Saturday, October 18, 2008

2. October 18, 2008

Making Music

During the summer I played several solo organ recitals, one of which was at First Parish Church in Brunswick. When I was asked to do this last fall I was flabbergasted: “Me? Play on THAT organ at THAT church! You can’t be serious!”

Shortly after moving to Maine in 1993 I began studying organ with Ray Cornils, Director of Music at First Parish. For my audition I played Bach’s Little Prelude in F Major. I certainly could have played something a bit more advanced and I don’t know why I didn’t. I do remember being extremely nervous: Ray and I are exactly the same age and he is quite the organ figure in Maine. At the time I was a nobody.

I continue to take the occasional lesson with Ray: these periodic events encourage me to tackle new and difficult music. Yet throughout all these years of studying with him I have been completely intimidated by that organ, an 1880’s 2 manual tracker built by Hutchings and Plaisted. I have always depended on him to choose registrations for me and have frequently told him to “Take something off! It’s too loud!” I claimed the organ was “unforgiving,” with every mistake filling the vast space of the church sanctuary.

So the prospect of actually playing a recital there terrified me. But for some reason at this stage of the game I am willing to take on these professional challenges, and most of the time I’m glad I do.

I spent the better part of two days with this organ and it grew on me. As I tried out the individual stops I became aware of its beauty and power. I fell in love with the expressive swell pedal. And slowly I began to feel comfortable and know that yes, I could make music on this instrument.

On the day of the recital the usual butterflies were present. I arrived early and calmly climbed the long staircase to the organ loft. Slowly I began to warm-up, reacquainting myself with all the sounds of this amazing instrument. My stop-puller Steve arrived to review the registration changes with me, and then, it was time to start… I was clearheaded and focused and played well. I made music.

That’s what it’s all about, for me.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Lost in Maine

1. Lost in Maine

Most days, it seemed, the weather announcer would drone “winds, 15 to 25 mph, with occasional gusts and blowing dust…”

Lubbock, Texas sits isolated in the middle of nowhere, in many ways cut off from the world. Although the internet has changed that somewhat from when I was growing up, one still cannot buy a daily New York Times there. In a strange way, its isolation is its greatest strength: a strong, towering presence, it is self-contained and cares little of what the world thinks.

Resilience…the mere geographical location of Lubbock brings that to mind…on land that is as flat as a table, stretching as far as the eye can see and buffeted by strong wings and swirling dust. It is dry, but the land is supported by an underground aquifer that is being drained with population growth. Because of this water farms of cotton and grain override the desert atmosphere.

Despite the big, beautiful, Georgia O’Keefe sky, I often feel claustrophobic when in Lubbock. For many years I asked myself how can that be? The vistas are enormous with no mountains or forests to make one feel penned in. There is a Wild West mentality of anything is possible. So how can one feel claustrophobic? Eventually I realized it was the deeply entrenched conservatism found there, spearheaded in my day by the Southern Baptist church The long list of do’s and don’ts permeated my life, penned me down, and skewed my world vision until I finally managed to escape, in fits and starts.

After college I worked as an accompanist at the National Music Camp in Interlochen, Michigan. Although I had made numerous tries, that was my first successful attempt to leave Lubbock behind. Despite being recently divorced, I arrived at Interlochen quite innocent of the world beyond the Texas plains. There I had my first open talk with a gay man and befriended a couple living together but not married. In 1979 those things were under the table in Lubbock. At Interlochen I was subject for the first time to some anti-Southern prejudice from a prima donna soprano who did not want me to play for her because of my “hick” accent.

Interlochen gave me a chance to see that the world did not revolve around a church or particular religious belief. The most important thing I learned there was that one could be both a good person and NOT a Christian.

Living in Dallas for 10 years with my husband and our daughter we visited Lubbock several times a year. I didn’t really think much about it…it was where my family was and that’s where I expected to spend holidays and birthdays. And then we moved permanently to Maine and I began to see my hometown with different eyes…

For fifteen years I have been struggling to make Maine my home. I have raised a daughter here, touched many people with my music making, and matured well into middle age. Yet the vast, dusty plains of West Texas still call, beckoning me back. Is that really still my home? Am I always to be a stranger in Maine?