Tag Archives: music

Augusts with Wendy

A few years ago, Tuesdays became my least favourite day of the week. It was all accidental obviously, but there was a year when Tuesdays always seemed to go pear-shaped. Bad news would arrive. I’d have a headache. Little irritations that just took the glow off Tuesday. I became a little obsessed with the stupidness of Tuesday. And then it went away.

These days it’s a month. August. Over the last few years August has not covered itself in glory. In fact, it’s been a bore, a pain in the rear, a month of boring Sundays that never seem to end while we wait for the first sniff of Spring. It’s been like that again this year, except, this year, 2017, I’m fighting back.

On the weekend I did a violin exam. This was a self-imposed challenge I set myself about 7 weeks ago, which isn’t actually very long to get organised for a music exam. But I was becoming unhappy with my violin-ing. (That’s not a technical term for playing the violin but it is my term). I’d put in lots of hours in 2014 and 2015 relearning and learning technical skills, bringing my playing to a standard where I was able to pass my Associate diploma exam. That was also a self-imposed challenge. It was a now or never, early mid-life crisis kind of moment. Either pick the violin back up again – fix myself up – and do it properly – or resign myself to never ever playing something like “well”. It was immensely rewarding. Then I preceded to get myself a lovely new instrument and faffle around without much consistent practice at all, thereby losing some of the work I’d done in the previous two years. Silly billy much?

So it was time. Stretch myself again. Set myself a goal. Am I goal oriented? Indeedy I am. Without something to work towards nothing happens. As soon as I put the entry in June, things started happening. In my impulsiveness to do something for myself I forgot it would be happening in August. The horrible month. The month I just try to survive. I struggled with a lack of motivation, but the deadline sitting out there on 12 August eventually got me moving. And then I managed to get myself involved in the CRUSH Festival’s Text as Art exhibition. As a writer. I applied for this. October is when it happens so I hadn’t considered the fact that I would need to write something in August. That’s now. Another deadline is looming. Damn you August, making me think about stuff. And then, I managed to successfully apply for QSO’s A Day in the Orchestra which is coming up this weekend. That’s right. A weekend in August. Suddenly I had HEAPS of music to practice and not much time to do it in. And I had something to write too.

These things are all challenges I zeroed in on and set for myself. I’m thinking now that these things – the exam, the QSO, the Text as Art – might all have been ways that I am making myself cope with August. Yeah that’s right. The old subconscious has been at work. August might be my least favourite month in the year after February. August can still be cool. The sun isn’t up early and I have trouble motivating myself in the morning to GET OUT OF BED. However, I am forcing my self to do stuff. To not give in to August’s Augustiness. Its lethargy. I will beat you August. You will not get me down. Yes I might be lying in bed until the last possible moment every morning, necessitating that I eat breakfast at work, but I will be busy, active and doing new things whether I like it or not.

Without realising it I had filled August to the brim with experiences that are asking me to move out of my comfort zone. What does my comfort zone look like? Basically it’s a brown sofa with lots of throw pillows and an Apple TV remote close at hand. Just right for the usual, dull August. I’ve spent a lot of the last few months sitting there watching reruns of Will and Grace. Clearly, I’m telling myself this needs to stop. September is just around the corner and I need to be prepared. So this year I’m thankful for August. Perhaps I’ve broken its nasty spell at last…….

a timeless, shining song became home

Reading this post earlier in the week* transported me back to the time when I returned home after a term at university. Long ago. Before the time of constant contact enabled by technology like the my smartphone, which is never more than a few feet away from me, and social media which is my continual companion.

Then, leaving home meant lining up at the pay phone with spare change to call home once or twice a week. Outside in the cold of Toowoomba, standing in a queue with the other first years, wondering what the heck we had got ourselves into. Thinking on it now, it’s a miracle I survived. I was neither particularly independent, intrepid or ready for the world.

Naive would be perhaps be a kind description. Homesick could have been another.

But adjust I did and quickly. That first year away, studying music was one of discovery – of Brahms’ symphonies, new violin concertos, piano repertoire, REM, Nirvana, Triple J with Helen and Mikey (when it was good), hyper colour t-shirts (never owned one), Levis, making new friends and starting on the journey to being an adult.

It was a puzzling jolt to come home and catch up with school friends who I used to spend every day with and realise that we no longer had anything in common.

Scene: the Bundaberg Pizza Hut Restaurant in 1991, with my peers. (Yes it existed and yes it did have the “salad bar” with the bacon bits).

“What was the best thing about uni and living on campus?”

“It’s great how I don’t have to eat pumpkin if I don’t want to”.

I’ll just clarify this was not my answer but it was significant.

Our paths had diverged.

Pumpkin Schumpkin. I could care less. I wanted to know about other stuff.

What about the learning? What do you think about the world? What makes you laugh, cry,  get angry or have some other kind of emotional response to the universe now? What films have you seen, books read, new music found and heard, TV discovered? These were the conversations I’d been having at uni. My school friends were also at uni. Why were we talking about pumpkin?

I remember nothing else about the great 1991 Pizza Hut get together. Not even the pizza. It didn’t happen again. Perhaps she eats pumpkin now, perhaps she doesn’t. And the Pizza Hut Restaurant is now Officeworks.

At the end of 1991 I was home for the holidays. I was uptown Christmas shopping and for the first time ever I heard Here Comes the Sun playing over the muzak. It shimmered.

So we continue to return home. We’re not who we were. Home still welcomes us. And points of resonance emerge in unlikely places.

That Christmas in 1991 I received the Abbey Road CD.

I hadn’t asked for it.

The timeless, shining song became home.

 

 

*thanks Theo.

 

How do you “cope”?

Firstly, congratulations to me for waiting 24 hours to write this post instead of ripping it yesterday when I had my Ranty McRantface happening.

Breathe.

In through the nose.

Out through the mouth.

Repeat for 24 hours.

But, I hear you ask in great wonderment, what had you so riled Wendy that you were ready to claw someone’s face off just like in the movie Face Off (note: haven’t seen Face Off so I’m not sure if that is the plot but let’s say it is for the purposes of this post)?

Excellent question lovely readers. You’re very lovely. Well done.

Let me eventually get to the point by restating to you a question that was asked of moi twice in a 72 hour period by intelligent, bright people who I really like and have lots of time for.

Q: Say Wendy, how do you cope, you know, intellectually, living in Bundaberg?

WTF. Had they turned into snobs while I wasn’t looking? Or were they really curious? Either way Houston we have a problem. Before we get down to business, I’ll just point out a couple of things.

  1. This is not the first time in my life I have been asked this question
  2. One of the questioners actually lived here for 20 years, raising a family, working, doing stuff, you know, the whole box and dice.

(Two things. I pointed out two things)

So I guess the thing about this question is it immediately implies that Bundaberg is an intellectual wasteland located in a cultural desert devoid of anyone of any smarts, interestingness, capacity to hold a conversation in words of more than one syllable, ability to form opinions about the world and our place in it and other such qualities which are clearly available only to those who are blessed and clever enough to be living in our capital cities and their immediate surrounds.

I may exaggerate here given that part of my reaction to the question was to feel tremendously insulted and patronised. As a result, in both instances, I stumbled out a response that probably appeared to apologise for my life and did nothing to further either questioner’s impression of the aforementioned intellectual wasteland that, in their minds, is regional Australia.

I tweeted out a little of my rage yesterday afternoon and as usual Twitter came back with the commonsense and support I have come to expect from my little corner of this life-saving social media platform. Thanks twitter sphere. Ace.

So in no particular order here are some of the things I shoulda/coulda responded with:

  1. I don’t understand. I’ve spent so long repressing any semblance of my intellectual capabilities and dumbing myself down so I can fit in with the locals that I don’t reflect on my life or my circle of like-minded people. I just play the pokies from 11am onwards using my Newstart allowance while I leave the kids in the car with the family pet during the long hot days of summer.
  2. Mmmm, cope intellectually you say. Well, I’ve just this minute arrived from a string quartet rehearsal where we worked on the first movement of Schubert’s String Quintet in C Major under the guidance of a retired professional musician who (among other things in a long and successful career) was a close personal friend of Sir Neville Marriner from the Academy of St Martin in the Fields. Perhaps you’ve heard of them? No? Heavens to Betsy and you call yourself chockas with culture living down there in the big city.
  3. Cope? Intellectually? Well I’ve never had to worry about those two words in the same sentence or question before. I’ve been too busy chatting with my awesome friends and family about things like music, art, education, politics, and other such topics on a daily basis. Perhaps you’ve heard of them. They’re quite popular as conversational issues.
  4. Intellectual coping skills? Oh no. I don’t have any. I just wake every morning weeping at my own idiocy for living here where it only takes 5 mins to get to the grocery shop, beach, doctors, movies, cafes. Did I mention there are no toll roads or confusing tunnels and we have real chai available? Oh we’re also able to listen to exactly the same radio programs on RN AS YOU CAN IN THE CITY and we do also have the same TV stations. Have you heard of Netflix, Stan, ITunes? NO – of well we have access to them too so we keep up pretty well.
  5. Social media? Oh, sorry, you refuse to use Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Social Media platform of your choice. How do you manage to read the New York Times, The Guardian, Slate, The Atlantic, The Saturday Paper, read First Dog on the Moon cartoons, read Longreads, and the zillion other great intellectually stimulating and interesting stuff that comes into my phone everyday? What’s that? You subscribe to The Australian? In hard copy? Oh….I’m sorry. I didn’t realise.

Okay, so maybe Ranty McRantface hasn’t disappeared completely (and perhaps has been joined by Sarcastic McCynicalFace) but I’m tired of this garbage. Let me state in no uncertain terms just so we’re all clear.

There are smart and stupid people everywhere. Yes. Everywhere. Even in the city.

There are good and bad people everywhere. Yes. Everywhere. Even in the city.

There are boring people everywhere. Yes. Everywhere. Even in the city.

There are kindred spirits for each and everyone of us. Sometimes they’re in the city and sometimes they’re in the regions. Sometimes they’re online and you’ve never met them IRL. That doesn’t even matter. I “cope” by seeking them out. By stumbling across them and being delighted. I do just what you do living in the big smoke. We’re all the same.

So check your metropolitan-intellectual privilege at the door please if you’re coming to visit me. I ain’t got time for that shit.

Shout out to my tribe of kindred spirits. You’re all totes amazing.

Off guard

The music caught me off guard (although why I’m on guard all the time is perhaps a topic for another time).

But I wasn’t expecting to cry. I’ve heard lots of Bach before. Geez. I’ve heard the G major Prelude from the first Cello suite before. Many times. By students. By famous people. On recordings. On the old Youtube. It’s never made all weepy and emotional.

But on Saturday evening it did.

As Louise King played the first bars of Bach’s well known Prelude from the G major suite for cello I got a lump in my throat. Tears starting to burn in my eyes. Pull it together woman. Why would this make you cry? t

It’s taken me a few days to work out why. Or at least try to sort it out. (Because of course music is always going to keep its secrets.)

For the first 24 hours after the concert I thought it was because of the setting. We were in the art gallery not in a concert hall. I was in the back row and I was only a few metres from the cello. It was close. It was visceral. The sound didn’t have far to travel. Vibrating. Affective.

Well that must have been it then. Done. Sorted. Aren’t I clever to have worked that out.

But then on Monday afternoon I went to a workshop about performance. Here’s what I typed into my phone as Louise shared her knowledge and experience with the workshop.

IMG_4077

Take risks, she said. As a performer you must play with your heart open. You must take risks. Be brave.

And then I realised that this was what had been so affecting. She had played with her heart open. To the music. To Bach. To us the audience. And this formed a connection between her through the music to me. And it made me teary. The sonority of G major, the beautifully ornamented, structural harmonic perfection that is Bach. Of course it was affecting. How could it not be visceral. Sound has impact. This sound was vital. Charged with energy in its execution. This was a generous performer who shared her musicality with her audience.

Generosity, I’ve been thinking, is becoming a rare quality. When we find it in others it is to be treasured. We should cultivate it in our daily life and interactions. Why? Because without it, we are wrapped up only in ourselves. We have no capacity for empathy, for sympathy, for listening, for caring.

If a musician, or indeed any artist is generous the connections they make, the networks they forge will be strong and lasting.

It’s good to be off guard. That’s when memories that last a lifetime are made. That’s when friendships are formed.

So to risk living life with an open heart towards all experiences is to cast off my guard. Because here will come the potential for shared, lived experiences. Experiences that we might hear, might see…experiences that might bring me to tears….or laughter. Or perhaps both.

Experiences that remind me of what it is to be human.