I Have Had Singing

Last Week was rehearsal week. The concerts were Saturday and Sunday, and they went beautifully. Good audiences despite quite a bit of competition, and performances that were worthy and reflective of the effort that went into their making. As I commented before, there were several pieces that really resonated with me, so I really enjoyed the concerts. The week was intense. The concerts were intense. And, now, for a while, nothing—we are finished for this season, and I already miss it.

The title of this post, I Have Had Singing, is the title of a choral work by Steven Sametz, a wonderfully creative composer and the Choral Director at Lehigh University. This piece was not on our concert this year, but I have sung it several times, and I often use the title to express how I feel at this time of the year, when the season is over and the summer hiatus has begun. The text of the piece comes from a work by Ronald Blythe called Akenfield, Portrait of an English Village.

“The singing. There was so much singing then, and this was my pleasure, too.
We all sang, the boys in the fields, the chapels were full of singing, always singing,
always singing. Here I lie. I have had pleasure enough. I have had singing. I have had singing.”

That’s how I feel today. I have had singing. It was my pleasure. But, for the moment, I have had pleasure enough. It is time to be immersed in the beautiful memories.

When fall arrives, it will be time to take up singing again to create more beauty and spread loving kindness to our audiences. Our first concert, in September, is at the ruins of Quarai, one of the three Spanish missions in the Salinas Valley in New Mexico. We sing in the church, which has almost complete walls, but no roof. The Park Service brings in chairs (much better repose than the dirt floor), and we sing to between 125 and 150 people on what is usually a glorious Sunday afternoon. Then it will be time to take up singing once again.

Silence

A few days ago, Victo Dolore published Étude to Silence. It fit my emotional state exceedingly well since I had just returned from a trip that embodied silence in several forms. This post is a few variations on the theme of silence.

Victo and several commenters talked about being alone in the car and being uncomfortable with the silence that occurs when you don’t have your usual distractions–the children, the radio, music from your phone, or whatever. On the surface, to my literal little mind, given the actual meaning of the word “silence” as being without sound, this is a strange interpretation, since the car is a pretty noisy environment. But, it isn’t a lack of sound that produces the “silence,” it is the lack of distractions. The background noise in the car doesn’t count. We don’t hear that, and if we don’t hear it, it isn’t there. Without distractions, we are in silence.

I live and work at home in a variant of the silence of the car. There is no radio or tv in my workspace, no music from a computer player or Pandora; there is only fan noise from lots of computer equipment. But, mostly, I don’t hear that. I don’t listen to it, and if I don’t listen to it, it isn’t there. Then, there is the tinnitus. I don’t listen to that either, so I work in silence. For me, this “silence” is the best work environment. I could not work with audio distractions because it would be––distracting. When I play music, I find myself listening to it.

Last Saturday, the men’s ensemble I sing with performed a concert at Ghost Ranch in northern New Mexico. Ghost Ranch is remote: 15 miles from the nearest village or small town; an hour or more from anything you could describe as a city. A place of great beauty and great silence–no cell phone coverage with my carrier; no road noise; a noisy airplane 35,000 feet away every few days. At night there is no visual noise from city lights, and you can see so many more stars than in the city. One of the great beauties of the earth available only in silence.

One of the pieces we sang was Loving Kindness by Stephen Paulus. It is a setting of a text adapted from the Digha Nikaya that begins “Put away all your hindrances, let your mind full of loving kindness pervade one quarter of the world…” You can read the text here. This is not a prescription for passive contemplation–these are acts that can only be accomplished with effort in an environment of silence.

Sunday morning we sang at a Benedictine monastery that observes the rule of silence. It is completely off the grid, 15 miles off the paved road on the side of a river valley in a place that is amazingly beautiful. They have a small church–20 visitors at their Sunday morning mass is a crowd. Our ensemble sang after the completion of the mass in a room so filled with smoke from the incense that you could barely see across it. The result was a sublime interruption of the monks’ normal silence. Combined with the surpassing beauty of the location and the chill of the spring morning, it was a perfect experience breaking the silence in just the right way. For the monks, it is a small break in the silence–not an end to it. It allows the monks to return to the silence with greater appreciation.

So, here are a few variations on the theme that highlight silence as something to be sought, rather than something to be avoided. Let the silence itself direct you to beauty. Let your mind fill with loving kindness.

The Race is O’re…

DC-RnR-2015-medalThe race is over, and we’re back home. We left Thursday for the DC Rock and Roll Marathon and returned today.

The race was Saturday morning, and the temperature was perfect, in the low 40s. The rain, however, was not perfect. It had been raining since before midnight and continued until at least noon. By the end of the race at RFK Stadium, we were all soaked and pretty cold–the ambulances running from the medical tent at the finish were unusually busy.

I haven’t examined my splits in detail, but I was ahead of schedule at 5 miles and still on schedule at 10 miles. I finished about 4 minutes behind schedule, so I had to have lost that time in the last 5 k. I didn’t feel bad, and there were no notable terrain features. The rain got a little worse and the wind came up, and I guess that slowed me down (oh, Ok, I suppose the milage had some effect, too).

Surely the weather took some toll, and being somewhat under prepared had an effect, but overall I was still happy with the race. The worst part was standing around in the cold rain after I finished waiting for my Muse, who walks, to finish her race. There was almost no shelter and close to 30,000 people to be accommodated. There were lots of crazy folks there that day. And then there was standing in line to get into the metro station and trying to ride with a waterlogged metro card. When they are that wet, they don’t go through the machines.

Our schedules are pretty busy for the next few months, so we may not do another half until September. But, maybe we’ll try to find something close to here in June.

Aside from the miseries of the race itself, the weekend was wonderful. Our main purpose in going was to celebrate the return to health of Middle Daughter who has spent the last year dealing with breast cancer. We took Older Sister with us, and Brother lives in the District, so we had a glorious celebration. Saturday was, of course, Pi-day (3.14.15) so Daughter-in-law made pie and we all got together for that at the end of the day. Sunday was more family time. The ladies went shopping for running gear, and Brother and I played with the granddaughters.

“Cancer free”–a wonderful reason to celebrate!

 

Race Prep

I recently mentioned in the post My Daughter…Again that we were planning to do a half marathon together in March. A half is not something that most people can do without preparation, and certainly not at my age (73 on race day). By now, I know what has to be done—I’ve been doing this for many years. But, somehow, more important things always seem to get in the way of the training dates I pick out, and I get to the race under-prepared. So, this time I decided to try something different. I put all the training distances on my calendar, just like any other appointment. It’s pretty daunting when you see it all written down.

I’m pretty slow these days. Six years ago, before abdominal surgery, I was running 2:10 for a half (yes, I know how slow that is) and looking for ways to get under 2 hours. I don’t think my running ever really recovered after the surgery, and lately I’ve been looking for ways to get under 2:40. That is made more difficult by me being more ornery than I was before, and unwilling to do some of the things I know would improve my speed. For example, I never did like interval training—a proven way to get faster. So, I’ve retired from that: I won’t do it any more. I’ll still do pace runs, but in truth, I run pretty much at the pace I’m going to run (in the race) all of the time—unless, of course, I slow down. I can feel serious runners cringing at this attitude, but that’s the way it is.

When I was around 40, and a relative neophyte at running (25 or so years experience), I realized that longevity was more valuable to me than winning races. I decided that I wanted to still be running when I was 80, and if that was going to happen I had to have a different attitude toward injury prevention. My style changed. I stopped doing other activities where injury would prevent running and poured my athletic energy into the pleasures of the road. So far it has worked. When I’m 80, I’ll have 65 years experience running and I’ll have covered 75 or 80,000 miles. No regrets about the decision, and I’m proud of how much I’ve run even if I’m very slow. The good side of getting older is that a lot of the wimps have dropped out, and I now often win my age group.

So far I’ve held to my training schedule, except for a change I had to make this morning because of too much snow where I planned to go, and I don’t have any trips planned before the race, so I should get there ready to go. My daughter and I ran together just after Christmas, and her grace and beautiful style were an inspiration. Even after being sick for a year, she’s still a lot faster than I am, so I hope to see her long enough in the race to be inspired again. In any case, her older sister is going with us also to do the race. Her brother lives in DC, and a step-brother from New Jersey may join us, so we will have a grand family weekend.

Traditions

We humans love traditions. To do something again that we have done in the past gives us comfort; it is a way of connecting the past with an evermore confusing present. Some traditions are personal and some get adopted by others and become societal. We teach them to our children to have them carried forward. Thanksgiving is one of those traditions that connects us to the early days of Europeans in North America. The harvest time of year, the turkey, the pumpkin pies all remind us that life was difficult and the help of our neighbors was sometimes needed.

My Muse and I have our own Thanksgiving tradition. We begin the day with a Thanksgiving Day race, a 5k race that we did yesterday with 1000 of our best friends (most of whom we had never met before). When the race is over, we rush home to get the turkey in the oven. It never seems like there will be enough time between the race and when people start to arrive for the other half of the tradition: the friends and neighbors potluck. But, it always works out, and we have learned to trust that the turkey will be ready on time. We are never quite sure who will show up or what they will bring (no pre-planning for the potluck here–just bring what you want). We are always surprised that we have way too much (well, that isn’t really a surprise), and that we have a balance meal. We never end up with 15 salads or deserts and nothing else.

Some didn’t make it this year. The neighbors who run a Chinese restaurant had a family obligation. One friend was suddenly in the hospital. One neighbor who just had knee replacement showed up on her walker. But, some new folks appeared and said they would be back next year. So, the tradition continues to build and will continue to be a part of how we connect the past to the present and our neighbors to ourselves. That continuity keeps us grounded and helps make sense of life.

All Saints Day

It’s All Saints Day, a day to remember those who have gone before.

I remember with gratitude my parents and grandparents who shaped me and helped me become the person I am. I remember and thank my Muse’s parents and grandparents who shaped her. I never met any of them but I am grateful for the way they shaped her.

I am also grateful for the opportunity to continue to use their legacy of teachings to help shape our children and grandchildren.