One thing the entire town of Soldotna was relieved and overjoyed to get for Christmas was eight fresh inches of snow to cover the dark and dreary earth. Skiis and snow machines, sleds and snowboards are all unwrapped, and children everywhere will be out today, enjoying the white Christmas.
Me, I'm going to play the violin all day, and eat beef tenderloin and scallops.
This is the view from my studio today, at the brightest hour of daylight:
Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night!
George and I are unattached for the Christmas holidays. With no prior plans, I passively found myself accepting a paid gig for a midnight mass at the town’s catholic church. Midnight mass? I’ve never been, and George agreed that it was at least something to do. “One rehearsal. Easy Christmas carols.” I believe that’s how the email read, if memory serves me. Of course, it’s assumed that one rehearsal will always propagate a second, but oh, it doesn’t stop there.
As the rehearsal unfolded, I witnessed a metamorphosis, a transformation. Suddenly, I was no longer protestant Emily playing protestant hymn arrangements. My violin became an organ, and I found myself sight reading liturgical plainsong while fumbling around on foot pedals.
A plainsong, for those who are not catholic, is a one-measure piece. This measure has many beats--I suppose as many as needed--and uses lots of rubato. A plainsong can come in a variety of modes, as well. Theoretically, I was supposed to keep a consistent bass line with my feet while following the person singing the liturgy with my two hands. This would be a simple job, if I were in fact an organist, and if I had ever even seen a plainsong before. But alas, I was lost, my ears grasping for downbeats that never happened, my fingers searching for traditional Baptist cadences in vain.
The choir director was doing his best, but was actually a doctor. I did what any good back stand fiddler would do and buried my head in the music, hoping I could just blend with whatever everyone else was doing. If the responsibility of introducing a tempo fell on me, I made sure it was upbeat, since the addition of the choir automatically shot us into the “funeral dirge” mode. Every chord became heavy laden, and I strained to heave the mass forward. After a break, the choir director inquired about the reluctant tempo. In the midst of confused muttering, the lone bassist spoke up: “It would help if the keyboard could maybe pick up the tempo.” She looked at me. I stared back in amazement. You sing bass? Meanwhile, the other choir members pondered aloud whether it was, in fact, possible to sing both legato and fast at the same time. After one more agonizing bout with Agnus Dei, the choir director waved his hands and called it an evening.
I’m still not comfortable with the rubato-infested tempi of the plainsong. I don’t know whether it’s more ethical to follow the director, the strings, or the choir. Something inside me has the urge to choose my own tempo and let out all the stops, maybe insert a little toccata in D minor right between the Gloria and the Kyrie. Yeah, a little Bach does the heart good at Christmas time, or any time for that matter. I can’t help but feel that way; I’m a protestant at heart.
As I gathered my music, a first violinist piped up from across the room: “Emily, did you make sure to write a ritard on that last part there?” All the way, baby, all the way.
He groaned and moved forward, sliding the music stand toward me. Maria and I stopped playing and scooted the stand back a little. It was no use. Muttering and growling, he propelled his wheelchair forward like a lethargic bumper car and continued to scoot the stand toward me as I backed into the corner. Was I being attacked? By a wheelchair? At a nursing home, while playing Christmas carols?
After bidding farewell to the sea life, dusting the sand out of my toes, and finishing off the last of the fresh pineapple...
I barely had time to drop my half eaten vacuum-packed StarKist pouch as my automatic reflex kicked in; I found myself taking the butt of the rod from the fishing guide before I was completely aware of what was happening. Lunch could wait. I'd spent eleven hours on a 40-foot boat, hunting for a most-prized specimen of the sea: yellowfin tuna. After long dry spells, a little success with smaller fish, and countless near misses, we finally had one hooked and fighting. The guide strapped on my belt, and the great battle began.
After all of the 25-40 pound salmon and halibut I've had the honor and pleasure of reeling to shore, I thought my little chunk of experience would prepare me for tuna. I was wrong. That silver torpedo cut away, peeling line as though I never even existed. I held on and laughed, waiting for my next chance to gain some ground. Between long sprints, he'd surrender a couple of yards and I would pump and crank. The boat heaved in all directions over the ten foot waves, and my legs quaked from the strain of keeping upright.
There was no question in my mind that I was completely unable to finish the job alone; my muscles were completely shot. Each turn of the handle now seemed Herculean. The fish must have still been at least several hundred feet down and still fighting! Finally, the battle took a turn in my favor when he made a dash in my direction. Reeling quickly, I began to gain ground.
I felt one last jerk, and then the tuna conceded altogether, as though it just wasn't worth the struggle to him anymore. With the last of my feeble strength, I slowly coiled the line back onto the reel, dying to see what would surface on its end. "Boy, he sure got tired!" the captain kept exclaiming. Him? Tired? I'm tired!
Finally, I saw its shining head emerging from the deep. It was a beautiful head, as big around as a man's thigh. Why, the head alone must have weighed five pounds!
...Which is all that it was: a head, a beautiful yellowfin tuna head, whose severed body now rested in pieces inside a shark's belly, somewhere in the deep.
I guess we both had tuna for lunch.
It may not have been with a purple balloon, but I actually did get a chance to fly to Kaua'i the next day. My friend Matt has his pilot's license, so he rented a plane and invited us to go look around. Having never been in a Cessna, I didn't hesitate to take him up on the offer.
The tiny craft leapt off the runway, and before long, we were soaring over Pearl Harbor and leaving the island behind. For a while, it was nothing but ocean on all sides, and I admired the many new shades of blue below me. Kaua'i appeared as a soft glint on the horizon, gradually enlarging into a mountainous, windswept habitation mingled with golf courses and coffee plantations.
We spent a couple of hours snorkeling at the beach before returning to the sky for a tour of the canyon and its waterfalls. I managed to neglect my door, which came open during takeoff, but no one fell out.
On the way home, Matt got an idea. "Hey, Emily, you wanna fly for a while?" I dropped my knitting. Ha, no! Didn't I just almost get us killed on the runway, and now you want me to finish us off over the ocean? No. No. "It's really easy; there are only two things you have to watch." No.
...Well, maybe just a little.
Flying is not so difficult, once you are in the air. I was told to watch the compass and the altimeter and focus on keeping them on course. I tried to glue one eye on each gauge, but as my focus shifted to one, the other would veer off track. I giggled as I overcorrected, and our path took on a few crooks from my green attempt at steering. However, the sky is even more forgiving than the road, having few obstacles and lots of room for error.
"Emily, if you look to the horizon, you'll see the coast of O'ahu. Aim for that point on the right." As I watched the land approaching, the plane immediately steadied. The needles held still without my effort. I simply pointed to the coastline, and the plane flew itself the rest of the way there.
Don't worry, Matt took over for the landing.
Last night I had a symbolic, apocalyptic dream that made me incredibly relieved upon awakening. The bad guys won the world and were taking control of every last freedom. My country, in order to preserve its remaining people, ordered all Americans to be consolidated into one great city, which would be permanently barricaded from the outside world. I knew better; our enforcers actually intended to create a concentration camp and do away with us, since we were of no use to them anymore. All of the citizens were looking for security. I watched my loved ones searching for anything to believe that would give them hope and make them feel safe, but I knew it was pointless.
What to do? I thought about it. I could ask God. I turned my face upward and asked God, "What do I do now?"
"Here, take this," He said, and He handed me a purple balloon.
I thought about Noah and his great embarkment into the unknown and what it must have felt like to have no idea what, if anything, lay ahead of him. Nothing but blue, as far as the eye could see, and a promise. I grabbed the long string on the purple balloon and floated way up into the blue, above the clouds, and looked about to see what was next. It appeared as though I would be waiting up there a while, perhaps indefinitely, but at least it was all sparkly and yellow, and no one could hurt me there.
"Smarmy." "Stale." "Snooty." Those were the first words that came out of the mouths of my friends when I mentioned NPR. While secretly I would agree that the announcers could stand to coat their voices and humor with a little more flavor (they often remind me of rice cakes and musty libraries), I outwardly defended my wish to listen to "From the Top" on the radio at 10:00 this morning, as we headed to the North Shore. If I could endure the tourist traps, certainly they could take a break from the Hawaiian radio station long enough for me to listen to "alice lizard" play. I'd been keeping up with her blog, but I'd not yet heard her on the radio.
Her voice sounds, so... young! I guess after all, she's only thirteen. But it's hard to remember that when I read of all her accomplishments and observe her mature insights and writing style. I remember the things I wrote when I was thirteen, and I lived in a completely different world than hers back then. This is the main reason why we all just can't relate to the show. We listen to the performers like they are specimens in a zoo, put on display so that we can point and gape like tourists and ponder the life of the child prodigy.
I liked Alice's voice. It was kind and professional, and she conveyed confidence without putting on airs. She played "It Ain't Necessarily So" by Gershwin. This piece went over well in the crowded van, who hadn't heard a violinist play Gershwin before. They all agreed she did a fine job, and I felt glad for her. From what I could decipher over the roar of the open windows, I thought she pulled off a great performance. Unfortunately, the following act consisted of a soprano and some opera. At the first sign of fuzz from the radio station, a nearly unanimous vote put us back on the Hawaiian station for some slack key guitar. Well, how can opera compete with "Come to my chest" and "I love you like a mango"? Okay, I admit I enjoy the Hawaiian station, too.
We were off to see the pineapple farms and coffee fields, the bird sanctuary (my pick), and Pipeline (George's pick). Today I discovered:
-I could eat a raw coconut in one sitting, but shouldn't.
-There's a burger stand that will put an entire avacado on your burger.
-Pineapples can kill you.
-Bird sanctuaries are full of red heavyset bathers, not birds.
-The beaches of Hawaii really do have a bunch of tan models hanging out, catching huge waves all day long.
I bought some postcards.
More entries: January 2006 November 2005
Violinist.com is made possible by...
Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases
Thomastik-Infeld's Dynamo Strings
Violinist.com Summer Music Programs Directory
ARIA International Summer Academy
Johnson String Instrument/Carriage House Violins
Discover the best of Violinist.com in these collections of editor Laurie Niles' exclusive interviews.
Violinist.com Interviews Volume 1, with introduction by Hilary Hahn
Violinist.com Interviews Volume 2, with introduction by Rachel Barton Pine