You Shine in a Very Lovely Way

Another day, another concert for me.  Hugh’s Room, an iconic folk music venue in Toronto, has reopened after financial trouble.  Saturday night was a gala fundraiser, featuring fourteen excellent musicians.  Being in the small hall was like coming home.

There were gentle songs and raucous songs, and everything in between.  I was happy.  Then Laura Smith stepped up to the microphone.  I’d say she’s in her sixties.  And here’s what she has to say in “The Blues and I”:

Everything is moving
So why am I standing still
Looking for a star?
Let there be a star …
Guiding me

The words are lovely but Laura onstage is inexpressible.  Her face has the hollows of an older person.  The eyes reach out, warm and wet.  The mouth holds the words gently.  The voice soothes.  But the whole is infinitely greater than the sum of the parts.

When Laura began, all of me stopped.  Only one other time in my life has a person filled the room like this.  She was a teacher at the Insight Meditation Society in Massachusetts.  And Laura was right there with her.

I said hi to Laura after the concert.  She smiled.

***

Wow.  There’s nothing to say.  The written word doesn’t get the job done.  You’d have to be there and listen.

Only twice in my life.  Has a human being of such transcendence ever come your way?  I think you’d remember if they had.  In fact, I know you’d remember.  Inside your head, you would have heard …

Oh my God!

Close

I went to a concert at Koerner Hall last night.  Two violinists, two cellists and two violists.  The ticket said that I was in Row AA.  And was I ever!  At the very front, virtually in the middle.  About ten feet from the performers.

It was astonishing.  I saw fingers smash against the strings … and then caress them.  I saw glances between musicians, and smiles.  I heard the worlds of Brahms and Tchaikovsky in sound surround.  It was all so vivid, so immersing.

***

I thought back to the Three Tenors performing in Toronto’s Skydome.  Jody and I paid nearly $100 per ticket (unheard of!) and took our spots way up high on the far side of the stadium.  Mr. big Pavarotti was reduced to Mr. tiny ant.  Several times during the performance, I pulled my eyes away from the JumboTron.  No way was I going to watch TV at a hundred bucks a throw.

Decades later, I’m a regular at the Cuckoo’s Nest Folk Club in London, Ontario – capacity about 60.  To hear Jez Lowe sing his ballads right in front of me, with the passion of the songwriter, is transporting.

***

I have many hobbies.  One is wandering down residential streets, looking at the furniture on the porch.  If two chairs sit there, I hope that they’re right next to each other, so the unknown occupants can hold hands.  Alas, there’s usually a sturdy patio table in between, or maybe just a swath of blank space.  Hands can’t reach that far.

***

Speaking of hands, many couples stroll my way, and so very few of them are holding each other.  Oh, there might be a brush against the other’s thigh every so often, but no real contact.  The exceptions include young and old who swing their arms together gaily, or reach the other hand over to hold the back of their lover’s, or just gently press the soul into the flesh.  I like that.

***

On the subway, some folks will stand rather than take the empty seat beside me.  Others will sit down, and our bodies are in contact for the rest of the ride.  I’ll take option two.

***

Life erupts all around us, sometimes with joy, and sometimes sorrow.  Or it flows like honey.  May I always face the action, and move towards it, where the sweetness (or bittersweetness) lies.

 

Not Necessarily So

Tonight I went to hear Archie Fisher, a British singer-songwriter, at the Cuckoo’s Nest Folk Club in London.  Here’s what I know:

1. It’s important to get there early.
1a. I got there at the last minute.

2. It’s important to sit near the front.
2a. I sat in the back row, virtually the only seat left.

3. It’s important to see the performer.
3a. I could see the back of Archie’s head.

4. It’s important to hear every word.
4a. I couldn’t understand a lot of the lyrics.

5. It’s important to remember the words and Archie’s comments that I loved.
5a. I’m sitting here not remembering any of them.

***

I loved the concert.  Archie’s spirit filled the room.  We laughed, again and again.  Occasionally I was close to tears.

I watched the people in front of me.  A man’s hand over his wife’s shoulder.  A young fellow singing along.

I bugged a woman in the next row and to the right.  “Would you please move?  You’re blocking the wall.”  She chuckled.

***

A standing ovation
Smiles all around
All is well

David Francey

Off I went on the subway last night to the first of my three concerts at Hugh’s Room, a small folk music venue. One of my musical heroes – David Francey – was the reason for the evening.  I was given a table for one tucked into a corner at the back.  I had a great sightline to the stage and “back” was actually pretty close.  I arrived really early because I had made a dinner reservation.

As people started coming in, I looked at them.  Almost all couples (sigh) and hardly anybody as old as me (no sigh).  Lots of laughing, lots of hugging … the room was bright and sweet.  I sat back in my little alcove and smiled a bit.  The universe was flowing along as it was meant to do.

A couple maybe in their 60s took their seats at the table in front of me.  She was on the left and he on the right.  I didn’t see them touch.  As David began singing, the gentleman leaned his head way to the right.  At first, I concentrated on maintaining the tiny window I was left with, but later I let in the distance between man and woman.  I urged them closer in my brain but that was not to be.

At intermission … how wrong I was.  My unknown friends shared large smiles.  He put his arm over her shoulder and she rubbed that arm lovingly.  And so my persona as keen analyst of the human condition frittered away.

In front of these two was a waist-high wall.  Beyond that towards the stage, the seating was lower so all I could see of those folks was their heads.  During the break, I saw a grey-haired fellow right at the front, looking ahead.  A woman was leaning the back of her head against his back.  How lovely, I thought.  Just the type of relationship I enjoy observing.

How wrong I was.  It was a trick of the eye, my view of this couple.  In fact, they weren’t a couple.  They weren’t even at the same table.  She was leaning forward, talking to her friends.  Gosh, a fellow can only be wrong so many times.  Can’t he?

And then there was David’s music.  He creates word pictures that any human being can relate to … all the emotions that bubble up over the course of a lifetime.

The joy of youth, as revealed in the song “Paper Boy”:

And my feet flew in the morning light
Racing the dawn as the sky grew bright
And everything in the world was right
When I was a paper boy

The angst of teenage passion (“Broken Glass”):

Saw you standing in the cafeteria line
I’d have given the world just to make you mine
Saw you at your locker, in the high school hall
And it didn’t take a minute for my heart to fall

The loss of love (“The Waking Hour”):

She was once my heart’s delight
My need and my desire
She was my day, she was my night
My water and my fire
And I was once the same to her
When we still walked together
But the heavy heart at the waking hour’s
Expecting heavy weather

Thank you, David, for your humanity
And the same gratitude for my fellow audience members

All Of Life’s Hues

Life is timing, I’d say.  Months ago, after Jody died, I decided to buy a ticket to see Celtic Woman on March 25, 2015.  Jody and I loved to watch their DVDs.  Some truly enchanting songs.

Nearly four weeks ago, I started coughing.  Bronchitis, the doctor said.  It subsided for awhile but came back with a vengeance maybe four days ago – deep coughs, lots of mucus, stuffed nose, and intermittent nausea.

So, what to do?  Well, go to the concert.  I sat down next to my unsuspecting neighbours and tried my darndest not to cough.  The first song (three sublime female voices and a brilliant violinist) wasn’t bad, but halfway through the second one I was rocked with eruptions.  Totally unfair to the audience members.  I told the woman to my left that I’d be leaving at the end of the song, and to be ready.  She was feeling for me.

I made my stumble along the row, apologizing mightily.  Then down the tunnel to the concourse, where I just about fell onto a bench.  Down went my head and up came the mucus.  Later, I wondered how my noises echoed in the empty space, empty except for several employees getting ready to serve drinks and snacks.  One woman brought me over a paper cup for water.  Thank you.  A supervisor said she’d search for an empty area in the arena where I could enjoy the show and not disturb other patrons.  Thank you.  A third woman suggested I stand beside her in the tunnel and catch a glimpse of things that way.  Thank you.

But I wasn’t ready for any of that.  My ample supply of Kleenexes was dwindling and the mucus wasn’t.  And I was dizzy.  Somewhere far, far away I could hear the sweet strains of “Danny Boy”, one of Jody’s and my favourites.  Beauty and spasms with their arms around each other.

Later, I felt strong enough to stand in the tunnel, leaning on the handrail.  Such a unique view of the music.  Then, from behind a blackout curtain, came the supervisor.  She had found a spot for me.  Up the escalator we went, and then past a balcony filled with folks enjoying their meals at tables.  Through a secret door, and then another secret door.  And there I was – in a private box, which normally would seat twenty, but tonight was dark.  Thank you again.

Coughing continued, but at least people were far away.  And down below me, I listened to the magic of melody and harmony: “Amazing Grace”, “Caledonia”, “You Raise Me Up” and “The Parting Glass”.  Jody and I held hands and sang along.  I cried when she raised me up.  She thanked me for bringing her.  “The pleasure was all mine, my dear.”

Just your basic date night.