One Chord of Joy

Moments of music bring comfort and joy…

Great choral music contains chords I could live on for years. The buildup to them is always great, too, and you can’t really appreciate how wonderful the chords are when they burst forth without hearing what comes before.

I’ve had the opportunity to sing some new music this year, I am so grateful these modern, living composers are writing music with chords to live on – sounds that can cause a broken heart to soar.

(Heads-up: some of these YouTube videos may contain ads, sorry – there doesn’t seem to be any way for me to block them for you, so I wouldn’t click other than on the little “x” to close them, if I were you):

Here’s one the chorus that has graciously accepted me is doing – “A Christmas Blessing,” by Philip Stopford. The video has him conducting, in an Irish Cathedral with a much smaller choir, but you’ll still get it (the echoey-stone-pseudo-medieval church we usually perform in was unavailable, so we performed this time in a modern, brick church building that looked more like a 1970’s school or county office building – very exposed sound, not echoey – but we pulled it off).

Anyway, the big moment comes at about 1:25-1:26 on the word “joy;” there’s another at 2:00 on the word “always.” It is worth listening to the whole thing so you get the context and the run-ups to these moments. “Joy” and “Always” just open like a time-lapse film of a huge flower blooming. Yummy.

Here’s another one, by a composer I hadn’t heard of before, that will just sort of rip your heart out, if the Christmas story means anything to you. Even if doesn’t. It feels like comfort for those who feel broken, or out of place, lost or lonely – listen for “love” at about 1:40. Another good one at about 2:43 and the end is gorgeous, so I hope you listen to the whole thing – it has such a beautiful arc to it:

Another by Will Todd – the punch I get from this is on the word “all” at about 1:28:

Because I’m talking about moments in choral music that just slay me, blow me away, blast my heart open, here’s one from the Brahms Requiem, 6th movement, “Tod, wo ist dein Stachel? Hölle, wo ist dein Sieg?” which means, “Death, where is thy sting? Hell, (or grave) where is thy victory?” Von Karajan takes it much more slowly than I’ve ever heard before, but that gives you a chance to really hear the moment I’m talking about. I tried to excerpt it but it didn’t work, so the section I’m talking about starts at about 5:55 with text that means “death is swallowed up in victory” and the big moment actually comes on the word “wo” at about 7:00:

Again, it is worth listening to the whole thing.

At the time I learned this piece, when I was a college kid, it was the sheer beauty of the music that made me come undone, and I never forgot it.

Now, of course, this section holds special meaning for me. There is something so urgently hopeful about this – the music is so, almost vehement – you can feel Brahms desperately trying to convince himself of the text – trying to hang on to hope in the depth of the sorrow of death and loss that gave birth to the whole piece. Tears every time.

We have the second and final performance of our Christmas concert tonight, so I’m off for some more salt-water gargle and tea with honey, just so I can sing my part on “joy,” “always” and of course,

Love.

Sending love and hope that you find your way to joy that will be with you always,

I remain,

Your tea-swilling, salt-water gargling soprano,

Ridiculouswoman

The Three Years Tree

Rule of three tries…

Approach the task with good humor and humility. Presume things will go wrong. Resolve to be patient about it. Presume, but don’t believe, because you got this. Third time’s a charm, Right?

Third time without him, that is.

Set specific time to depart for the local big box hardware store where we always buy the tree. Wear Santa hats.

Strap tree to top of car, rather than stuffing it in the car to provide a year’s worth of needles to vacuum from various crevices for the year.

Get home without tree falling off top of car. Leave tree in cold garage for lunch break.

And now….

Tree stand.

Complimenting yourself for being clever enough to leave the stand on the work shelf in the garage since last year, rather than high and unreachable in the rafters where Mike used to put it, pick up stand.

Discover that unspecified rodent has purloined substantial amounts of insulation (must be from the bathroom in the breezeway that connects to the garage – the one that is now so cold) to construct cozy nest in the tree stand base. Eww.

Don gloves. Remove insulation. Wipe with disinfecting wipes.

Place protective plastic on floor in front of bay window (that Mike meticulously re-puttied when he was so sick, taking breaks to sit down, over three days), for inevitable spillage of water when attempting to nourish tree.

Attach base that looks oddly like a giant cervical cap (ewww) to fresh-cut base of trunk. Place in larger base, that has a foot pedal that is supposed to allow you to waggle the tree around until it is straight, upright and stable, and then lock it there.

Angelic daughter holds tree strait. Perfect! Lock.

Let go.

Tree immediately lists sideways.

Try again.

Tree lists again.

Remove tree with giant cervical cap from larger base.  Notice puddles, resulting from brilliant inspiration to put water in the stand before you put the tree in, on the plastic intended to protect wood floor, running inexorably toward said wood. Dash to kitchen for paper towels.

Angelic daughter decamps to watch TV when Mom’s swearin….erm, expressions of frustration, become a bit overwhelming.

Notice that in your efforts to place and lock tree, plastic has skidded on the floor, shifting tree way off center in front of bay window.

Sigh.

Try again.

Breathe. Employ observation, reason and calculation. Realize giant cervical cap thing needs to be snugger on trunk, and needs to sit lower in base.

Use garden loppers to remove low branches interfering with giant thorn-looking thingees that have to be screwed in tight to tree trunk.

Screw in giant thorn looking thingees.

Sit back in satisfaction. Nice and tight.

Time to try again.

Third time’s a charm, right?

Lift tree with giant cervical cap thing into larger base, and feel the satisfying click as it settles in to the correct spot. Feels stable. Step back to look.

Looks straight.

Praying (because God really cares about whether my Christmas tree is straight and stable, right?), shove foot pedal intended to allow waggling-around into lock position, and stomp down.

Holy crap. Maybe God does care that it is straight!

(No, dumbass, God cares that you get this done so you can calm down and stop swearin…expressing frustration, and move on to the decorating part which allows you to involve angelic daughter, retrieved from her retreat to the TV).

Praying more (hey, it worked), every-so-gently drag plastic back to center tree in front of window.

It worked again.

Lights!

Having been brilliant enough to buy two extra sets of lights last year, in anticipation of the future inevitable malfunction of lights that worked perfectly before, begin stringing lights – smugly, because you checked, to be sure the star that will go on the top gets the female end it needs to plug into.

Carefully distribute two strings of 300 lights in tiers around tree. Pick up third and final string.

Realize that final string will have a female end where it needs to plug into the wall.

Swea…Sigh. Breathe.

I put 600 lights on the tree, backwards. Used the female end that also has a male end at the top instead of the one with just the female end.

Unwrap lights. Rewrap lights. Decide 600 is enough. Last year’s tree, which had 900, was bigger.

Plug in.

Looks good!

Angelic daughter, creeping back in from TV room, proceeds with garlands and chains, and we (ok, I) only break four ornaments in the process of getting them out of their nests in the Christmas boxes and up on the tree.

After placing all her own handmade ornaments and garlands from school years, especially anything that has a picture of her on it, and the one with her Dad’s name on it, daughter decamps to take another break and watch more TV.

Which leaves me to hang the significant ornaments.

Listening to Vince Gill, “Breath of Heaven.” Hold me together.

The one with the little mouse at the front door, welcoming us to our new house nearly 20 years ago. House had LOTS of mice, we discovered.

Sniff.

The one of the little snowman with a shovel, that symbolized that year that Mike shoveled every two hours, seemingly for weeks on end. Big snow that year.

Tears.

I didn’t expect the one that really got me, though – a little bear dressed as Santa.

“Bear” was my pet name for Mike.

More tears.

“Can we have our quiet time now?

Breathe. Dry up.

Of course, sweetheart.

Regard the tree.

Oops, forgot the star.

Managing not to break anything (third time, anyway), clip top of tree with garden loppers. Pop star on top, held by treetop twig through the arms of the star.

Plug in.

Ta-da!

I really should have put that third string of lights on.  The lowest branches have none.

Abandon perfectionist tendencies.  Decide this is good enough.

Because, however imperfect, to me, there really isn’t anything as lovely, peaceful, and comforting as a Christmas tree.

Angelic daughter is tired. Sit with her upstairs until she falls deep asleep.  Return downstairs for more “tree regarding” time.

Play Christmas choral music, volume very low, by some Englishy choir, recorded in an echoey-Englishy-medeival stone cathedral.

Lo, how a rose ere blooming.

Smile.

Wishing you a beautiful tree, or Menorah, or whatever brings you peace and light this time of year, and hoping to get over this cough in time to sing Englishy carols in a big stone church, I remain,

Your tree-regarding, Santa-hat wearing, soon-to-be-cookie-baking,

Ridiculouswoman

Mrs. McWhiny’s Pity Parlor is Closing

Pity party is over – get your gratitude gear on.

So, about that last post. Aren’t we quite the little drama queen, with our little pity party?

Sorry about that.

I really was feeling that way and was writing from the heart, but I can feel my New England ancestresses (one of whom lived as a widowed schoolmarm for over 45 years) are pissed off at me from the next world. They want me to

So, OK, enough Mrs. McWhiny – it’s time to put the big girl pants back on (wait a sec, I am big girl, so I kind of wear them all the time, but whatever), pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and get your big ass into gratitude gear.

You’ve probably seen this one, but it bears repeating:

So, yes, my daughter and I (that’s the first thing I should be grateful for — I am not, in fact, alone – I live with an angel; a beautiful, resilient, patient, kind, caring, forgiving angel) have been through some big stuff, but:

  • we’re alive
  • today, we have a roof over our heads
  • today, we have food
  • today, the power works and the faucets produce clean water, hot when needed
  • I have a reliable car that will be paid off by next October
  • I have two brothers, one of whom lives close enough to come and help out
  • that closer brother weatherstripped doors today, so we’re less freezing in here
  • handy closer brother also tested the back-up sump pump he installed, and it works
  • this year’s mother-daughter Christmas downtown excursion is planned and booked
  • I lost a pound by not eating dinner last night – intermittent fasting works for me
  • I had an opportunity to do a small, unnoticed but kind thing today, and I did
  • I have gotten this far through the day without accidentally hurting myself

I am grateful for these things. I am grateful for the wise, kind WordPress friends who have shared their wisdom and kindness with me – you guys rock. I love your blogs. You know who you are (and anyone who reads this should too, because there’s a list of blogs I follow over there in the sidebar – or at the bottom if you scroll down, I think).

I am grateful for small accomplishments and meeting modest daily goals.

I’m grateful for weird dreams that amuse and puzzle me.

I’m grateful that through online shopping I figured out cheap, functional, stick-on, OK looking LED vanity lights for my dressing table, so I didn’t have to hire an electrician to tear up the wall.

I’m grateful for my old, fat, warm, soft cat Sophie, even though she ignores her claw-sharpening carpet remnant and continues to destroy the good rugs, and sits on my face when I’m not ready to get out of bed yet to feed her.

I’m grateful for the really good, really beautiful sacred music my choir director selected for the Christmas concert, and the challenge of learning it and the joy of singing it with a really good choir. You may take that as a shameless plug for our concert, which is a bonus add-on to my gratitude about it, because I really am grateful.

I am grateful for the opportunity to be grateful, and, because I’m breathing, the chance to be happy, one moment at a time. I hope I can maintain the happiness long enough to send a little love out into the word.

They say what goes around comes around. You reap what you sow.

In the bleak midwinter – what can I give?

….give my heart.

Trying to send love in little bits and pieces, I remain,

Your loyal, devoted, sucking-it-up-and-snapping-out-of-it,

Ridiculouswoman

Perfectionist Tendencies

Perfectionism is just arrogance in disguise. Knock it off, Annie.

I screwed up in the concert Friday night.

I know the exact movement and measure where I came in two beats early, loud and clear, doubling the tenors an octave higher, when the sopranos weren’t supposed to come in at all yet. A mistake I had made so repeatedly in rehearsal that I had marked a huge dark circle around the rest – the rest that I nevertheless failed to observe, during the concert. Which will ruin the recording, no doubt.

Fortunately, I have another chance to get it right, tonight.

But that doesn’t make me feel any better.

I feel like I’m in over my head. There are voices in this choir that are as big as the ocean. I have sung in several really, really good choirs in my time, but I’ve never heard anything like this. I’m out of shape, out of practice, out of my league.

I’m wondering why they let me in.

And I keep “watering the weed,” going over and over my stupid mistake, magnifying its importance.

I have long been accused of perfectionist tendencies. I can put a lot of energy into beating myself up over the innumerable mistakes I have made, which continue to multiply, daily. Apparently, getting older doesn’t necessarily equate with getting wiser.

What a waste of energy.

Because perfectionism is really just badly disguised arrogance.

How could I be so arrogant as to think that anyone in the audience even noticed in that very live, echo-y chapel?

And who the hell do I think I am, that I could ever get anything perfect, anyway?

I’ve lived enough life now to realize that making mistakes is part of the deal. My improvisation teachers said that mistakes are discoveries. Go with ’em and see where they take you.

Perfectionism is the opposite of humility, and I’m trying to learn to be a more humble, accepting person – one who listens more than she talks.

(Stop laughing, you guys, I really am trying).

And one who doesn’t take herself so seriously, doesn’t always think she’s the center of everything, or anything, for that matter. Trying to focus on others and not be such a little-miss-know-it-all-smartypants-achiever.

Remember that sketch that Chris Farley used to do, on SNL? The interview show,  where he’d say something or ask a question and then start slapping himself in the head, “Oh, D’oh! How stupid! I’m such an idiot!”

He did that not out of arrogance, thinking that he could have been perfect, but out of humility and insecurity, feeling that he couldn’t possibly be good enough,  even though he was spectacularly, uniquely talented.

And I thought I was hard on myself.

So, I fell off the proverbial horse. Get back on and give it another go, Annie. “I’ll do better next time,” as my courageous, resilient, magnificent, magical daughter says, determined to show me she can muster a positive attitude after a setback.

I’ll do better next time, not for myself, but out of respect for the other members of the chorus.

Some of whom, it turns out, live with significant health and physical challenges, and sing joyfully, professionally and well, despite them.

Where do I get off making mountains out of my mistakes when these people carry on, with their quiet heroism, just being who they are and doing what they do, and doing it well?

So tonight I’ll watch more closely and concentrate more on counting than on the sound of my own voice. Although it is easy to space out a bit, lost in the majesty and consolation of Mendelssohn, I’ll keep my guard up and try to remember that it’s a gift just to have the chance to be a small part of it, and to follow the lead of voices far more magnificent, and musicianship far more honed than mine are at present. Working on it.

Tonight I’ll try to be OK with just being OK.

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Time to go put on the concert black, and stow the ego. I’ll keep you posted.

Until then, I remain,

Your striving, stumbling, struggling, but still singing,

Ridiculouswoman

“There Came a Still, Small Voice”

That buck stopped me in my tracks, and reminded me to be still….and grateful

“…and in that still voice, onward came the Lord…”

-from Mendelssohn’s “Elijah”

I just wanted to grab a little fresh air on what, if the weather nerds were to be trusted, was to be the last sunny (or at least partly sunny) day of October.

I headed out on my usual route at the forest preserve savannah, but noticed a little yellow sign tacked to a post. “New Trail,” it said.

Cool, I’ll try a new path – it headed off in a direction I’d always wanted to explore, but couldn’t because of swampy patches and tall grass.

But now a path had been mowed that way, so off I went.

Within five strides I caught my left walking boot on a small stump sticking up right in the middle of this “new trail,” felt myself go horizontal, and WHUMP, fell face first on the damp grass.

Cut the meat of my left hand on the zipper tab of the little wallet-purse I was carrying (lock in the glove box next time, dumbass!), muddied my black jeans and jammed my wrist in a futile attempt to stop a hard face plant. Bruised my right hip which landed hard on the little lipstick compact I had in my coat pocket (even out here, the middle-aged woman rules apply.)

Up slow. Nothing broken, it seems. The cut, while ugly and bleeding, was small and not deep. The black jeans would survive.

Cursing, dropping “F” bombs loudly, out there where cyclists and joggers and other walkers were no doubt trying to grab their few remaining minutes of October glory (oh, nice) I stood up and kept going, bitching about how I had been lured onto a “new trail” that clearly wasn’t ready for use – more stumps and sticks and logs and branches all over the place. I didn’t want to have to walk looking down just to keep myself from falling again.  So I consciously began picking my feet up higher, in a silly-walk-looking kind of march, and pressed on. Came to a little bridge over the swampy part and took a photo of a stand of russet oaks:IMG_20181029_162322442.jpg

And just after I did, walking on a bit, still cursing, I saw him. A buck, with a small but impressive rack of antlers, looking right back at me. Can you find him in the photo at the top of this post? He’s there, just right of center.

“Oh!” I stopped. I stood still. I slowly drew my camera back out from my rear pocket (grateful that I keep in back there, instead of in the front pocket, where the already cracked face of it would no doubt have shattered for good from the impact of the fall.)

I slowly took a few pics, hoping that cropping or zooming might capture him.

As I put my phone away, it occurred to me that in all the times I had seen deer around here, I had never before seen a buck with antlers.

I tried to move closer, slowly and quietly, but the buck took a step toward me, as if to say, “Hey! I’m eating here! Pipe down and shove off!”

Though the deer near here are used to people, I figured it wouldn’t be totally out of the realm of possibility to get gored by a buck who was irritated that I’d interrupted his grazing.

So I turned around and slowly walked away.

And another, smaller buck with smaller antlers, but antlers just the same, came blasting across from my left, toward the buck I was now calling “Big Daddy.”

Wow.

I had only planned to walk for about half an hour anyway, because I had to get home to prep dinner, greet the companion/caregiver and head off to rehearsal. Cleaned and bandaged the hand, no time to change the jeans.

Before being admitted to the Chicago Master Singers, I had never sung “Elijah.” It has been challenging and wonderful to learn the it. Like all of Mendelssohn is to me, it is a beautiful, moving piece.

In the text, when the Lord at last responds to Elijah’s prayers, after a mighty wind (but the Lord was not in the tempest) after the sea was upheaved, after the fire (but the Lord was not in the fire) – “there came a “still, small voice.”

“And in that small voice, onward came the Lord.”

And above him were seraphim, begun with a soft soprano solo, “holy, holy, holy…”

And the heaven’s were filled with his glory.

I looked up Mendelssohn, to make sure I spelled it correctly, and found that it means, “son of Mendel,” and “Mendel” is probably derived from  “Menachem,” which, if Wikipedia is correct,  means, “one who consoles.”

I found consolation for my minor scrapes and bruises when I saw that buck, and when I sang that chorus at rehearsal, I was reminded that God’s amazing creative glory often comes in moments of stillness, like when that buck and I stood looking at each other, dissipating my little pain and my petty little frustration and my cursing and bringing me back to beauty and peace.

And reminding me of recent, seemingly daily reports of inexplicable tragedies and inconceivable losses of breathtaking magnitude. Feeling simultaneously ashamed (for being so upset about my minor, transitory physical scrapes) and grateful, for how lucky I am, to have another day to walk in the woods.

For those whose grief is fresh, whose pain feels insurmountable, for whom the senselessness of this vale of tears is relentless, may you hear that still, small voice, and be consoled.

I’ll be thinking of  you at this weekend’s performances.

Until then, trying to be still, listening for that small voice, hoping for consolation for all those who grieve,

I remain, your sore, humbled, grateful,

Ridiculouswoman

 

 

 

 

Anger Management…

Take two Bach cello suites…and call me in the morning.

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Over in the Snark Tank, I wrote about my determination to continue making a Ridiculouswoman of myself in public (you might have to scroll down a bit for that entry, because I have some new Snark going up over there, in the nature of the further adventures of things about suburban living that can knock me off the path, if I don’t watch out. It’s pretty snarky. Which it is why it is over there, not here.)

Meaning I intended to express joy through music, or dancing or goofing around, whenever I felt like it, even if other people thought it was ridiculous.

Unfortunately, instead, I had a few episodes of making myself ridiculous for the wrong reason – anger.

It is not possible to live with love and laughter if you allow anger to consume your joy.

I won’t go into detail, because the details involve politics (exhausting) but suffice it to say I was very ashamed of myself, for giving in to rage, publicly.

It’s been burbling up off and on since the Fatherless Day slump, particularly when I’m driving (surprise. Have you had to endure suburban driving when you are trying to catch a train, or get your kid to work on time? OK, so you know what I mean.)

But it isn’t good for me or for our daughter.

So I look to the radio (and the CD player) from whence cometh my help.

Specifically in the form of the sublime music. There is no such thing as hearing the Bach Cello Suite No. 1 too many times. I could survive on a desert island if that was the ONLY piece of music I was allowed to have.

But thanks to Mike’s wonderful CD collection, and to WFMT, Chicago’s exceptional classical music station, I have all the Bach cello suites, most of the cantatas, and right when I was about to lose it again the other night, an exceptionally lovely (and they are all lovely) Palestrina motet on the radio.

Aaaaaahhhh.

Life is too short to spend another nanosecond of it expressing anger. I’m here to try to convey lessons I’ve learned from Mike’s passing, and laughs I could generate or share for the time I have left.

Only God knows the number of our days, so make each one a good one, if you possibly can. Nobody ever changed their mind because someone got really pissed off at them. Quite the opposite. Anger tends to make people dig in.

So I’m working on it. I’m getting better and finding and sharing the love, and trying to find the funny again.

Stay tuned. I’m sure to do something ridiculous (in a joyful way, I hope!) sooner or later.

Until then, I remain,

Your loyal, devoted, breathing deeply,

Ridiculouswoman

Are We Having Fun Yet? Or, I Don’t “Summer” Well

I want to use the word “summer” as a verb…

I have long aspired to being one of those people who uses the word “summer” as a verb.

As in, “where do you summer?”

“We summer in at our villa in Tuscany.”

or, “Why, in Provence, of course…”

or, for me, the pinnacle of “to summer, “…

“We summer in Maine.”

No Maine for me this summer. Spent the money on redoing Mike’s room as a computer lounge for our daughter. Money well spent, but I find myself missing the sea, the salt air, the lobster and the star-stuffed sky.

Not to mention the bracing cold of the sea (except that the water has been warming these past years – causing one old salt I overheard to complain, “the fish’ll be cooked befowah you catch ’em!”)

Yes, we could go down to the lake, where the water is reliably cold, even this deep into summer, but there have been lots of shore warnings this year – waves and rip currents.

So, ninety degrees again today and tomorrow, no air conditioning, humid. Feeling like a wet rag.

I don’t summer well, here.

Frizz, sweat and listlessness. After three solid days of digging weeds in the heat two weeks ago, and a little rain, finally, my front garden looks OK. But my vegetable garden is a shambles. Spent too much time on those darn chickens, and neglected to water it during a month long dry spell. So no squash, probably no zucchini (you have to be really bad at vegetable gardening to get through an entire summer with NO zucchini!) and a meager crop of beans – “haricot vert,”   but then, I’m not summering in France.

But I do get to go to rehearsal tonight.

I was admitted into an excellent choral group – serious, rigorous, disciplined but fun. Such a relief to be among singers who get it right the first time, sight-sing like demons, and could blow me out of the water, sitting down, with their voices.

And who actually read and sing the dynamics. Balance and musicality and glorious music, flowing right along. Wow.

I like feeling like I’m a little out of my league and that I’ll have to work hard to keep up.

Mike loved my singing and stoked my ego when I Puccinied or Mozarted along with WFMT, our classical music station here in Chicago. Bless you, dear, for that. It’s a rare man who will listen to “Oh Mio Babino Caro” or “Doretta’s Song” or “Musetta’s Waltz” or the “Allelulia” a couple hundred times without begging for mercy. But you never did. You listened.

And though I’m a diva who never misses a chance to show off a solo high note (Ridiculouswoman, remember?) I’m a real softie for choral singing – there’s something about a large group of voices united in song that gets me every time. I mean I get choked up when I hear the crowd singing “My Old Kentucky Home” at the beginning of the derby each year (they’ve edited out the bad old lyrics) and I get a real thrill from any good performance of Beethoven’s 9th or Brahms Requiem. A Welsh men’s choir can stop me in my tracks, and I’m a sucker for a good sea shanty, too (probably influenced by my obsession with the Aubrey Maturin books.)

So tonight I get the thrill of singing with a large, talented, serious group of singers. And bonus, the church where this chorus rehearses is air conditioned! Hallelujah!

Wishing you the opportunity to raise your voice in song, with others similarly inspired, I remain,

your still-working-on-being-humble, devoted, warbling servant,

Ridiculouswoman