enjoy a mountaintop experience with one of the very best artists, on a very fine instrument. See you on Sunday.
2. I just finished teaching a five-week voice class with singers from The Chorus of Westerly. We talked about breath support, bright and dark sounds, vowel shapes, and how to sing notes that are really far apart, all in preparation for our first concert of the season. That's Sunday, Nov. 17 at the George Kent Performance Hall. We're doing John Rutter's Mass Of The Children and Morton Lauridsen's Lux Aeterna. Both works are quite recent and the composers are still living (Lauridsen recently emailed our choir!), but the music is steeped in the traditions of chant and English melody. Best of all, it's intensely hopeful. If you mashed up the two works, you'd have one giant spiritual statement of great beauty, deep emotion, and really wide intervals. No disrespect, Eric Whitacre, but I prefer these guys. Here's the most famous section of the Lux Aeterna. We all have a lot going on in November, but to me that is even more reason to stop for an hour, and just bask in beauty. You need it. We all need it.
3. My family's Operation Christmas Child boxes are packed and ready to travel! Here's what I included in the boys' boxes (ages 10-14): A deflated soccer ball, ball pump, two pairs of socks, toothbrush, toothpaste, flashlight, batteries, notepad, "instant" Christmas tree, tape measure, Sour Patch candy, Pop Rocks candy, Mentos candy, Patriots water bottle, kazoo, yo-yo, kaleidoscope, deodorant, combs, mini-race car, and mini-Legos. This year I think I really "got" the right mix of stuff. It's not too late for you to visit the website and build a box online!
4. I visited my folks in Ohio. My mom has to do leg exercises each morning, so I joined her in support and solidarity. Bridget helped by adding some furry resistance. We laughed a lot.
5. The Best Photographer In The World just finished his second New York City Marathon. Let's forget that two years ago, covered in ice packs at mile 20 of his first New York Marathon, he declared I could divorce him and take all his money if he ever tried to run a marathon again. This was a much better experience for both of us! He wanted to have a really good run with no injury, and that's what he had. I intercepted him a few times and made sure he wasn't hurting, or in need of a snack. Each time I saw him he was happy and relieved that his knees were holding up. He lost all energy as soon as he crossed the finish line, and I steered him back to our hotel. He made very strange sounds in the shower, and then we celebrated his accomplishment with room service:
6. Actually, the best part of Marathon Weekend was meeting our lovely newborn niece . . . .
. . . . whose schedule would humble the most indefatigable runner . . .
7. Let alone her dear dad.
MERRY OCTOBER to you! 1. I've already assigned "Jingle Bells" to a piano student, I've heard the flute choir at Salve Regina University playing "Let It Snow," and I've started buying frosting and colored sugars for our Annual Cookie Bake-A-Thon With Caroling. (You're invited! It's an open house!) I buy every kind of color sugar and decor I can find, including food-safe pens and custom-color frosting. The Best Photographer In The World bakes a lot of cookies beforehand, but we keep rolling and cutting and baking while everyone arrives. We have a few savory snacks available, but the star of this show is sugar. Sugar, sugar, sugar. We sing carols around the piano (and sometimes venture out to serenade the neighbors -- does anyone still do that? I always loved that as a kid), and decorate like mad:
2. And then we send the kids home, fully aware they will not sleep or stop moving for the next four days. Shortly thereafter, I bemoan the fact that I was too busy playing Christmas carols and singing to eat more than 10 or 20 cookies.
3. Speaking of Christmas, I'll be singing the Christmas portion of Handel's Messiah at Calvary Church in Stonington CT, on Saturday December 21 at 7pm. It's their annual sing-a-long event and I'm so thrilled to be a part of it again. I love those solos and those choruses! I have no idea what I am going to wear.
4. Messiah Part The First is a great time for soprano soloists to catch up on their correspondence, as we don't start singing until about 40 minutes in. But, since we are usually seated facing the audience in a really nice dress (which I have yet to buy), we just sit there and smile, and hum along on the choruses to stay warmed up. We sit through choruses and solos, we sit through an instrumental section, then we finally get up and rock the house with a recitative and the coloratura-riffic "Rejoice Greatly O Daughter Of Zion." Then we get our legato on with soprano/mezzo duet "He Shall Feed His Flock/Come Unto Him," and then we sit some more until the "Hallelujah Chorus." I'm thinking Handel either really loved or really hated the very first Messiah soprano soloist.
5. I have two or three favorite Messiah moments. I love hearing the tenor sing the very beginning of "Comfort Ye, My People." For me, Advent begins when I hear that aria. I love hearing a fantastic mezzo wind up the end of "O Thou That Tellest Good Tidings To Zion" and then feel the place shake as a huge chorus of singers bursts out the melody, as if they just can't wait to join in any longer.
6. And I love standing up at the very end of the "Glory To God" chorus, slowly moving to whatever place I will be singing "Rejoice Greatly." I've only been sitting down for about 45 seconds, having just finished my recitatives, and my adrenaline is flowing because I have some coloratura work to do and it's going to be fun. The trumpets fade out and the violins get smaller and softer as the chorus ends, finally concluding on a sweet little dominant-tonic cadence. I time my movements so my folder opens with the music ready, right at the moment they play that final chord, and I smile broadly at my conductor and at the audience. One year I sent out a Christmas card that showed a cartoon of an angel looking down over sleeping Bethlehem, with a trumpet near his lips, talking to his angel buddy. The inside of the card had only two words, "Watch this!" That's the excitement I feel when I am about to sing "Rejoice Greatly."
7. The other reason October always feels like Christmas? October is the month for Operation Christmas Child. You don't do this? You should do this! You do this? Good for you! Get a box from a local participating church, or visit the website, or just grab an empty shoebox. Designate an age and gender, and fill the box with small toys, hard candy, personal toiletries, even flashlights and batteries. (Here is a good list.) I buy lots of small, lightweight items at the dollar store and Target and save them all year, just for these boxes. (And yes, for a split second I do think, “Is it crazy that I’m sending something plastic made in China, shipped to the US, over to Africa or to Central America?” And then I think, “Eden, this kid may have lost everything while fleeing some war or famine, and a small toy and a washcloth from a total stranger may be all the gift he gets this year. So stop worrying, and be generous.” Then I get out of my head and shop.)
My friend Sue, who volunteers every year to help pack and ship the boxes that stream in from around the country, said there is a special need for boxes for 10-14 year old boys. They get forgotten because there are so many neat things for younger kids and for girls. So, I’m going to make two boxes for tween boys this year, PLUS two boxes for girls my daughter’s age. For the boys, Sue recommended personal care items, small toys, and deflated soccer balls plus a small pump. My kids help choose the items and pack the boxes. I'd like to say that this experience always leads to Thoughtful And Motivating Epiphanies About Expressing Gratitude For Our First World Lives . . . but no. Not yet, anyway.
Fill your boxes and return them around Halloween or early November to your local church or charity, along with a small donation to cover shipping. The boxes are sent to a processing facility in North Carolina, and then they travel to the corners of the world. You can include a photo and address if you hope for a reply, but you don’t have to. I send a note without a return address, and just add prayers for health and happiness.
Comfort ye my people . . . feed His flock . . . rejoice greatly . . . . watch this! XO Eden
(thanks, CONVERSiON DIARY, for the link-up. . if it actually happened? . . . )
NB: I can't always add up "7 Quick Takes" and I can't always blog on a Friday, but here is my first attempt at Jennifer Fulwiler-style mini-posting. EC 1. I am trying to figure out why “Not A Day Goes By,” from Stephen Sondheim’s Merrily We Roll Along, is printed in the key of F in my music theater anthology, but always sung in lower keys in actual performance (at least on YouTube). Here is Her Curliness Bernadette Peters doing it in D major. [video width="480" height="360" mp4="http://www.edencasteel.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/Not-A-Day-Goes-By-by-Bernadette-Peters.mp4"][/video]
And here it is in the printed key, F major, which makes it sound . . .different: [video width="640" height="360" mp4="http://www.edencasteel.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/Not-A-Day-Goes-By-from-Merrily-We-Roll-Along.mp4"][/video]These kinds of mismatches happen all the time in the printing/performing world but this one is a headscratcher. I have consulted my colleagues at SomaticVoiceWork and they are also a little puzzled. One suggested that the song was switched at some point from a male to female character, and that would explain it.
2. I like it when women keep their fertility plans private. “2014 is the year of the baby,” announced Chelsea Clinton. Wow, I hope her ovaries wrote that down. It’s good to (quietly) prepare for pregnancy with vitamins and leafy greens, but what if the stick doesn’t turn blue when she has decided she wants it to? Conception is not an item on a to-do list, it’s the Major Life Event (and a blessing from God). I am happy when I hear someone is “hoping” for a baby, which is usually more accurate, anyway.
3. I’m reading David McCullough’s biography of President Truman, all 992 pages, and I am up to his second term in the Senate. I didn’t realize he was such a late bloomer -- he married Bess when they were both 35! He was just too poor to marry her sooner, and she waited for him.
4. My little girl loves to plan parties -- from decorations to food to activities. Her 9th birthday is in November, and one option is hosting a slumber party. Do you remember slumber parties? I remember many of them as slumber-optional and lots of fun. Both of my kids have not attended or hosted them, it’s just worked out that way with their friends. What do I need to do to prepare myself?
5. There is a lot of wonderful music in little Westerly RI these days! Salt Marsh Opera just performed Donizetti's Don Pasquale. It was a sweet, funny production with excellent performances all around.The surtitles failed in the middle of Act 3, just before the beautiful love duet, but in a way, it was such a treat -- we knew they were singing about love, and nothing else mattered. Go see it at The Kate if you can.
6. I'm really looking forward to seeing the awesome Kevin Short perform this Friday! Usually I only see him from my perch on the Chorus of Westerly risers (and that view ain't bad either, sister). This will be such a treat. And Chanticleer arrives later this month, too!
7. Yesterday, I played a funeral for a nice lady named Helen, married 52 years, who prayed the Rosary daily. The music was the usual mix [shoulder shrug]: Ave Maria, On Eagle’s Wings, One Bread One Body, How Great Thou Art, Amazing Grace. Helen, I’m honored that I got to play for your funeral, but I’m ecstatic that I didn’t mess up the pedals on your hymns and songs, and I fired all of the stops in the correct order (okay, they were presets, but that's a big leap for me!). I'm playing my first Catholic wedding next weekend, and playing your funeral helped boost my confidence. Your Communion hymn sounded soft and melodious, and your concluding hymn sounded triumphant. Helen, I hope I helped play you to Heaven.
When I lived in Michigan, I had an informal agreement with the organist at my parish, regarding music for our own funerals: One of us would make sure that the other got really good music. We worried that our relatives, prostrate with grief, might program some lousy music. We even made a little list for each other. We did a lot of funerals together, and sometimes we would whisper, "I want THAT hymn!" or, more often, "Please make sure that song is BANNED at my funeral, ok?" On Eagles' Wings did not make the cut. And now I have stated it here on my blog, too. Take note, family! I love the Faure Pie Jesu for funerals. It's short and beautiful. But, I think for my own funeral I would rather not have a soprano soloist. I'd like to be the Star Female one last time. So . . how about The Call, by Ralph Vaughan Williams? I love choral music, too. . . the In Paradisum from the Faure or Durufle Requiem would be lovely, but I'm practical. I know there won't be a lot of time to rehearse anything. Do the chant version of the In Paradisum and I'll be happily on my way. Do Be Not Afraid and I'll haunt you. I'm tickled at the thought of having a New Orleans Second Line, but that's hard to come by up here!
The last time I sang the Pie Jesu for a funeral, it was for a baby girl who died in her mother's womb a couple of days before she was supposed to be delivered. I had just formed a small children's choir at my parish, which included some of the girl's older siblings. The parents asked if the children would sing, and they sang God Who Touchest Earth With Beauty. It was heartbreaking, and yet also hopeful. I could feel the sadness in my own voice as I sang, but I held it together. At the request of the parents we also sang Ye Watchers And Ye Holy Ones, a great hymn looking forward to happiness with the Communion of Saints.
My dad played the organ at both of his parents' funerals, and he accompanied me as I sang Albert Hay Malotte's The Lord's Prayer. I know it brought him comfort to be able to play. He also delivered the eulogies. My mother sang at her own mother's funeral. I don't think I will be able to do anything but hold my sister's hand at that time, but we'll see. When your heart is broken, sometimes music is the only way you can bear it. If I have to sing, I'll sing.
This week my True Love and I attended a funeral at the same parish where we were married. It was a service of thanksgiving for the life of Laurie, a woman I had never met. The church was packed. The choir sang Herbert Howells' Pray For the Peace Of Jerusalem. At Communion the choir sang several short motets, including one of my favorites by Theodore DuBois, Adoramus Te Christe. (It's on my list. It's quick to learn, too.) We used to sing it at the Altar of Repose on Holy Thursday.
The final hymn was For All The Saints, and we sang all eight verses. I noticed that as I sang each verse, my voice was stronger and stronger, and I was happy to help sing this beloved woman to Heaven. The organist played a dazzling fanfare, and we began the final verse. The choir soared past all of us, with the descant reaching higher and higher. The music in the hymnal got blurry as tears came to my eyes, and I choked up so much I could no longer sing, just listen and be thankful.
The entire congregation stood as the grieving mother and children processed to the back of the church with the casket, while the organist played a triumphant postlude. A few people left the pews, but most just stood and watched. The choir was invited to recess but they remained standing in the loft, motionless. The organist kept his eyes on the music and completed the postlude, and everyone remained standing, weeping silently for the gift of the beautiful woman and the gift of the beautiful music.
Laurie was the organist's daughter. He played her to Heaven.
Laura Kent Hynes 1962-2012