The world will keep you waiting

Somehow I never seem to write my blogs while sitting in one place – a form of mass transit & my notebook & pen are the magic ingredients. This time I’m hurtling through the sky at 813 kilometers an hour, 12,000 meters above Canada – or is it Michigan? – in a winged metal tube. I’ve been in this particular tube for 8 hours, still an hour and a half left before touching down in Memphis, Tennessee. This week I’ll be visiting family and catching up with my husband, who has been on tour with his quartet for over 2 weeks.

I was just listening to one of my favorite songs on my iPod, “The World Keeps You Waiting” by the New York Voices. Ever since they performed with the Luxembourg Philharmonic last season, I’ve been a fan of their classy, artistic, beautifully executed renditions of original and arranged material. If you get the chance, go hear them live, or at least listen to their album “A Day Like This.”

Only after hearing this particular song a few times did I start listening more closely to the lyrics. In essence, it’s about choosing to listen to your own creative voice, to follow your inner vision on your life path. The world will try and seduce you into believing in its own importance. If you buy into worldly values and priorities, you will forever be left waiting, wanting, hungry.

The first two stanzas of the song go like this:

Maybe it means that I will be lonely
Maybe I’ll step aside; let the others go
Maybe it means my days will be lovely
This path of my design

Choices are made and chances are taken
I turned my back on every latest rage
I lost desire for pretty distraction
I’ve reached the age…

I suppose it is the challenge of every artist, negotiating a way to live in the world and to transcend it at the same time. We are all artists, involved in the creation of our lives on earth, the divine spark, immortal spirit in mortal flesh, wondering who we really are in this world of “pretty distraction.” No matter how much we have, we constantly want more.

The busier my outer life grows, the more I crave an inner simplicity & stillness to balance it out. Sometimes I forget/suppress this need and allow myself to get very caught up in the world and the dense cares that are a part of it. I need to remember to dance above it, to let my spirit be my guide, to live as a true artist, to take time for silence and reconnection to the source. Even, and perhaps especially, at 12,000 meters above the ground.

“Let me be thy instrument…”


On New Year’s Eve in 2000, while going through a sad and difficult period in my life, I remember sitting at the kitchen table of two close friends who were very tied up in what was going on with me. We talked about many of our dreams for the coming year and spent time reflecting upon the year that had just passed. It contained some of the most extreme highs and lows I’d known to that point, almost all of them unexpected. At the time, I could not have known that happiness beyond my imagining was right around the corner, in the form of getting together with the man who would become – and still is – the great love of my life. But at that table, that evening, I was overwhelmed with sadness and grief, the kind that seems to come from the bones themselves. It had been building in me for a couple of years, and even though I occupied myself with musical projects and lovely friends, the ache was a constant undertone. I had never before been a depressive person, so the enduring gloom was a surprise. One of my friends at the table asked if I had any New Year’s resolutions. Through my tears, suddenly at that moment rose a feeling of passion and purification, of hope, and I found myself saying aloud the words of my oldest prayer, “Let me be thy instrument.” For some reason, I never dwelt much upon specific prayer requests for people or events – though this works very well for many people and religious traditions, it always rang false in my own ears. But this particular prayer always felt like a song inside me.

Maybe it was because my maternal grandmother’s favorite hymn was the Prayer of St. Francis – “Let there be peace on Earth; and let it begin with me.” The text to this hymn pretty much sums up all that I try to be and do in this life.

When these words tore out of me that night, I cried for a long time, and for the first time in ages the tears didn’t feel like poison. A light, and a lightness, had returned, and it indeed proved a turning point. I found myself praying this short, 5-word prayer over and over during sleepless nights, until I reconnected to the joy which had been my more usual companion and expression.

After several years now of living with an undercurrent of joy, for I am so very blessed in so many ways, I find my prayers have gone more toward the specific rather than this one, pure wish….Since so much is good, the struggles of family and friends, the little worries of everyday life, take on greater shape and importance than they used to do when everything was hurting. My husband went through a scary couple of months with eye problems (he’s fine now, thank goodness), a friend is battling fiercely against cancer, my stepsons are beginning their lives away from home, my parents and brothers are dealing with their own issues, I’m wondering what next year will bring career-wise when my contract in the orchestra ends…. And yet, as big as these things all seem at the time, I am starting to realize that my original prayer covers them all. I have always been cared for one way or another – all that seems to be required of me is to be open, trusting, and willing. And grateful, always and eternally grateful.

Hanging on the door in my Reiki room are the words on the picture at the beginning of this blog, which to me puts it perfectly.

A couple most embarrassing moments on stage

Luckily, both of these incidents took place over a decade ago (I can say that now that it’s 2009.)  Everyone who performs publicly for a living has a collection of embarrassing moments – here are a couple that made me cringe for a long time afterwards!  Now I can look back and give them a good laugh.  Usually.

With a certain professional touring ensemble, I was doing a 3-week stint on principal horn, filling in for a colleague from Berlin who had other engagements.  One of our projects involved a series of concerts in the beautiful Teatro in Ferrara, Italy.  The lovely and lively Trevor Pinnock was conducting; Kodaly’s Galanta Dances started off the program.  For those of you who know this work, you’ll also know that the introduction contains a fanfare for horn alone, very alone, all gutsy and passionate and Spanish.  It had gone like a dream in all the rehearsals, and for the concert, I decided to go for it with all I had.  Bear in mind this theater is the old opera sort with several stories of seating boxes, looking down upon the stage – this concert was sold out and was being broadcast live on RAI, the Italian national radio.  The piece began with a few bars of cellos, then it was my turn.  On the last bar of my solo, I missed a note.  Not one of those “approximaturas” o little bobbles we horn players are often plagued with, but the sort of overblown-by-several-overtones-at-fortissimo-ohmygodiwannadienow missed notes.  The crowd actually gasped.  RAI broadcasted everything to the Italian public sitting safely in their living rooms and cars.  The Galanta Dances kept on dancing for another 17 minutes, and all I could think about was how convenient it would be if a trap door opened under me, and I plummeted out of sight.  After the piece finished, during the applause, Maestro Pinnock came round to my chair and whispered in my ear, “Would you like another shot at that beginning?”  So I said yes, and we played the whole piece AGAIN!  I got my solo the second time perfectly, also broadcast live for those who hadn’t ended up driving off the road in horror the first time, and received a solo bow to standing ovation to boot.  Backstage after the concert, the conductor confided in me that he had recently started a solo harpsichord recital, had a memory slip part way through, and had gone behind the curtain to fetch his music and started from the beginning once again.  He said it can happen to anyone.  Who ever gets a second chance like that?  I love you Trevor Pinnock.

The other incident involved the eminently audible consequences of the previous evening’s tofu dinner, during the second round of an audition playing the Neuling Bagatelle for Low Horn, but I don’t really want to talk about it after all.

25 random facts

While I am working on a “proper” blog, I will share here a list (inspired by a little facebook post going round) of 25 random facts about me.

1) My favorite breed of dog is the whippet.
2) I have a small birthmark under my right eye, which most of my friends and family at one point or other have tried to rub off, thinking it was mascara or dirt.
3) I speak four languages and can do bits of a few others.
4) In middle school, I gave a campaign speech for presidential candidate Gary Hart at an all-school assembly, wearing a Halloween costume of leaves stapled to an orange and green dress.
5) I shook Fidel Castro’s hand.
6) According to the Myers-Briggs Personality Test, I’m an ENFJ.
7) I was a vegetarian for almost a decade.
8) I almost never sleep on airplanes, especially those long-haul night flights across the ocean, where everyone else is passed out, legs sticking out at odd angles, mouths open, making collective creepy sleeping noises, while I alone tiptoe through the aisles like an intruder in a morgue.  Or so it seems.
9) I find clowns scary.
10) I can sing the high F in the Queen of the Night Aria from the Magic Flute.
11) So far I’ve performed in 32 countries on 6 continents.
12) My rising sign is Aquarius.
13) I’m a Reiki master.
14) My favorite sport to watch is rugby.
15) My husband and I got married on a private game reserve in South Africa, in a tiny stone chapel whose doorknobs had been nicked by baboons.
16) I sleep on a round mattress.
17) The longest I ever went without eating was 6 days.
18) According to a religion quiz on, I should be a Unitarian Universalist.  Or a Neo-Pagan.  Or a Mahayana Buddhist.
19) I haven’t driven a car since 1995.
20) My favorite children’s book is A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle.
21) The recording I could listen to every day is Glenn Gould playing Bach’s Goldberg Variations (the earlier recording.)
22) I’m not afraid of spiders and never kill them (on purpose.)
23) My navel was pierced for 2 years, sort of recently.
24) I don’t like pork.
25) When I was 10, I lost a mitten at the beach in Oregon and found it 4 months later buried under the sand.

Celtic music and the stirrings of genetic memory

I’m several hours into a train journey from Luxembourg to Amsterdam, to visit friends Laurie and Bruce on their houseboat.  Keeping me company, keeping me sane, is a collection of songs by one of my favorite Celtic folk groups, Silly Wizard.  Andy Stewart sings wistfully:

If I was a blackbird, could whistle and sing,
I’d follow the vessel my true love sails in.
And in the top rigging, I’d there build my nest – 
And I’d flutter my wings o’er her lily-white breast…

There’s just something about Celtic folk music.  Something that stirs me profoundly, something beyond the feelings of the moment, reaching beyond the parameters of my everyday consciousness, a half-forgotten dream landscape, mine or someone else’s…A friend of ours has the theory that in lieu of reincarnation, the cells of our bodies retain memories of our genetic forebears.  Most of my ancestors, those of whom we have any record, have their roots in Ireland, England, Scotland.  Some made their way to the British colonies in the New World, others came a century later when their crops failed and their children were starving.  Perhaps the music of their homeland wrote itself into their DNA and passed down through generations until it reached me?

Or maybe I was an Irish bard in a past life.  Or maybe my mother listened to The Chieftains while I was still in her womb.  Whatever it is, the connection of my heart to this music teases me to remember, to catch the words of an ancient, quiet voice.  If I was a blackbird…