december, 2008

Mon, 8 Dec 2008 23:58:58 -0800

I've had old choral standards stuck in my head all day, beginning in the weekly PCR meeting, before and after which Ken & I bantered about Chanticleer concerts he may or may not attend, auditions for the workshop this summer: The Duruflé Tota Pulchra Es for women's choir; the Biebl Ave Maria; the old gospel Hark I Hear The Harps Eternal (during which the altos get one moment of glory on a high F). Zane, after a good number of bottles of red wine had been opened last night, pulled out his alphabetized crate of sheet music, and we choristers dove into it, rifling through (and rejecting some of) such enticing memories as Fauré's Requiem ("I can sing the viola part!"), motets of which there existed only one old, many-times-Xeroxed, teenily-notated copy. Glasses of amarone in hand, we gathered around the upright piano (some deeply-instilled voice kept all of our cups balanced just out of reach, so as not to spill on it), belting out chestnuts, sight-reading, all of the repertoire new to some and as old as our middle-school choir days to others. Choral geeks + wine.

A small number of us have gathered every December at Alana's parents' place in Madison to read over our old copies of SSA sheet music. We recollect what we sang these now-many years ago, reshuffle parts on the shapenote Big Sky, try to reconstruct the Lotti Miserere Mei (and its suspensions, in the context of which we learned the word) from memory, drink her mother's mulled cider and linger on the Hatfields. It's almost astonishing to now realize there are more of us in the world, more who have sung these same things -- and who want to sing them again, now, again, hey this is roughly an E-flat and I'll take alto, for the joy of it.

My pitch has suffered, though. It's quite evident -- I was dead certain that the piano in a rehearsal room at the second meeting of my new choir this last September was a half-step sharp, and, though I still haven't had the chance to corroborate, nor have I asserted a pitch as vociferously since. My reading -- Simona organized some Renaissance motet sight-singing last weekend, with (I learned later) former Chanticleerians who put me to shame -- has noticeably dipped, become less assured. (Or maybe it's just that I'm used to reading with the reference points of the open strings under my fingers; that I've never, come to think of it, done so much vocal reading with those at or above my level.) Either way, it's sobering: apparently this skill, learned along with letters and cultivated almost equally, can slip from desuetude. It's almost as if I'm suddenly observing a progressed aphasia in myself.

I went to a performance at Yerba Buena tonight of what Carrie called "cellos and brainy French music" -- Boulez with an overwrought alto; modern landscapes valiantly attempted by a solo stringed instrument -- and noticed that my ears didn't perk up until a violist came onstage for the final piece. My pitch may have suffered, but I can tell that C-string from anything on your tinny G! This is still what I want (though, god, not that landscapey ponticello shit). At least for now, though, as I negotiate the oncall waters (my name went up on the SRE homepage, today, Traffic Oncall!) and do not plan to leave my job, I have what Dane the cellist at Swarthmore once said was all he wanted in life: A boat of friends, a bottle of wine, and to sing madrigals [or the like] the whole day because, simply, we all love to sing.

Mon, 29 Dec 2008 20:31:21 -0800

One beer at an airport bar in Denver, one gin-n-tonic purchased from the flight attendant (I stared at the ice cubes washed with silvery gin and fondly envisioned the having of a proper cocktail back in SF). Sadly no Xanax, since I can't rely on kindly yogis to be seated next to me on every flight I take like one was on on my initial leg out a week ago. A mercifully-quiet baby is asleep in all but his eyelids on the seat next to me (I note mentally, filed in the ongoing Pros And Cons Of Eventual Procreation spreadsheet, that I find children much more endearing when they're silent). There's so far been no turbulence to speak of, save the expected lumps of mountain air exiting Denver; my flight, unlike poor Emily's, departed the Twin Cities on time; I relish, as slowly as possible, the first hundred folio-cut pages of a new hardback Christmas novel as we fly.

I've seen the bits of the Midwest I wanted to, through (unlike last year) a predictable lens: Subzero temperatures in Madison, a dachshund who remembers me ever after all these brief visits throughout the years, miles of snow-covered branches and barns and (un-shrinkwrapped, unlike in Iceland) bales of hay and frozen rivers on which bundled ice-fishers sat in small huts on the Wisconsin-Minnesota border. Poinsettias and Santa-Claus latch-hooks and women knitting and seasonal red tea towels. Gone to lunch, book-shopping with Dad; made dinner, sipped a bottle of Washington-state Malbec brought back from Chuck & Lisa's wedding with Mom; bourbon with Emily as I wore my new spoon earrings and Mike's forgotten cap over my long hair, watching her pack for her trip to San Francisco last night in her sea-foam-green room in her parents' house in Northfield.

Given the peaceability of the proceedings, it's tempting to forget why I was anxious about more than the flying part of this time of year -- just look at last, when, after finally locating my airline-lost case of heirloom silver flatware, I desperately decompressed over Orbit Room drinks with my soon-to-be- (and then soon-to-be-not-) boyfriend, whom I met a year ago tomorrow. This year, not only did I ignore the build-up of December out of pure struthiousness, but also out of necessity: Being oncall in some form ("always-on," shadowing, partial-shift, or a week-plus of full 16-hour days) for the six weeks leading up to my quick purchase and packing of a bigger suitcase (I may not be able to lift it easily, but it's capacious enough to contain my boots, clothes, and gifts, and to also be stuffed with fresh bagels!) and flight off to the area of the country in which I spent the first 18 years of my life. Responsible at least in some capacity for the health of the biggest Internet titan, niceties such as syntax in casual speech, sight-reading the Christmas motet Quaeramus with a quartet of carolers, or devoting any brain cells whatsoever to the subject of who might like me to purchase what for them and wrap it how were simply beyond my capabilities. And so, unable to contemplate, obsess, or fear any of this for over a month, I accomplished the flurry of gifts and bows and ersatz envelopes for yet-unshipped online purchases in a few snowy days at my parents' respective houses.

In retrospect, then, my anticipatory distaste of the annual shebang seems overwrought. I would still like to eventually remove myself from this relentless cultural set of expectations of travel, family rôles, the head-spinning regression into a former self ("revertigo," said Christine said Emily) -- but is it at all unpleasant to open two sets of presents, to lunch twice at my favorite Thai restaurant in Madison, to see a few local friends, to participate in tradition?

For now, I'll even hazard the contrary. And I'm happy (predictably) to be headed back to my life in San Francisco -- warm duvets in a cold room; Hetch Hetchy tap water; my urban tribe and our parties; my CSA vegetables (vegetables!). I feel optimistic about the coming year and affectionate towards those already in my life. Hello, San Francisco and 2009.

all this Šnori heikkinen, December 2008

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