Monthly Archives: November 2013

Creature Comforts

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Why I need a dog in my life…

My days off this past weekend were wasted, and wonderful! I didn’t accomplish anything except sing in church and get a lot of rest, which I sorely needed after the prior weekend’s concerts and church solos in an unheated sanctuary. I didn’t even do any reading, which is unusual for me on my days off from work. I just rested.

Our Boy Roy, our little Terrier mix, rested with me, or more accurately, a lot of the time he rested ON me. Maybe it is the changing weather, or maybe he is just a little moody lately, but it seems like he has been wanting to snuggle closer in recent weeks. Not that I mind, of course. He is a sweet little companion, and a source of warmth for me in more ways than one.

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Physically, he puts off a lot of heat, which is so welcome when I plop on the couch or into bed at the end of a long day. At my age and with my hormones doing whatever it is they’re doing, I freeze all day and burn up all night. The cold actually seems to bother me more, and Roy is like a little furry space heater when I get home from work.

Then there is the warmth of companionship that he provides me, a relationship spoken in the language of scratches and belly rubs, snuggles and dog kisses.  He listens without interrupting, or judging, and he never tells my secrets.  He never cares if I haven’t had a bath (sometimes I think he prefers it that way!) and his idea of an excellent adventure is a ride with me to the pharmacy drive-through.

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 He seems to want to do whatever Jeff and I are doing, even if what we’re doing is nothing.  He seems content simply to be with us.  I have heard some people say that dogs don’t feel emotions, and that they are not capable of loving their people.  I can’t bring myself to believe that.  I have cried and had a dog put his head on my chest, sighing as I sobbed.  When I fell years ago walking Ernie The Wonder Beagle and broke my leg, I dropped his leash, but he never left my side as I crawled to get back into the house.  When I have been at my lowest, I have looked into the soulful eyes of a dog and felt the warm comfort of a creature looking back at me with nothing but love.

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Old Scores

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Musicians’ tools of the trade…

This past weekend was a musical extravaganza for me, very busy and extremely rewarding.  Knoxville Choral Society and Chamber Chorale, accompanied by members of the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra, performed our annual Fall Concert on Saturday evening at the historic Bijou Theatre downtown, and presented an encore performance Sunday afternoon at the Community Church in Tellico Village.  I was indeed blessed to take part in these concerts and to have been chosen as a soloist.  I no longer take these blessings for granted because I know my days as a soloist are limited. I’m getting older every second, after all, and nothing lasts forever. 

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Between those performances I also had the communion solo for two church services.  So it was a very busy weekend, and I will admit that by the time it was all finished, I was pretty worn out.  Still, this kind of activity gives me much more than it takes out of me.

Part of the concert program was the Christmas portion of Handel’s “Messiah”, a familiar and beloved sacred choral and orchestral work, and a demanding one.  My “Messiah” score is the one I have used for every performance I have ever done since college.  It is 31 years old.  I purchased it as a college freshman because my voice teacher wanted me to learn some of the soprano solos in it, and even though we did not perform “Messiah” that year, he knew I’d need the score for the next year (and for the rest of my life!).  So he told me to go ahead and buy it.  It may be the single most-used piece of music I own to this day.

Even when I have sung portions of the work with church choirs that used a different edition, I have always used my own score.  It is old and worn, with some dog-eared page corners and rusty marks from paper clips of years gone by, like little scars on the page.  It contains markings from the conductors I’ve worked with and from the voice teachers who have coached me, as well as my own unique system of symbols and notes to remind myself to watch, to straighten my tone, to shape a phrase or to raise my eyebrows so I don’t go flat.  It’s a sort of shorthand developed over decades.  I have my own language of markings, and every other musician I know has theirs as well.  It’s as unique as a fingerprint, and just as personal.

As I have asserted before, I am a collector, of objects and of memories, and I am sentimental about all of them.  My “Messiah” score is much more to me than a piece of music.  It is Scripture set to music, the story of Jesus in types and shadows, and as substance and promise fulfilled.  It is also a sort of scrapbook, a memory album of the many times I have raised my voice to offer the gift God gave me back to Him, alone as a soloist and with a chorus of other musicians.  So much more than words and notes on paper, my ‘Messiah” score is a trusted friend, filled with my memories of musical offerings past and dreams of the ones yet to come. 

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Falling

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Why this is a hard time of the year…

I awoke to gentle rain this morning and would have loved to stay in bed, cocooned in sleepy warmth.  But there is work to be done and a living to be made, so I reluctantly dragged myself from my cozy bed and got my day started with the regular routine of vitamins, bath, makeup/hair and getting dressed and out the door.  Our Boy Roy is a morning dog, so as usual he got up when I did and kept me company as I went about my morning.

The rain intensified as I drove to work and as the rain fell, so, it seemed, did the remaining leaves on the trees.  It’s always a little sad when the last of the leaves drift to the ground, especially when a rain seems to beat them down prematurely.  But it is November, and the leaves can’t hold on forever.  The rhythm of the seasons is unstoppable, and as fall deepens and winter approaches, the last of the leaves must inevitably let go.

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This time of year brings memories of Mama in the hospital and a different letting-go process, as she began to release her earthly life and turn toward her Heavenly one.  From her hospital window we could see the shifting seasons as the vibrant autumn leaves fell softly from the trees outside, whipped by wind sometimes, or battered by rain.  Inside her room the only color seemed to be pale…pale walls, pale sheets, Mama’s pale face.  Her whole life she had been so vibrant, until sickness drained all the color out of her.

So it is with the death of the leaves in the fall, and with Mama’s dying process that I always seem to re-live at this time of year.  I like to imagine that Heaven is filled with all the beauty of all the seasons, all at once.  We can witness the majesty of snow without being cold, the rich reds and golds of fall, and spring and summer’s lavenders, pinks and greens will be more saturated than we can begin to imagine here, with no harsh winds or battering rains.  Our loved ones’ faces will be rosy and glowing with perfect health and wholeness, and the Sun of Righteousness will shine His radiant light throughout Heaven’s kingdom.

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Piercing Memories

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Style, substance and sentiment…

Aunt Ruby pierced my ears the first time when I was 7 or 8 years old.  I don’t remember exactly when she did it, but I remember the setting vividly.  I sat at the end of the kitchen table in the house on Arnold Street.  She rubbed my earlobes with alcohol while Mama looked on, probably expecting me to change my mind at the last minute.  After each earlobe was sterilized, Aunt Ruby took a blue ballpoint Bic Stic pen and marked a spot on one ear and then the other, making sure they were straight and even.  After this, she sterilized her sewing machine needle with alcohol and poked holes in my lobes as quickly as possible, (she never bothered with trying to numb them using ice cubes) inserting a pair of her own 14-karat gold stud earrings as my starter pair.   She had cleaned them with alcohol as well, and instructed me to twist the posts around several times a day and to dab more alcohol around them daily to avoid infection while they healed.  I was not to remove or change earrings for 6 weeks, again, to minimize the risk of infection.

I remember that it hurt a little, but it was not too bad, and there was only a tiny little bit of blood.  Most of the shots I’ve had in doctors’ offices have hurt worse than getting my ears pierced.  I couldn’t wait for my Daddy to come home from work so I could show him my newly pierced ears.  I felt very grown-up and sophisticated, like I had taken a step toward adult ladyhood.

Mama always joked that her body would reject anything that was not at least 14-karat gold, and she always wore good earrings because her ears were sensitive.  And she insisted on my wearing good earrings as well to avoid irritation and infection.  She began to build me a small but good quality jewelry collection and taught me how to appreciate and care for good earrings, rings and necklaces.  Once I got older and realized that my ears were less sensitive than hers were, I ventured into the world of fashion or “costume” jewelry.  I’ve even been known to wear colorful thumb tacks in my ears if they matched an outfit!

When I left for my freshman year of college, I received 2 pairs of earrings as gifts.  From Dad I received a pair of gold ball studs to go with the add-a-bead necklace Mama had been adding to for me (they were all the rage at the time).  And my brother, Reed, gave me a pair of small, beautiful pearl stud earrings almost exactly like the ones of Mama’s that I had borrowed so many times for dressy occasions.

Summer after my junior year of college I had Aunt Ruby pierce my ears a second time.  I was engaged and my sweet husband-to-be had given me 2 pairs of earrings while we were dating, and I knew I wanted to wear both pairs on our wedding day.  Once again, I sat at the end of Aunt Ruby’s kitchen table with alcohol, Bic Stic pen, and sewing machine needle at the ready, the accoutrements of the familiar ritual of piercing and bonding.  Again there was a sting and a bit of blood, and the familiar instructions for keeping my new piercings infection-free.  This was June of 1985.  I remember the date because a friend from school got married the next week and she noticed my new piercings at the reception.

Flash forward 20 years to 2005.  It was October and the weather was cooling off.  Aunt Ruby was 80 years old at this point and her eyesight was failing.  I’d been wanting one last piercing in my left ear for quite a while and I figured I’d better go ahead and have her do it before she got to the point that she couldn’t anymore.  This last ritual did not take place at the kitchen table on Arnold Street.  Aunt Elaine’s husband was dying with cancer, and Aunt Ruby was staying with them for comfort and moral support.  So my last piercing happened in Aunt Elaine’s bathroom.  It was, I am positive, Aunt Ruby’s last piercing as well.  She didn’t have the hand strength she had enjoyed when she was younger, and she had a little more trouble getting the sewing machine needle through my earlobe.  Again, a little sting and a bit of blood, piercing and bonding.

I am very sentimental about my piercings because of the stories behind them.  Aunt Ruby pierced countless ears of family members and neighborhood girls (and the occasional boy).  Each earring has a story as well.  Some were Mama’s, some gifts from The Aunts, some from Jeff, my sweet husband.

And you might ask, why 5 piercings and not 6?  It’s a good question.  The best answer is that I’ve always felt a little bit askew, like nothing about me really “matched”.  The 5th piercing reminds me that it’s OK to be a little off-center, a little quirky.  Aunt Ruby loved me, quirkiness and all.

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