Tag Archives: Beethoven

Back to “The Con”…the Sydney Conservatorium of Music.

As you may recall, a few weeks ago I went back to Sydney University for the first time in decades. Well, last Wednesday night, I  found myself back at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music doing the time warp again. This time, I was attending concert pianist, Gerard Willems’ Twilight Recital, which marked his retirement from full-time teaching at the Con.

While it only seems like yesterday, I haven’t been back to the Con since my grandmother’s Twilight Recital around 30 years ago. At the time, I was in the throws of leaving school, but now I’m married with two kids and our eldest isn’t terribly far off leaving school himself. So, clearly a lot of water’s flowed under the bridge, and even much of the landscape has been swept away by the tide. Yet, I still felt remarkably at home.

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Gerard Willems and his former teacher, Nada Brissenden.

By the way, I wasn’t just attending this concert out of interest. Gerard is almost an extended member of the family via one of my mother’s “secret societies”. Mum and Gerard both attended Wollongong Selective High School and learned the piano from  Nada Brissenden who, along with her husband Harold, introduced Suzuki Music to Australia. Mum was a year ahead of Gerard, and their paths have crossed over the years, which included studying piano at the Con. There was also a rather significant-to-me soiree which my grandmother Eunice Gardiner put on to give Gerard further performance experience. Not that Gerard was one of her pupils. Rather, he was studying under Gordon Watson. This soiree was also interesting because Australian authors Ruth Park and her husband D’Arcy Niland were there. Knowing Mum knew Gerard and possibly also because she had some single sons, my grandmother also invited my mother to the soiree. So, it was actually Gerard who first introduced my parents at Lindfield Station for the very first time on Sunday 26th March, 1967. That’s a connection you never forget and was brought up again recently at my parents’ 50th Wedding Anniversary.  There’s still is a group of Mrs Brissenden’s former students who get together, forming an extended musical family of sorts. After all, you have your genetic family but as a musician you also have your musical family.

However, I also had an ulterior motive for going back to the Con. I wanted to revisit my grandmother’s old studio. See if I could find my way through the old rabbit warren and back to her door. I remember going in there as a young child after visiting my grandfather who had a dental practice in nearby Macquarie Street. The Con itself was stark white back then and I remember some weird story about how they cleaned it using Coca Cola. I remember going up some stairs and along a longish corridoor and there was a grand piano in the room. Dad told me that it overlooked the Botanical Gardens. So, that narrowed things down quite a lot. So, I planned to arrive quite early for the concert to ensure no regrets.

Conservatorium Sign

A Sign Promoting one of my grandmother’s concerts at the Con around 1960.

By the way, the Conservatorium building is famous in its own right. In 1815, Governor Lachlan Macquarie commissioned ex-convict Francis Greenway to design the government stables. Macquarie had a grand architectural vision for the fledgling colony and what emerged was more of a “Palace for Horses”  in the Old Colonial Gothick style. Indeed, it reminds me of  Mad King Ludwig of Bavaria’s architectural extravagance. The cost and apparent extravagance was one of the reasons Governor Macquarie was recalled to England. In 1916, the building was extensively renovated and the Sydney Conservatorium of Music was established under directorship of Belgian conductor and violinist, Henri Verbrugghen, with the aim of ‘providing tuition of a standard at least equal to that of the leading European Conservatoriums’.

As I said, it’s been 30 years since I was last at the Con. For better or worse, a massive extension has been built and the original building has had an extensive facelift. Of course, it’s been tastefully done and if I didn’t have an intense personal attachment to the original, I’d only be impressed.

However, as much as I know we couldn’t let the old girl fall apart and that the building itself is representing Australian classical music on the world stage, a facelift is still a facelift. I miss the white paint. The cracks, wrinkles and crooked appearance. Indeed, I’d love to wipe all the beige away and bring her back out of her glamorous shell…even if only long enough to take a photo and then send her back to sleep.

The ticket office is in the new part of the Con and I noticed a sign saying “No Public Admittance” where I’m needing to access my grandmother’s studio. However, as soon as I explained the situation, I was granted access and off I hopped with my camera. I was so excited, even though I was warned that it had changed and the “rabbit’s warren was gone”. Dad had also told me that her studio looked out onto the Botanic Gardens, which narrowed things down quite a lot. I climbed up the stairs and slowly walked along the corridoor. I could hear piano music on my right and saw a grand piano through the window. Her room was further along from memory but very soon I was distracted by the sound of a violin tuning up downstairs. I found it rather strange than when I, the closet violinist come back retracing my grandmother’s footsteps, a violinist was playing. (As it turned out this was  Evgeny Sorkin who played Beethoven’s Sonata for Piano and Violin in D Major Op. 12 No. 1. with Gerard during the concert.

Yet, the main reason I was at the Con was to attend this concert. So, we’d better head upstairs into the gallery where I had an absolutely fabulous seat with a bird’s eye view. Verbruggen Hall seats around 550 people and as far as I could tell, everyone there loved Gerard, not just as a pianist but as a person. He exudes such warmth and embraces the audience. Gerard introduced each piece himself, usually with an extensive preamble and I was hanging onto each and every word. Indeed, I was voraciously taking notes up in my seat. Among so many other things, Gerard is a teacher and I felt like this concert was also his last hurrah in that department as well trying to share as much of his knowledge and somehow try to encourage the spirit of music which lives in each of us to soar.

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. However, here are a few snapshots.

Gerard Willems.JPG

Gerard Willems.

Firstly, I was struck by how Gerard would play that solitary, perfect note in a way that transcended our earthly realm and entered the heavens. Indeed, I was reminded of when you look up into the night sky and see the planet Venus twinkling almost like a star yet in its solitude. One of my great frustrations as a beginner violinist, was the difficulty of even being able to play one perfect note. I kept practicing and practicing and I’d play two strings instead of one. My bow would glide diagonally across the strings and screech like a flock of cockatoos. It was so incredibly frustrating and yet I was determined to succeed. Gerard made me appreciate the enormity of playing that one perfect note. That it’s nowhere near as easy as you think.

Secondly, I was completely blown away by his unbelievable physicality playing Chopin’s Scherzo No. 1 in B minor Op. 20. Remember the man is retiring and this piece of music, is very physically demanding. Incredible.

However, while the other pieces were far more complex, I couldn’t go past Moonlight Sonata, which was followed by the Brahm’s Lullaby. He played these because these are the pieces he played for his baby daughter, Clara, and grandchildren. Indeed, as he played the Brahms, his wife appeared on stage hold Clara’s hands and helping her to walk across the stage to her Dad. She is only one year old and beyond cute. I noticed when I later looked at the photos that she was wearing a black jacket which looked a bit like a conductor’s jacket. As I said, she was extraordinarily cute and it was so touching to see how much Gerard loves his wife and baby girl. That was another time when you could feel all the stars twinkling in the sky and a sense of magic.

After the concert, I stayed the night at my parents’ place and had been so overstimulated by the concert, that I couldn’t sleep for hours. All my matches had been lit at once and I was firing on too many cylinders I suspect.

Best wishes,

Rowena

Sources

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sydney_Conservatorium_of_Music

 

 

 

 

An Almighty Juggling Act…Concert Pianist & Mother, Eunice Gardiner.

If you’ve been following Beyond the Flow for any length of time at all, you’ll know that I’m totally obsessed and absorbed in research. Indeed, I wrap myself up in all these stories like a thick fleecy blanket feeling so snug and cosy.

Yet, there’s also that frustration. The compulsion to keep on searching even though you know what you’re looking for isn’t out there, and you’re needing to go offline.

That’s where I was tonight.  I’m actually in the throws of researching my grandfather’s second cousin, Asher Hart, who was a champion swimmer who was struck down by polio in his teens, but went on to become a surf champion and saved four lives on Black Sunday 1938 when a mini tsunami hit a crowded Bondi Beach in Sydney. Given my own struggles with disability and muscle wastage, he’s been such an inspiration to me in recent years, even though I only stumbled across him five years ago while I was recovering from chemo.

Anyway, it was getting late by now and I was winding down while my last cup of tea was cooling down, and entered my grandfather’s name into the search engine for these old newspapers. You can tag the articles so I can easily spot the ones I’ve read and the ones I’ve missed. New newspapers are being uploaded so it can be very productive to revisit what really might seem like the end of the road. Indeed, my motto is: Never Give Up, which could be a bit of a problem when research isn’t supposed to be the centre of my universe. Or, as is often the case, it can easily become my universe. I can become incredibly focused.

So, here I am tinkering away with these old newspapers around midnight, when I strike gold. Indeed, tinkering right before bed can be quite a bad thing because that seems to be when I stumble across something I can’t put down. That I must explore immediately and there endeth a good night’s sleep.

Eunice with Bon in Backpack

Tonight, I stumbled across an article and photo of my grandmother, concert pianist Eunice Gardiner carrying my uncle in a back pack. I have never even seen this photo before, and I’m absolutely stoked. There she is not only photographed with him in the backpack, but she’s also talking about going shopping with the toddler on her back, the baby on the front while my grandfather was away with the army. Yet, not one to be conquered like us other mere mortals, she was also giving a Beethoven Concert at the   Sydney Conservatorium. Moreover, she discusses all of this as though everybody was doing it and there’s no talk at all about taking one small step for woman and an enormous leap for womenkind”. She was simply her own person. Mind you, that was also a bit of a luxury enabled by her mother, Mrs Ruby Gardiner, who steeped in and looked after the kids a long with household help. There was actually a migrant hostel at nearby with a source of willing labour. That’s not to belittle her extraordinary achievements, but I share this to console those of us battling to stay afloat in the real world. My two are just under two years apart, and I haven’t forgotten the difficulties of trying to get out the door with two little ones in tow. I also had backpacks, front packs but for getting to the shops, I had this extraordinary double pram contraption I’d picked up from the op shop with a toddler seat on the front. It was the size of a bus and really didn’t encourage going out. By the way, we also had a huge English Sheepdog who was tied to the pram on these walks. In hindsight, I don’t know how we survived. Rufus could well have bolted to the beach after a seagull despite the cumbersome attachments. He was that type of dog…a pure maniac.

Eunice 1948 USA

My Grandmother at the Australian Embassy in Washington, 1948. She had three children all back in Australia when this photo was taken, including my Dad. So hard to comprehend on so many, many levels.

Despite my grandmother having seven children, I never thought of her being loaded up to the hilt with kids like myself. While my youngest uncles are only ten and eleven years older than me, I still just think of her as MY GRANDMOTHER and given that I often went round and saw her on my own, that makes a lot of sense. Each of us has multiple roles and relationships to different people and we’re not as pigeon-holed as we often try to make out. Indeed, she was much more complex than her title: “Melba of the Piano” implied. She was a modern, Renaissance Woman.

I was so happy to find this article, that I decided to post it here where it’s easily accessible to the family and I can share it with you as well. It’s not like showing it on TV. My blog has more of an “intimate” audience.

I hope you enjoy reading it and might even feel a tad inspired, even if it is only to take yourself off for a walk.

Best wishes,

Rowena

I remember reading a story about your grandmother. I think it was about her trip to New York, if I’m not mistaken. She was quite the character, traveling alone to follow her passion.

Thanks for the comment, Rowena. Have a nice day. 🙂

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  1. Thank you, Varad. My grandmother has been this incredible mystery all my life and having all these old newspapers go online, has both illuminated and confused me. One of the things that really blew me away, was finding out there was a miniature grand piano on top of my grandparents’ wedding cake. My husband and I have both thought it was an acknowledgement that my grandfather was marrying her the piano and all that went with it. I’ve never seen a photo of the cake and would dearly love to and I only found out about it from the newspapers. It is very strange finding out such personal details about your own grandmother through old newspapers online. The other thing that I’ve come to realize is that her genes have been passed onto us. In the past, that was simply seen as whether or not we’d inherited her musical talent, and perhaps in the more specific context of the piano. Could we play? It’s taken me some time and a few more generations to join the mix, to see that we have inherited a smattering of things from her, including an absolutely dogged determination and focus, which was just as important to her success as her musical talent. A jack of all trades isn’t going to cut the mustard.
    You’ve inspired got a story there, Varad and I’m going to paste it to the end of my post. Your comment really got me thinking this morning as I’m back at my desk with a cup of tea, porridge and my go pills.
    Hope you have a lovely weekend!
    Best wishes,
    Rowena

 

Weekend Coffee Share – 21st May, 2018.

 “It would be so nice if something would make sense for a change.”

Alice in Wonderland.

 

Welcome to Another Weekend Coffee Share on Yet Another Monday Night.

Well, my excuse is that I had to get all dolled-up and formal on Saturday, and it was such a shock to the system, that I had to retire to my bed for all of Sunday and even much of today. While I did have a bit of a joke about having a Front Row Seat at the Royal Wedding, the truth is almost as inconceivable. I was playing my violin at Gig Night at the music studio and being a violinist to the very core, I had to wear my blacks. Indeed, I dug the Winter-weight Calvin Klein number out of hibernation, and strutted my stuff. Well, I wasn’t strutting because my shoes were too tight, I can’t strut at the best of times and inspite of myself I was more than a tad nervous. Not because I’m scared of performing. I knew I hadn’t really done enough practice and that there would be mistakes, but I didn’t want too many mistakes. Moreover, I didn’t want to stuff up the bits I always get right. I did that at the end of year concert and actually pulled off the tricky bits. After much philosophical reflection, I’ve decided that the violin is a bit of a temperamental character, who is insanely jealous and refuses to cooperate when ignored and like to stuff things up for you just for the hell of it. Yet, for some strange reason, I’ve remained faithful and haven’t packed up my bags and returned to the piano. Not yet, anyway.

 

You can read more about my performance in A Legend In My Own Hair Follicles

 

“If I had a world of my own, everything would be nonsense. Nothing would be what it is because everything would be what it isn’t. And contrary-wise; what it is it wouldn’t be, and what it wouldn’t be, it would. You see?”

Alice in Wonderland

So how was your week?

Did you watch the Royal Wedding? What did you think of it? What were the standouts? While I didn’t have the opportunity to conduct a representative survey, from what I’ve heard, the Address seems to be the most talked about aspect of the wedding. It seems some people loved it, others thought it went on too long, and I’ve downloaded the transcript to fully get my head around it, although I’m yet to read it fully. In terms of the Address being too long, if I was the Most Reverend Curry, I would’ve made the most of having my one chance in life to speak to the world. While he might not have been Dr Martin Luther King, he had a beautiful and very powerful message about love and acceptance and with all the awful things happening in our world in both public and private arenas, we need a good dose of what he had to say. Indeed, we each need to wake up and start trying to make a difference in the same way that Harry and Meghan are already doing, and it will be exciting to see what kind of impact they’ll have, now that they’ve become a team.

Tomorrow, I have an appointment with my lung specialist. He’s usually happy to see me twice, or even once a year.However, after my lung function tests two weeks ago, it was “I’ll see you in two weeks”. They showed that my lung capacity has dropped 20% in six months. Mind you, I’ve had a lot of lung and even a severe sinus infection, and so the big hope was the the drop was due to infection. So, he whacked me on more “horse pills” and I tried to exercise more and do what I could to save me from more intervention. Of course, I’m “feeling better”. No, I truly am and I’m not coughing anywhere near as much. Indeed, a week ago when I was talking to my mother on the phone, she noted that I hadn’t coughed. Hopefully, her observations will be supported by tomorrow’s results.

By the way, I should’ve mentioned this earlier, but Masterchef Australia has started up again for 2018. I’m an absolute diehard fan of the show, and while I might not make the recipes they create, I do add little bits and pieces to my own cooking, to add a bit of pizazz. I’ve even cooked with fennel, which felt far more alien to me than a thing called a “custard apple” (thanks to my mother being a Queenslander).

Anyway, it’s Nigella Week on Masterchef and tonight, there was a an eleimination pressure test… Nigella’s Chocolate Feast. It was a hard show for a chocoholic like me to sit through. However, I’m already planning to make her fudgy brownies. They were so gooey and sensational.

Nigella Nutella Cake

Nigella’s Nightmare…The Avalanche.

I must admit I sympathized with Nigella’s Victims tonight, as they were making her Chocolate Olive Oil Mouse. Two years ago, I also came a cropped making Nigella’s Nutella Cake. Like one of the contestants, I also over-beat the egg whites, and it ended in disaster, which I dubbed:  Nigella’s Heartache. After all, it’s all well and good when people post beautiful recreations of your recipes, but it’s not so good when they flaunt their disasters all over the World Wide Web.

Before I head off, I just wanted to mention my latest contribution to Friday Fictioneers…A Special Child. This is written about a young girl on the Autism Spectrum who goes missing in the bush.

Zac running at Ocean beach May 18

Zac running along the beach.

Oops, I almost forgot. The dogs received a bit of an update this week…Pup Psychologist, Anyone? Since I posted this, we went on a disastrous trip with the three dogs to the beach yesterday when all three refused to come when called and Zac and Rosie were sprinting up and down the beach and Lady was wondering off on her own. There were a few fishermen along the beach and we could see the dogs stealing their bait, their and getting tangled in the lines. Time to go home. That is, if you can catch them. Training will now be intensifying for both dogs and humans.

Well, it’s getting late and I have a long and big day ahead tomorrow.

I hope you had a great week and I look forward to catching up on your news.

Best wishes,

Rowena

 

 

A Legend in My Own Hair Follicles.

Before the magic of the Royal Wedding and seeing Harry and Meaghan tie the knot in spectacular fashion, I hung up my pink washing up gloves and metamorphosed into a star. I, the greatest unknown violinist, legend in her own hair follicles, performed Minuet by Beethoven with my violin teacher at Gig Night. That’s the modern equivalent of what was known as a “Soiree” back in the day. Indeed, it might have been more like my grandparents’ day, but there we were performing in the studio with real performance lights and sound equipment and our very own stage. It was personal, intimate and my husband and kids were all lined up in a row in the audience…my support crew.

Well, behind every star performer, there’s also their teacher. When it comes to my teacher, however, she had special duties. She was not only accompanying me in our duet in the kind of way that compensates for what I’ll call my “idiosyncrasies”, she had to help me on and off stage. Indeed, we made a decision that I would enter from backstage to prevent me from having a spectacular trip and fall getting up on the stage. I’m pretty good at reconnaissance these days, and I needed to hold onto the wall climbing up the step and was rather concerned that I could fall into the amp. The good thing is that the team at the music school is well versed in my idiosyncrasies and were only too willing to help. Moreover, I’m also one to speak up.

I should also point out that the staff at the music school have experienced these idiosyncracies before. A few years ago when we were performing at the school Christmas Carols, I stepped on the edge of the where the asphalt meets the grass and my ankle flipped over (not uncommon) and then I heard this crunch and fell. The pain was excruciating. Blood was dripping down my knee, but did I pike out? Does a violinist ever give up, even when the ship is sinking? Of course not. I played on and was helped on and off the stage that night too.

My performance tonight wasn’t perfect. I knew it wasn’t going to be. Yet, I was hopeful. Moreover, despite my nerves, I really love performing and being a part of a performance. I like getting out of my cramped quarters in our corridor of a dining room where I usually have to hold my breath as husband, kids, dogs, tennis balls squeeze or fly past and put my feet on that stage, dress up in my blacks and even put on come makeup and lipstick and be a violinist on the outside too. A musician. Knowing I belong here. That this stage is mine, even if it’s only for a few minutes. I own this space (something I picked up from dancing btw).

It’s a space I usually have to grow into, because it’s all too easy to put my playing down. I’m not in the Sydney Symphony Orchestra. So, how could I ever consider myself a violinist? I haven’t even tried to learn vibrato, because I really don’t believe in myself. Don’t believe it’s possible. Of course, as I said, I have a decent list of “idiosyncracies”, which let me off the hook. Moreover, be honest, it hasn’t felt that important. It’s been more important to simply be able to play without making mistakes. However, it’s something I come back to once in a while, and learning vibrato is a natural progression for a violinist. Just like my daughter will soon be getting her first pair of pointe shoes for ballet, I should be equally enthusiastic and bursting out of my skin to learn vibrato. Take the next step. I should be wanting to grow, even though it usually means a phase of going backwards as we tackle the new skill.

Anyway, the reason I’m writing about all of this is twofold.

Firstly, I wanted to share my violin world with you. I don’t write about it all that often, but I actually have a lesson each week. I am quite a fan of Suzuki method, although I use the music and don’t play by ear. For those who know Suzuki, I recently moved onto Book Three. I was so proud. It’s been a long journey. I have hydrocephalus and dermatomyositis.  So, I never thought I’d be able to play the violin at all and only took it up again when my daughter insisted on learning, and she needed some assistance. I sat in on her lessons and while she has a rather on and off again relationship with her violin, I’ve stuck with it. She’d probably get to my level after a few weeks’ steady practice, but I’d only be delighted to see her overtake me. Well, she already has. She performed at the Sydney Opera House with her school two years ago at the tender age of 10. Clearly, you’re much better off trying to play at the Opera House as a young beginner than a geriatric.

The other reason I wanted to share my violin journey with you, is to encourage you to consider taking up that instrument you’ve always wanted to play. To go back to the piano you played at a kid, which could well be used for displaying family photos and ornaments than it’s intended purpose. Have a go.

I never considered myself a real music lover or expert of any sort. However, I can sense this is changing. That something new is awakening within. Actually, it’s not something new. It’s like when you’re doing a big clean-up and you find something you haven’t seen for a good 10-20 years and you taken right back to that forgotten time and place and all the emotions come flooding back as there’s that sense of coming home. I have always loved to sing and was good enough, but my voice is rusty and my violin’s become my voice, and to turn to the words of Johnny Farnham’s The Voice I need to

You’re the voice, try and understand it
Make a noise and make it clear

Do you have any musical dreams? If you could be any musician, who would you be? I’ll have to give it some thought.

Best wishes,

Rowena

Second-Hand Miracles

On Wednesday, I went into the Lifeline opportunity (op) shop in Avalon and had a totally life-changing experience. Even with my great faith in op shops, even I was amazed!

After all, don’t you usually have to do something totally and utterly amazing to have such a profound life changing experience? This is why bucket lists are so popular and seekers almost go bankrupt climbing Mt Everest only to go scuba diving in the deepest depths of the Mariana Trench at the other the extreme.

I have more justifications than a politician for why I can’t undertake such adventures and you are probably much the same. You are also bound to your own patch of soil and just can’t take off and travel the world to “find yourself”. Instead, you have to find yourself in the much less glamorous context of home among the relatively mundane and every day.

Don’t despair!  You don’t have to go anywhere to be profoundly inspired and experience real miracles. Miracles can and do happen anywhere at any time… even in the most common, ordinary and everyday places!

They’ve even happened to me.

Although they seem unlikely sources of inspiration, I’ve been amazed at what I’ve actually found in op shops. In these halfway houses where discarded, unwanted junk and otherwise faded dreams are recycled and reborn, I’ve found treasures which fit my needs exactly, like a key in a lock. It’s like someone has gone in and left it there for me personally. That it’s had “my name on it” and the price is right too. However, Geoff will tell you that the cumulative effect has been quite expensive.

I’ve found a lot of truly inspiring things lately but I particularly wanted to share my visit to the Lifeline Shop in Avalon on Wednesday. This was the day before my latest session of chemo (or round one as I’ve now found out) and the day before I received my results so I was naturally in a fairly profound mood and actively searching for inspiration and retail therapy on a budget of sorts!!

I wasn’t disappointed!!

Hard to believe John Denver ever had "the look"!

Hard to believe John Denver ever had “the look”!

My first amazing “find” was a record by John Denver called Rhymes & Reasons. The cover is so 1960s and he looks like a real Irish leprechaun is a very green outfit. I don’t usually buy old records but I’ve never found any worth buying before. This one strangely appealed to me. I don’t know why. It just said pick me up. Have a closer look. Turn me over.  By contemporary tastes, the cover was very “bad taste”, dated and even comical but there was a sincerity about it…his smile perhaps and I do love John Denver’s music. Actually, looking at the cover now, it was stamped 1969 which was the year I was born so perhaps this is even more of a message for me than for my children which is how I perceived it at the time. That’s right. I’m a real flower child.

So I picked up the record and read the back. Now, remember that I have been working on writing and sharing life lessons for the kids when you read this:

For the children and the flowers

Are my sisters and brothers,

Their laughter and their loveliness

Could clear a cloudy day,

Like the music of the mountains and

The colours of the rainbow,

They’re a promise of the future

And a blessing for today.

And the song that I’m singing

Is a prayer to non-believers,

Come and stand beside us,

we can find a better way.

 John Denver.

Doesn’t that just blow your mind away? I think I’m going to have to find this album on CD or convert it over or something. The songs are brilliant too and I really wish I could listen to it right now:  Leaving On a Jet Plane, the Love of the Common People, I Wish I knew How it Would Feel to be Free, Today is the First Day of the Rest of My life. There is also a song I haven’t heard called Catch Another Butterfly. Don’t know what that one is about but I use butterflies as Amelia’s symbol. She is the pink butterfly on my charm bracelet and I decorated her bedroom with butterflies before she was even born. She was my beautiful butterfly baby! By the way, I also picked up a little toy tea set for her with butterflies on it for her upcoming birthday. Another “coincidence”!

The record cover was my first “connection” but my finds rapidly continued.

Soon, I came across the handbag which I wrote about in a previous post. Now, I have been on the hunt for the perfect, black handbag for years. You see, I am seriously organisationally and spatially challenged and I’ve really been working hard to overcome these problems, especially once I found out about neuroplasticity. The idea that I could actually change the way I think and the very structure of my brain through repetition and that I wasn’t set in stone, set me free from so many self-imposed constraints. Armed with the evidence that practice instead of avoidance was the way forward, I could now radically improve some of what I had considered insurmountable personal faults. I even have a shunt in my brain to remind me that I’m not quite “normal” so I had good reason to believe in my limitations. They’d been fully documented on MRIs. However, this new found neuroplasticity literally took the bird out of the cage and offered me back up to the sky and now I’m flying free. That’s a huge change…liberation in fact!

Anyone who knows me will choke because they know how disorganised I can be. What I’ve found works for me, is having a place for everything and everything in its place. Please note that this hasn’t been achieved. I’m still struggling to find a place for the most important things and trying very, very hard to be systematic and actually put them back there again. You need a system, structure, routine. These are precisely the skills I lack in myself so I have to import them from outside myself. This is why I, in particular, needed this perfect, very well-structured and organised handbag. It’s finally going to get me “sorted”.

The trouble is that when it’s come to finding this perfect bag, I’ve had many false friends. The handles haven’t been strong enough to manage my books and there hasn’t been an outside pocket for my phone. I go to reach in for my keys and a handful of tissues fall out. I have many, many bags but most of them probably need to be sent to the op shop for someone else to “discover”.

Inside the bag- fabulous organisation!

Inside the bag- fabulous organisation!

Anyway, when I went to the op shop on Wednesday, I wasn’t looking for handbags. I was looking for books…inspiration! However, I spotted this bag. It was black. It was leather but it also had a $25.00 price tag and I was already in serious trouble for overspending in op shops. But it was leather and it wasn’t that expensive and it wasn’t going to cost anything to check it out. Aha! I lifted up the clasp and hey presto. There it was… the perfect handbag with separate, individualised spots for pens, my business card, cards, keys, wallet and room for my book and notepad. It had a place for everything to stay in its place and it also had a strong 2cm leather strap which could go across my body so it wouldn’t fall off my shoulder all the time. Moreover, if you are into brands it was a Fossil meaning it was very stylish and retails for around $300.00…so it was quite a steal at $25.00.

Yesterday, I took the bag with me for my big appointment with Professor and I felt so organised and “together” and that really helped. I had everything to hand at what was potentially going to be a very emotionally challenging time and that made such a difference. I was actually “together”!

Thank you Lord! I never expected that our God who created the universe could be bothered with my quest for the perfect handbag but he was. For some strange reason, he cares about me on a very personal, intimate level that doesn’t always make sense. Things dosn’t always happen in quite the way I’d expect but he’s always in the picture somewhere.

However, I wasn’t there for handbags or the John Denver record. I was mainly interested in books.

The books were up the back of the shop and I sat down there for quite some time meticulously going through them. First, I built up my pile and then I was trying to be ruthless, which I always find so difficult with books. They all want to be my friends and each has a compelling story to tell. I went through my pile several times putting back quite a few titles in a futile attempt to feign self-discipline. Each of the books somehow seemed to speak to me in a profoundly personal way. Books have a knack of that. However, contrary to appearances, I’m being very selective and am trying to rein the books in. Two years ago, I actually pulled off a quest to cull 100 books from our house and that was a massive effort. I have seriously undone all that good work on these holidays with the enormous swag of books I’ve bought. I dare not do a count.

Anyway, while I was hovering around the counter, I spotted a huge family King James Bible dating back to 1960. While it isn’t antique, it has a lot of Victorian flourishes including, as I subsequently found out, a section in the middle for writing up your family tree. You can’t get much more Rowie than that!! Anyway, the lady in the op shop gave me the Bible. “You can have that,” she said. She didn’t know this but I’d actually left my Bible at home so this was quite an inspired gift.

Well, you could say that a Bible is the ultimate inspirational gift but that means you also have to read it and there’s the sting.

Well, I’m bringing the Bible downstairs into the house and I’m flicking through it and I found this: . It has a presentation page, a title page and then it has an entire page dedicated to this verse:

Divine Inspiration. The Bible just fell open at this page:

Divine Inspiration. The Bible just fell open at this page.

Divine Inspiration. The Bible just fell open at this page.

As children, this was a verse we really had drummed into us in Sunday School. We all loved it, of course, because we thought it meant we could have all the toys and lollies our little hearts desired. However, I still remember my disappointment as our teacher explained that it didn’t work this way. I’m still not really sure that I fully understand how this verse does work even now but with my medical results due in the morning, it gave me fresh hope. Ask and it shall be given to you and it was. My treatment has worked. Just like a common pizza, God has delivered. It was almost too simple.

A very intriguing book which is really making me think,

A very intriguing book which I hope is opening up my ears to God. I have plenty of scope for improving my listening skills in general too and applying the two ears one mouth ratio.

Seek and you will find also took me on another journey. I found a series of books by Neale Donald Walsch called Conversations With God. To be honest, I wasn’t sure what these were about and whether they were indeed Christian or something else. However, the lady in the op shop assured me they were very good and I was lucky to actually find all three books in the series and even an extra copy of Volume 1 (I only realised I’d doubled up today and am delighted. Geoff and I can read it together and I’ll also have a loan copy.)

I opened up Volume one when I arrived home and found this incredibly inspiring dedication to his parents in the front:

For ANNE M WALSCH

Who not taught me that God exists,

But opened my mind to the wonderous truth

That God is my best friend;

And who was far more than a mother to me,

But gave birth in me

To a longing for and a love of God,

And all that is good.

Mom was

My first meeting with an angel

(Just imagine if my children could say something equally inspirational about me. I am very humbled.)

And for

ALEX M WALSCH

Who told me repeatedly throughout my life,

“There’s nothing to it,”

“You don’t have to take No for an answer,”

“You make your own luck,”

And

“There’s more where that came from.”

Dad was

My first experience

Of fearlessness[1].

I’m going to paste this into my book of life lessons I’m putting together for the kids.

I started reading this book last night when I should have been more than fast asleep and couldn’t put it down. Picked it up again this morning. Too much inspiration to cope with in this book but this bit really leaped out at me:

You have been taught to live in fear. You have been told about survival of the fittest and the victory of the strongest and the success of the cleverist. Precious little is said about the glory of the most loving. And so you strive to be the fittest, the strongest, the cleverest – in one way or another- and if you see yourself as something less than this in any situation, you fear loss, for you have been told that to be less is to lose[2].

And…

“If you think you are right about everything, who needs to talk with God[3]?

With all this inspiration finding me at once, you can understand why I’m having trouble sleeping. All my neurones are firing at once…firing more bullets than Yosemite Sam who I mentioned in my last post.

Music for the soul.

Music for the soul.

I also found music. Managed to buy three CDs at $2.00 each. There was Celine Dion: the Colour of My Love. In keeping with my connection with Beethoven and subsequent explorations, I bought Piano Concerto No. 5, Emperor and the `Walstein’ Sonata. I’m sure I’ve heard my grandmother play these pieces and they’re all very familiar and comforting. As a child, I used to fall asleep to her playing curled up on my father’s lap. My father also remembers falling asleep to similar tones when he was a boy. I also picked up “The Best of Delius” which I actually mistook for Sibelius. One of the pieces on the CD, Koanga Act II: Closing Scene was actually arranged by British conductor Sir Thomas Beecham. Coincidently, my grandmother Eunice Gardiner had returned from her studies at the Royal Academy of Music in London in 1940 for the ABC Tour of Australia with Sir Thomas Beecham. Personally, I didn’t actually know I wasn’t listening to Sibelius but I do love the music. Again, find it dare I say “inspirational”!

But wait! There’s more!!

I also found a beautifully illustrated book about angels and found this lovely poem for the kids:

Ex Ore Infantium

Little Jesus, wast Thou shy
Once, and just so small as I?
And what did it feel like to be
Out of Heaven, and just like me?
Didst Thou sometimes think of THERE,
And ask where all the angels were?
I should think that I would cry
For my house all made of sky;
I would look about the air,
And wonder where my angels were;
And at waking ‘twould distress me–
Not an angel there to dress me!
Hadst Thou ever any toys,
Like us little girls and boys?
And didst Thou play in Heaven with all
The angels that were not too tall,
With stars for marbles? Did the things
Play Can you see me? through their wings?
And did Thy Mother let Thee spoil
Thy robes, with playing on OUR soil?
How nice to have them always new
In Heaven, because ’twas quite clean blue!

Didst Thou kneel at night to pray,
And didst Thou join Thy hands, this way?
And did they tire sometimes, being young,
And make the prayer seem very long?
And dost Thou like it best, that we
Should join our hands to pray to Thee?
I used to think, before I knew,
The prayer not said unless we do.
And did Thy Mother at the night
Kiss Thee, and fold the clothes in right?
And didst Thou feel quite good in bed,
Kissed, and sweet, and thy prayers said?

Thou canst not have forgotten all
That it feels like to be small:
And Thou know’st I cannot pray
To Thee in my father’s way–
When Thou wast so little, say,
Couldst Thou talk Thy Father’s way?–
So, a little Child, come down
And hear a child’s tongue like Thy own;
Take me by the hand and walk,
And listen to my baby-talk.
To Thy Father show my prayer
(He will look, Thou art so fair),
And say: ‘O Father, I, Thy Son,
Bring the prayer of a little one.’

And He will smile, that children’s tongue
Has not changed since Thou wast young!

Francis Thompson

Further to all my musical travels with my violin and Beethoven of late, I found this celebration of music by poet Alexander Pope (1688–1744).  which spoke to me but also has a message I could pass onto the kids because music really does soothe and heal the soul:

Ode for Music on St. Cecilia’s Day.

VII.
Music the fiercest grief can charm,
And fate’s severest rage disarm:
Music can soften pain to ease,
And make despair and madness please:
Our joys below it can improve,
And antedate the bliss above.
This the divine Cecilia found,
And to her Maker’s praise confin’d the sound.
When the full organ joins the tuneful quire,
Th’immortal pow’rs incline their ear;
Borne on the swelling notes our souls aspire,
While solemn airs improve the sacred fire;
And Angels lean from heav’n to hear.
Of Orpheus now no more let Poets tell,
To bright Cecilia greater pow’r is giv’n;
His numbers rais’d a shade from hell,
Hers lift the soul to heav’n.

Perhaps, you won’t be surprised to know that I’m going to head back for one last peak before I head home. While all those minimalistic declutterers are all madly dumping all their Christmas  gifts. This is better than the post-Christmas sales!

After finding all this inspiration, I can’t but wonder about these people who take their Christmas presents seemingly straight from the under the Christmas tree and dump them straight at the op shop. I found a beautiful framed picture of rainbow butterflies which was still sealed in its plastic wrapper. It hasn’t even been opened let alone hung up.

Now, I don’t know how you feel about butterflies but for me butterflies have some kind of resonating meaning and symbolism. They’re special and inspiring and I could just watch them flitter fluttering around my garden for hours. So it beats me how anyone could you ever throw a handmade butterfly picture out…especially when it has rainbow butterflies? Rainbows mean hope. Hope and butterflies combined…that’s a very powerful message to chuck out. I can’t help but think of whoever bought that gift and what messages they were trying to impart. This present wasn’t just a pair of common socks. It was the sort of present which takes a lot of thought, is carefully considered and yet it fell on concrete ground unable to soak up the rain. What an absolute shame!

However, as they say, one person’s loss is another person’s gain!

Speaking of gains, we’re moving back home early next week and I just can’t resist one more peek. It’s only been a couple of days but you never know who’s had a big clean-up and decided they don’t want their treasures anymore or have moved on to new horizons. After all, inspiration is made of stepping stones. That’s the point. The real aim is to grow and to seek new horizons and as you grow, you naturally have to leave some things behind and as they say “spread the love”.

Wish me luck or you could even say a prayer…seek and you will find. I always do! Perhaps, the real miracle would be Rowena arriving home from an op shop empty handed.

Xx Rowena

PS I am almost too ashamed to admit this but while I’m immersed in paradise with this wondrous view suspended just beyond my nose, I’ve been so lost in my writing and tap tap tapping away on the laptop that I’ve been oblivious. The view is out of view. Will remedy that when I get back. Immerse myself in it. Multitasking has never been my thing!

Child in Bush by Robert Dickerson 1959.

Child in Bush by Robert Dickerson 1959.

PPS: Found a sensational art book in there today: Masterpieces of Australian Art by James Gleeson published in 1969 with beautiful colour plates. It opens up with a single Aboriginal painting: A Gnormo or spirit called Yungwalia and closes with Stanislaus Ostaja-Kotkowski. What a find!


[1] Neale Donald Walsche, Conversations with God: An Uncommon Dialogue, Hodder & Stoughton, 1997, acknowledgements page.

[2] Ibid pg 19.

[3] Ibid p 7.

Flirting with Elise

Although we never quite said: “I do”, my violin and I have had an unspoken understanding that we were together. That it was just the two of us and I had forsaken all other instruments. That I was done with the piano and had well and truly moved on.

That is, of course, aside from my occasional and very brief flirtations playing Moonlight Sonata on Mum’s grand piano when I visit my parents’ place. The piano was a memory, a relict from my past. While it’s nice, the piano has never spoken to me, connected with me or lit my flame the way the violin does.

However, life often has a habit of taking me by the hand and leading me along different and often deeply shaded garden path when I was just minding my own business happily heading somewhere else. Some people would call this “distraction” but as John Lennon sang in “Beautiful Boy (Darling Boy)”: Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”

While I’m still loyal to my violin, the piano and I are now having something of an affair, a flirtation, a dalliance. Perhaps, even a come back.

Yesterday, while I was at the op shop in Avalon, I found an old vintage copy of Beethoven’s Fur Elise. Suddenly, in the words of Martin Luther King: I had a dream. I was going to master Fur Elise over the holidays.

While I had learned it many, many years ago and am not starting from scratch, this is still a fairly ambitious project and I’m already rather inundated with projects at the moment especially when you consider that I’m currently going through chemo. This should probably be a time of rest and relaxation and certainly not taking on more.

At the same time, it feels good to practice, improve and feel myself starting to succeed. That sense of achievement might even be more important than ever at the moment when I am feeling quite overwhelmed at times and so much is beyond my control. I can sit down at the piano and repeat and repeat and repeat those notes and there’s noticeable improvement. I have no idea whether or not the chemo is working and while I’m doing exercise and eating healthy, I don’t know whether they are helping either. I need something a bit more concrete.

While all these medical things are up in the air at the moment, we all know that practice makes perfect. The more I practice Fur Elise, the better I get. It’s not just a matter of talent. You have to apply yourself. When it comes to the medical world, these types of certainties just don’t exist. My disease is such a mystery, an unknown. The lines of Fur Elise on the other hand are so well-known, reassuring, predictable. I know what’s happening. I understand that certainty and being in control has only ever been an illusion but that illusion fitted like a glove and I was comfortable…at peace.

Fur Elise seems to be pondering some sort of imponderable question as well going over those same phrases over and over again like trying to remember something. Find something that’s been lost. It’s like the waves of the ocean constantly rolling towards the shore in their rhythmic, predictable way so unlike the twists and turns of life.

Even after all these years, I still don’t know who Elise was aside from my piano teacher’s teenaged daughter.

Given our new relationship status, perhaps, it is time I found out.

/

Chemo Sonata

Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata is almost fused to my path, my journey, memory. Well, to be perfectly honest, we’re only talking about the first movement. It seems to be a genetic family trait that we only manage the first movement and don’t seem to progress.

My childhood resonates with Moonlight Sonata. It is my father’s piece…his song…his dance. Dad runs like clockwork. He’s largely methodical. He has his routines and used to have “a place for everything and everything in its place” once upon a time. Dad didn’t concern himself with the things like feeding children and dogs, closing windows, settling rowdy children for babysitters or applying makeup before it was time to go out. He was just ready. This meant that while Dad was waiting for Mum, he sometimes calmly and often impatiently, sat down at the piano and played Moonlight Sonata its soft rhythmic tones contrasting with my mother’s rush and bustle.

One of my most precious memories of my grandmother Eunice Gardiner  http://www.smh.com.au/comment/obituaries/a-musical-career-honed-in-the-laundry-20090823-ev2w.html who was an accomplished concert pianist also involved Moonlight Sonata. She was in what you would call her twilight years. Her memory was failing in all sorts of ways as her bright intelligence and wit were not so gradually being attacked by the cruel ravages of Alzheimer’s Disease. She told me a story about how her older brother Les had asked her to play Moonlight Sonata at a party he was having when they were young. Although she was a brilliant pianist, apparently she too only knew the first movement of Moonlight Sonata at least from memory and when she didn’t play on, he brother apparently remarked “even I can play that”. After telling this story my grandmother went across to the piano and tried to recall Moonlight Sonata and instead went on to play a patchwork of snippets from a range of highly complex pieces including Chopin’s Raindrop Prelude. I wasn’t really into music at the time and didn’t know what any of the pieces were but I was amazed at how she’d somehow stitched all these complex pieces together like the squares of a patchwork quilt. Strangely, I somehow loved her more than ever then and was very touched by a musical gift that somehow transcended human frailty and the ravages of disease.

I learned the piano for many years and while I haven’t kept it up, I will usually sit down and play Moonlight Sonata on what used to be my grandmother’s Steinway Grand piano whenever I visit my parents. I tinker away from memory with many repeats and returns trying to kick start my memory and faltering fingers. I still like to believe I can play even though putting two hands together to even play C Major scale these days, is a challenge.

Playing Moonlight Sonata after chemo.

Playing Moonlight Sonata after chemo.

Quite often, I visit my parents  after trooping down to Royal North Shore Hospital for medical appointments and treatments. I was playing Moonlight Sonata after my latest chemo treatment last Thursday when I noticed my hands on the keyboard with the tell-tale bandaid “spots”. It had taken three attempts to get the canula in, largely because we were trying my more resistant left arm so I could write with my right. In the end, we gave up but I was lucky because I was still able to write. I am a determined soul and like most writers, quite the addict. I must admit that it does seem rather crazy now…pen pushing while you’ve having chemo pumped into your veins which perhaps could have used a little rest. All the same, you are who you are.

Anyway, I asked Geoff to photograph me playing the piano with my hands covered in my spots. It was another one of my laugh or cry moments and I mostly saw the humour of the situation. I love photographing hands and also love using the piano as a photographic prop. I have numerous photos of the kids’ hands in various sizes tinkering away on the keys.

Miss aged 15 months at the piano.

Miss aged 15 months at the piano.

A duet Easter 2007

A duet Easter 2007

I also asked Geoff to film me playing.  Not a perfect Moonlight Sonata but my version just how I always play it going over and over and over the various bit of the first movement and back to the start stumbling through the notes in a fusion of emotional expression, a question for perfection and even a touch of moonlight on a dark night. Another reminder that things don’t always have to be perfect and that it’s more important just to have a go and do what you can.