Friday, September 19, 2008

absolutely nothing wrong with being *cute*

Two children having some made me smile today anyway. Other than that, I had a beautiful day singing, and then walking by the sea: a silver sun and swirling sea. Got my feet wet. Again. Delightful as ever. Rainbows emitting from my glass, rainbows shining through my pen, and a big fat orange setting sun to round it all off. Perfect. Got to do these things in style.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Le Grand Serviteur de la Beauté

photo by J. Lepage

dear sisters
As you have heard, last Wednesday the world lost a great musician and composer, Pierre Van Dormael and, with pain in my heart, I have to say goodbye to a dear friend.

This account is a personal one to shed light on some of the ways he means so much to me. Having known him since I was about 14, he has always been a guiding light. He defined friendship for me. Very soon after we met I consciously decided he would be my friend. He had many friends, I am aware, and was known and loved by many. I don't know if I ever did him justice, or if these words come anywhere close to describing what a wonderful person he is.

He always gave more than he ever expected to receive. During difficult times he would point out the positive to me. One time, coming back from Africa, out of his shirt pocket he took a colourful bundle: a beautiful string of antique coloured glass beads. He said, as he gave it to me: 'just so that you see colours again in your life'. They are on my mantlepiece in a wooden box: on my 21st birthday the thread snapped and they bounced in a colourful explosion in a syncopated rhythm all over the art college floor, a delightful sight. This is what his music is like.

"Nous sommes des serviteurs de la beauté" he'd say.

When visiting him at home I'd bring a potted flower which he'd promptly plant in his garden, the one with the apple blossom and the singing birds. After working he'd cook me dinner, fried tomatoes, etcetera, a true art of living, and then serve me wine older than myself. He'd expect the best from people, and put the stakes high, creatively, yet always in that maintained great vision, and simplicity in its complexity.

This is the way he has always been. In his life and his music. I hear his soft voice and kind advice, and the fact that he has always been there for me, caring and protective. Hugs warm enough to run your internal power generator for a month...
I can see the round, confident, positive shape of his handwriting in the letters he sent -such joy at seeing his airmail envelopes arrive! His accounts of living in Senegal opened up a world for me - and in the parts of the songs we wrote together. His songs always open doors, if not hearts.

I'd see him play in a green shirt, a red one, depending on the mood he was in (red was for power) and a glass of Orval in his hand. A chuckle and a glint in his eye. A professionalism of a standard I've rarely seen. An encourager of singers, young musicians, a composer and performer of brilliant music. His chords a solace and joy. He created many opportunities for countless people, many of whom have gone on to become excellent musicians and extremely succesful. The Art of Love, which he composed with David Linx for the amazing Baldwin Project (the CD has been reissued), of which he was also a producer, is a song in huge demand at many musicians' weddings, if not elsewhere. Here my friend Constanza Guzman sings it with him; orginally it was sung by Deborah Brown in duet with David, both versions delightful.

His music can best be described as an intersection between European, American and African music, which he studied each on their own continent. As a composer, performer, teacher, and organiser (he is one of the founders of the by now legendary Kaai) he is also in my mind instrumental to forging the creative spirit of an age (which thankfully continues). Pierre understood that art, a cooperative process, comes out of shared experience, and he created many occasions for this to take place.

He'd beg me for words and write astonishing lyrics himself.
His is a parting in utmost elegance and dignity. I feel so privileged to have been his friend and I hope that the bulk of his teaching (as shared with so many creative musicians and other kinds of creatives) was not lost on me. He has written a fabulous book: Four Principles To Understand Music; on this site you may also order some of his music.

"Il faut combattre ce qui est laid par ce qui est beau" he'd say. Pierre was a family man, and my thoughts are with his family, the close one, to which he was devoted, as well as with the extended musical one, to which he was also devoted. He will be sorely missed and the gap he leaves is a challenge for many to fill.

I don't know if I will ever meet another like him and can only try to be like him.

I find it difficult to end this post, just like I play his myspace page over and over again, and listen to his North Country Suite at high volume and scour the internet for other people writing about him. So let's say the story about Pierre will never really end.... and besides: words cannot approximate this gentlest of men.
love from S2

Friday, September 5, 2008

a pool with a view

Dear sisters,

During my treatment for breast cancer, I had great ideas about this wig party I was going to organize to celebrate the end of therapy. Everyone would come wearing outlandish wigs, except me, I would be swishing my beautiful newly grown manes, in a swishy blue dress to match. We would dance to the scissor sisters all night.

When it did actually end, I was happy –really - I knew I was happy in my head, but I did not feel it much in my body. A party was the last thing I wanted. Having come out the other side having put back the 7 kilos I lost here, feeling stiff and rickety, hot and flustered, I was not doing much dancing.

The small world I had been inhabiting for eight months suddenly became very large again.

It felt as if I had been dropped by my doctors and nurses onto the middle of a busy freeway intersection, with the message” You’re done now. Off you go”. My dearest and nearest were understandably happy to be relieved of their duties. The only one there with me was a horrible little man, sitting in my head, shouting obscenities like” HEY, do you know you had a potentially fatal disease? You are not immortal, do you realize that? Not like all your healthy friends, who are all going to live forever. THINK ABOUT IT. “ Hey, you feel PAIN? … it could be cancer…huh, huh, nudge, nudge. ARE YOU THINKING ABOUT IT?

Yes, I was thinking about it. Every little pain could be the sign that IT had returned. I had big arguments with the little man in my head. Especially this pain in my ankle, which keeps coming and going. It feels like a pinched nerve or an inflamed tendon, but the little man made me look up things up on the internet –– and it said metastasized breast cancer in the bone feels like a burning sensation, it comes and goes etc. You see, this is what it was!

But I have just had my 6 monthly tests, a mammogram, a bone density scan, follow up with the radioligist, I discussed my aches and pains. Everything looked normal. My ankle pain is definitely not cancer, they said. With conviction. So I am okay for a bit and now the little man in my head looks a little silly, doesn’t he?

It will hopefully just be a question of physical therapy for a few months and a new pot of pills. But no running for a while. No boot camp. I joined a sports club with an outdoor pool on the roof overlooking the city. I need to keep my view.

Love S1

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

A story in three bells

Or: A bell full of summers

Dear sisters,
The other week, it was a Saturday, something happened to me. I am reminded of it by a crystal glass that looks like an elegant clear-cut grail that you’d drink pearls melted in wine out of, it is my special wineglass when I am at home - except when there are certain special guests who also have a dispensation on the smoking ban, such as our dear Mother, because then the special guest gets to drink out of it - when I tap against this glass, it sounds like a clear, crystal bell. One could imagine what an organ of these things would sound like but we will leave it at the single tone, if we remember Arvo Pärt’s lesson of yesterday. So this bell reminds me of a day that three bells unexpectedly and quite spontaneously came into my life.

The first, on my computer; I don’t know who put it there, but when I move it, or start certain programmes, different ones each time, it goes drrrring, in a way which reminds me of childhood, as we have since become plagued by many other, different tones doing service as bells. I have shaken my computer and it won’t budge, nor will it tell me who put the bell there. It is a mystery.

That same night, I went to meet the friendly Czech puppeteers. One of them disappeared for a while, to go to the tent he said, to check everything was ok. Later that night after a few drinks I took my brand new bicycle and saw to my astonishment that the aliens had landed! They had planted a huge, bulbous gleaming bell, looking like a shiny mushroom on my right handle bar. Two notes: ding…dung… sounding like a baritone ship bell in bicycle bell equivalent, making a downward minor third interval. The first two notes of “Hey Jude”. Needless to say this is what I now sing OUT LOUD (how else can you do this?) whenever I ride my bicycle and it could be heard all the way home as I cycled back that night in the drizzly rain. Woe to the sleepy people of Antwerp. Believe me, when all is quiet sound travels in this town. I find it hard not to ring my bell even when I don't need to, although it has a clear but ever so slightly melancholy, er...ring to it.

The third bell, well, I woke up in the morning, and suddenly heard a high-pitched ringing in my ears. It is very faint, very light. I don’t know who put it there and I hope it goes away. It must have been the loud music of a few days before. Some people go crazy from such ringing in their ears. I shall consult my recently re-found friend E. of times past who has since metamorphosed into a specialist on the subject and is researching the subject here in Antwerp. That will be a good excuse anyway to meet up again after the pleasant reunion we had.

That was the three unexpected bells. It has a little tail too. The day after the puppeteers had left Antwerp, after gracing us with their presence a full summer long, my roommate N. received…

...a bicycle bell in the post. Someone, not an alien, or a Czech puppeteer, she assured me, had accidentally broken her bell; this was a special gift. A closing note to the special summer that had me wishing for a request on an organ at the former monastery up in Holland that the organist couldn’t play because he didn’t have the music with him, only to hear it, after the ice-cream van had quietened down, tinkling on the carillon outside my house as soon as I arrived home. Strange and amazing and beautiful, sounding symmetry.

My heart is like a bell. Now I just need to find a way to make it ring.
Love from S2

Monday, September 1, 2008

A story in three pictures

(Lands End, Labor day)


Of Grass and Flowers

Dear sisters,
Here is a beautiful piece of music described by its Estonian composer, Arvo Pärt. I enjoy his music very much, it calms me down no end. This passage is particularly good because it includes the music of another language as well as a look at the simple melodies...
Love from S2