Tag Archives: ghosts

Deceptive Resolution (Part 2)

Do you remember the first movie you ever saw that changed your life? That was Amadeus for me, and in my previous post I talked a little bit about the night that I saw that movie with my Dad and brother in a rustic movie theatre almost 30 years ago. One of the main themes in the movie is the relationship between Mozart and his father, and how he was haunted by him after he was  gone. I couldn’t help but start to see parallels between the movie and my own real life.

My Dad had the soundtrack to the movie on cassette (double cassette!) and played it all the time in our house. With the exception of one piece of Hungarian music and one piece by Antonio Salieri, the entire thing was made up of bits and pieces from Mozart’s canon. A few months later, a second soundtrack was released. “EVEN MORE music from the Academy Award winning film!” boasted the paper liner. This second one was just a single cassette, but when you took them all together, you’re looking at almost 3 hours of music that seeped into my consciousness from 1985 to 1991, the year my Dad died. That’s a pretty long time to externalize this music (with regular breaks for Huey Lewis and the News, The Thompson Twins, and later, U2 of course). And even now I know these pieces and their track order with my eyes closed.

There were some standouts on that soundtrack for me. The exciting first movement of Symphony No. 25 in G Minor that plays after the THROAT CUTTING SCENE, the sweetly gentle second movement of the Piano Concerto No. 20 in D Minor that closes out the film as Salieri is wheeled away to an uncertain future book end it. In between are snippets from The Marriage of Figaro, The Abduction from the Seraglio, and Don Giovanni, among other things. Almost the entire side of one cassette is dedicated to Mozart’s Requiem, and why not? Anyone who has seen Amadeus will remember the incredible death-bed scene where Mozart is frantically trying to finish the Requiem before he dies so that he can get paid for it and is dictating it to Salieri who is perched at the end of his bed like a vulture. You can’t listen to this music without seeing Tom Hulce feverishly imagining the different parts in his mind and Salieri’s struggle to comprehend the genius of it.

But above all else, the one piece of music that stuck with me the most was the Kyrie from his Mass in C Minor. This piece of music is used effectively in two separate parts of the movie, so you KNOW it’s good. In real life, Mozart wrote this piece for his new bride to perform. Mozart hadn’t introduced her to his family yet, and their trip to Salzburg was going to coincide with the premiere of the Mass with Mozart’s wife as the lead soprano. Not too shabby a way to say, “Hey everybody, I want you to meet my wife!”. At least that’s how the story goes. You never really know what is truth and what passes for truth in those old stories. I can tell you that in Amadeus the Kyrie is played in the marriage scene which abruptly cuts to Mozart’s father crumpling up the letter which announces the marriage. Later on, there’s that scene where Mozart’s wife goes to Salieri with a portfolio of Mozart’s music to try to get him appointed to a court position. There’s that great scene where Salieri flips from score to score, amazed at how each one is perfect, without any corrections or mistakes. As a composer himself, he can read the notes on the page and can imagine what the pieces sound like, and the audience gets to hear snippets of each piece as he frantically flips the pages. It’s a bit of the soprano solo from the Kyrie which ultimately completely absorbs him, and he closes his eyes, totally surrendering to the music, and the whole collection of manuscripts slips out of his fingers and lands on the floor. Mozart’s wife looks up at him and says something like, “Is it not good?” and Salieri responds, “It is miraculous”.

It was miraculous. All of it. The Kyrie in particular, and the Amadeus soundtracks in general were my gateway drugs into classical music. Up until that point, I don’t think I really ever paid much attention to different genres of music. There was the stuff my Dad listened to (classical and some mainstream Jazz like Dave Brubeck), there was the stuff my Mom listened to (The BeeGees, ABBA, and Neil Diamond, mostly), and then there was everything else. But I never really put much thought into what music meant to me until after I saw that movie.

After watching Amadeus and being transformed by it, I developed two musical personalities. There was the outward Rock/Pop loving tastes that encompassed the stuff you’d see on Video Hits with Samantha Taylor after school each day. But then there was this other secret musical personality that I kept pretty closely hidden. This personality quietly collected and listened to classical music (and some smatterings of Jazz). None of my friends were into the type of music this second personality craved, and so I was pretty much left on my own to seek out composers and compositions on my own. My local public library was a great resource for this, as was my Dad, who I think kind of got a kick out of his elder son developing similar musical tastes as he had. Neither one of us were musical scholars or experts of any kind. He’d bring home records of composers or artists that he liked, and we would go off, just the two of us, to symphony and choral concerts. I liked having that time with him, and I think he enjoyed it too. We liked what we liked, but we couldn’t really talk intelligently about any of it. I still can’t. The furthest I would go now would be to describe myself as an amateur classical music enthusiast, and I’m okay with that.

After my Dad died in 1991, I almost stopped listening to classical music altogether. That part of me went mostly dormant for a few years. Without having someone to share all this with, what was the point exactly?

I can’t even tell you exactly what it was that brought me back to it, but I think it was a decade later, in my first year at law school. I found that listening to classical music while I studied helped me retain what I was reading much better than if I listened to nothing. Also, I made friends with a fellow student that year, Dan from Toronto, who was a huge classical music fan and we talked a lot about composers, artists and pieces that meant a lot to us. We attended concerts and operas throughout that year and just like riding a bicycle, I was back into it. The following year, Dan was accepted into the U of T back home, and I lost my study partner and my general interest in becoming a lawyer. I did, however, retain my love of classical music which I am happy to say has stuck to this day.

All of this is heading somewhere, friend. Don’t you worry.

So, a few months ago I got an email saying that this choir I sometimes sing in is doing a concert of Mozart music, and the centerpiece of the afternoon would be a performance of Mozart’s Mass in C Minor. The one that begins with the Kyrie, that piece that was responsible for igniting my love of classical music almost 30 years before. There was no way I was going to miss the opportunity to sing this piece with an 80+ voice choir, soloists and a full orchestra! Maybe somehow singing this would complete a circuit that was started all those years ago. My wife bugs me everytime I point out something coming “Full Circle”, but I yearn to find patterns and assign meaning to things that might not actually be there. “Is this another ‘Full Circle’ moment?” I can almost hear her say.

We rehearsed for two months. One of the unexpected joys of singing this piece was that I was soon introduced to the rest of the Mass. In all these years, the Kyrie was the only section I had ever heard, and I knew it so well, I found I really had to stop myself from singing along with the soprano solo when we practiced. I knew every note of her part, but I had to keep telling myself “you are not a lady you are not a lady” over and over. Our conductor is from Russia, and although he is musically brilliant, he sometimes can’t think of the right word for something in English. He was trying to describe the last few bars of the Kyrie to us. He knew the word in Russian, but he was fishing for the English term.

“You know when you think the chord is going to progress one way but then it doesn’t? It goes the other way? What is it called?”

I had no idea what he was talking about, but a couple of smarties spoke up.

“Deceptive Resolution?”

“Ya ya! That’s what it is. Deceptive Resolution. You think it is going to go this way, and it doesn’t.”

Pretty much sums up life, huh?

Other stand outs for me in the Mass included the Gloria, which earwigged me as I tried to get to sleep a couple of nights in a row before the concert, and the Credo, which had really tricky diction. Not only are you trying to get your mouth around the Latin (heyo!) but the whole choir is doing these complicated rhythms in unison so there is no room for error. I was still practicing the rhythms and words right up to about 5 minutes before we took to the stage. After the unison section, the sopranos, altos and tenors go off on these musical flights of fancy, while the basses keep everyone grounded with their foundational notes and rhythm. Finally, the Hosanna. The Hosanna is filled with so many wonderful runs, something odd happened while we were learning it. The runs were so difficult that it felt like we were never going to get them right, and then when they finally clicked at one magical rehearsal, it was almost as if those notes were always there and I found myself just closing my eyes and singing the hell out of it, feeling the music rather than reading it. It’s a difficult sensation to explain, but I think those of us who sing in choirs have felt this one time or another.

But it all came back to the Kyrie for me. It was my chance to finally sing this piece and I couldn’t wait.

Before we knew it, all of a sudden it was just a few days before the concert. After eight weeks of choir only, it all was sewn together in the last couple of days when the orchestra and soloists were added to the mix. I knew one of the french horn players, and on the night of the first rehearsal with the orchestra, I was telling him how much we practiced, and he told me he hadn’t even looked at the music yet! I guess that’s the difference between an amateur and a professional musician.

The concert itself went wonderfully well, and I got a real sense that our director was pleased with how it all went too. It was an honour to finally get to sing this piece of music, especially the Kyrie. You’ll be happy to know that I kept it all inside for the soprano soloist’s parts too.. At the end of the concert I was filled with such a sense of good will and well-being. Every soprano and alto was my sister, every tenor and bass my brother. I had sung with his choir many times in the past, and I had never felt this feeling of kindredness before. There were actual high-fives, handshakes and even the odd hug. I think my Dad would have been so proud of what we accomplished that afternoon.

I came up into the sanctuary after the concert was over to collect my wife, mom and mother-in-law who braved the cold to come hear it. I wanted to get their take on how it sounded, because I knew they would be honest. “How was the balance with the orchestra? Could you make out the words? Did the sound get lost at all?” These were the burning questions I needed answered.

My wife? “My favourite part was the Russian piece you sang in the first half. Sure, the Mozart was fine too, but I’d love to hear that Russian one again.” Go figure.

My Mom? “Well that Bass soloist didn’t have very much to do, did he? Does he get paid the same as the other soloists?” I told her I didn’t know, but I’m PRETTY SURE soloists aren’t paid per sung note, but you never know.

My Mother in Law? “Did you see me waving when you walked in?” I did.

I already had my parka on and I went to sit down in the pew in front of them. As I sat down I heard a crunching noise and I reached into my pocket. It was my sunglasses! I had absent-minded put them in my pocket before the concert and now I had crushed them into pieces by sitting on them. I couldn’t save them, and then I thought back to that night that I first heard this music in a stuffy theatre in Clear Lake. The day my Dad let my brother wear his sunglasses to the movies, and I thought once again to myself: “There are no coincidences.”

Or maybe there are.

Maybe after all this time this too was just a deceptive resolution.

Leave a comment

Filed under blogposts

The Ghosts of Darlingford Manor

When you work at a busy library, you’re always dealing with the constant flow of donations.

I try not to dwell on them for very long. Usually they are easy to sort out. If it’s a shiny new bestseller that is in high demand, I’ll add the book to the collection without question. If it’s an old, irrelevant textbook, almanac, etc, or if its moldy, smelly, or tainted in some unusable way, I’ll throw it out. (I know the correct answer is recycle it, but practically speaking, a lot of the binding glue and materials used in books aren’t easily recyclable). Everything else in between goes into our book sale, along with materials we’ve withdrawn from the collection. The revenue raised from the book sale goes towards new materials. Stuff that doesn’t sell in the book sale after a reasonable time is boxed up and carted away by a mysterious shipping company. All we know is that every  couple of months a truck comes by and takes away what we ask them to take. We’ve heard rumours that they try to sell the books online and give us a cut of the profits, but know really knows?

My turn-around time on a donated item is usually just a couple of days.

So it’s a bit of a surprise that I’ve been sitting on a donation here for almost two weeks, feeling a bit unsure as to how I should proceed with it.

I’ve come to think of this as the “Amy Donation”.

The Amy Donation

The Amy Donation arrived last week anonymously. That is, it was dropped off without a note or without a person telling us where it was from or what they wanted us to do with it. Normally if I get a customer in person, I’ll give them my criteria spiel: (We don’t take anything older than 5 years, we don’t take garage sale leftovers, etc). This donation was three large dusty boxes of old, well-worn books. Mostly hardcovers, some of which I recognized the author, most of which I did not. My first impression was “dumpster”, but then I started to look a little bit closer.

The interesting thing about this donation is that none of the books looked newer than about 1940. Most of them had inscriptions inside: either a person’s name, or a gift dedication. Most of the book’s owners had the last name “Amy”, and with the exception of one book marked “Morden”, all of them are from a place called Darlingford. A quick online search shows that Darlingford is a village about 20 km west of Morden, Manitoba, about 2 hours southwest of Winnipeg. The village was founded in 1899 by James Ephraim Law. I noticed that one of the books had “B.J. Law” inscribed in the front. Could this be one of the village founder’s children? There’s also a B.J. Bond. That seems like too many B.J.s to be a coincidence. That isn’t a sentence I thought I’d ever write. Another book has “Betty J. Law”, so that’s probably one of our B.J.s, yes? Another book is simply “Betty Amy”. Could Betty, daughter of the village forefather, have married into the Amy clan? Where does the “Bond” come in? Did she remarry down the road, after her husband was killed in WWI?

The more I looked at these books and inscriptions, I began to imagine the Amy family and tried to ascribe characteristics to each person based on their reading interests and condition of books. Norma Amy loved Thomas Costain novels; there are three with her name inside the front. She also seemed to take very good care of her books. She wasn’t a lender.

Pearl Amy, possibly her sister, owned a copy of “Twice Tried” by Annie Swan. It was inscribed “Christmas, 1906, Darlingford”. It wasn’t in as good a shape as her sister’s novels. I think Pearl was  the kind of reader who bent the spines back and let her books fall out of her school bag on the way to the one-room Darlingford school-house.

Myron Amy appears to be a bit of a Ralph Connor fan, and a petty thief to boot. Two Ralph Connor books had his name in the front, “The Sky Pilot in No Man’s Land” and “The Foreigner”. Only problem is these books belong to the Calvin United Church in Darlingford. One was checked out January 19, 1919 and due back Feb 2. The other one has the “Date Due” page partially ripped out and was being used as a bookmark! Cheeky. Looks like Myron’s got some ‘splaining to do.

Then there’s Mr. Cotton Amy, whom I imagine to be the patriarch of the Amy clan, keeping a firm hand on the moral compass of his family and community. He has sent two books to a James Amy, whom I reckon is a younger family member, perhaps nephew. One is a collection of sermons called “Old Wells dug out: Talmage’s Sermons Vol. 3” and “A Manual of Moral Instruction” by James Reid M.A. It seems Cotton may have well advised to send these books to his other nephew, Myron.

What about Billy Amy, who had a well-worn copy of “The Boy Scouts-Victory”, a novel extolling the virtues of “being prepared” and “helping those in need”? Billy, perhaps later in life, owned a formidable copy of “When a Man’s a Man” by Harold Bell Wright. It seems to be a tale full of ranch life, and men doing manly things. I picture Billy as outdoorsy and possibly a little bit sexually confused.

Another book is dedicated to “The Amy Brothers”. Could this be Billy and Myron, or Myron and James? Impossible to tell.

The youngest Amy in the group appears to be “Master Fred”. His Christmas 1905 book is “Blackie’s Boys Annual”. No copyright date, but I’d put it somewhere in the mid 1890’s.

Cedric Amy had a child’s book called “Leo and Dick”. Chapter 1, “Dick finds a friend” is all about Leo, a school boy and rugby star encountering “Dick”, a “gipsy”. Maybe I’m wrong on who’s in Darlingford’s  closet?

All Leo wanted was to get to know Dick. Is that so wrong?

And what about this mysterious Helen Martin of Morden? Why is there one of her books in here with the rest of the Amy family’s? What’s her role? What’s her game? Is she an interloper, a secret lover of one of the Amy boys? Sordid possibilities flood my mind. I’m beginning to see Darlingford in a lurid light; an early 20th century version of Twin Peaks, perhaps?

In the midst of all these clues lies the requisite well-worn King James Bible. I excitedly turned to the front and back covers to see if any family tree information was recorded, as some families did. Disappointment. No markings at all. Not even an inscription. The only thing in the Bible was an ancient fabric bookmark with the cross-stitched verse, “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son”. Oh, and a creepy newsprint clipping with four bible verses all dealing with “hands”.

The key to the Amy collection? Nobody knows.

What does all this mean? Nothing probably. But I couldn’t help think that somehow these books could be a time capsule of the past, and if I were a children’s fantasy writer, I could begin a story with the spirits of these people trapped inside each of their favourite books and how someone from present day, an unsuspecting librarian perhaps, would be tasked to write the wrongs of a hundred years ago. Sort of a John Bellairs meets M.R. James meets Garrison Keillor meets Ray Bradbury kind of thing. You know the kind. Maybe The Ghosts of Darlingford Manor would make a good title? If I were 12 again, I would TOTALLY read a book with that title. You would have had me at the mere mention of “ghosts”. Throw in an atmospheric mansion in a quaint rural town and you’ve all the ingredients you need to open a vein and let the story run through you. If any one of you want to take this idea and run with it, all I ask is a “special thanks to” mention in the front of your book. And a signed copy. “To Master Trevor, Christmas, 2014” would do nicely.

Darlingford United Church, Darlingford, MB

Oh, and we could present a copy to the United Church in Darlingford too. I hear they’re missing a couple of books.


Filed under blogposts

Meeting the 8:30 at 9:25 Tuesday night

Stepping into Winnipeg’s Union Station is something I recommend for everyone at least once in their lives, especially if it is a “train night”. By “train night” I mean one of those times when train number 1 or number 2 is expected to stop. My Mom decided to take the train out to Vancouver to visit my brother and his family a couple of weeks ago, and now she was expected home on the “No 2”. I found out that the “No 2” travels from West to East, and the “No 1” travels from East to West. The train was running late out of Edmonton, and the question was when it would actually arrive in Winnipeg. The first thing that strikes you about Union station is the space to people ratio. You walk in through the front doors off of main street, and you’re instantly in the main rotunda. As far back as I can remember, this rotunda has left a huge impression me. It demands that you stop and look up and you feel like you’re in a special, almost holy place. I get the same feeling here as I had in Christopher Wren’s St. Pauls in London. At the same time as taking in this huge voluminous space, you also take in the sheer lack of people around. In one corner of the rotunda, there’s a tiny security desk manned by one person, and a closed coffee kiosk. Most of the station has been converted to office space now, but you still get the impression of what new arrivals must have felt as they detrained throughout the first half of the 20th century. You can almost feel the optimism and anticipation of new arrivals walking through this rotunda and out onto Winnipeg’s finest street at the time, Broadway.

But on this night, we are drawn to the back section of the station, where passengers of the “No. 2” will take the one escalator down from the platform into an almost catacomb like reception area. I remember as  a kid coming here to marvel at a model railway display behind glass. Most of the time, the trains were not in operation, but once in a while you’d be lucky and there would be some old dude in an engineer’s cap behind the glass surrounded by fake moss and miniature bridges making the little trains actually run.

No more. Where the model train used to be has now been boarded up and probably turned into storage space.

My Mom had called from “somewhere between Rivers and Portage” and again from “Portage” to give updates on the train’s progress. The original 8:30 arrival time was bumped back to 9:05, and now that we were here at the station, bumped again to 9:25.

I was struck by the sheer lack of people waiting for the train. Besides Marla, Audrey and me, there were maybe six people who looked like they were expecting arrivals, and maybe six people waiting to get on the train. Those waiting for the train were mostly elderly and/or eccentric looking, probably a prerequisite for train travel in Canada these days. Those waiting for the train were in the “comfort lounge” which didn’t look any more comfortable than the regular seats in the rest of the waiting area. There didn’t appear to be any snacks or drinks for these people, and one “internet” station seemed out-of-order and the other one was being used by a staff person.

To say that you felt like you were “back in time” is a cliché, but it really applies here. There was no real security checks (you just needed to show your ticket). There was no x-ray machine, no full body scan, and no restrictions on what you could bring on board with you. I thought of this too late, as I could have asked my Mom to bring some “Granville Island Beer” home with her.

One train employee took a shine to Audrey, and there was something about him that bothered Marla and me. Something to do with his manner of speech, or maybe his clothes, or his general look, but he really felt like he was from the 1930’s or something, and for a crazy moment I thought we were the only ones who could see him and that we were actually interacting with a ghost. Marla and I didn’t talk about this until we had left the station much later, but the fact that we both had this thought at the same time is telling. I made a note to see if he interacted with any other passengers or staff. He didn’t. His comment “You come see me again, Audrey” still haunts me.

Since the train was running an hour late, the platform crew were lined up on a bench with nothing to do. A group of six men and two women, all geared up with parkas, vests and toques sat quietly until one of their walkie-talkies crackled “Train’s on the bridge!” and then everyone mobilized. Typical of VIA, there are no separate up and down escalators. Just one escalator that has to be switched over whether the train is loading or unloading. A minute or two later, the entire lower section of the station shook with the arrival of “No 2” above. A chime rang throughout the station, announcing to the six or so of us that “Train No. 2, The Canadian, is arriving from Vancouver, Jasper, Edmonton and Saskatoon“. Shortly after this, the Winnipeg passengers began appearing on the escalator. I counted only about 10 people who were making Winnipeg their final destination, my Mom being one of them. The 8:30 was only an hour late. Not a bad feat, considering that the train came all the way from Vancouver in February at a time when passenger service in this country takes a backseat to everything else that uses the rail-lines.

“Taking the train was the highlight of my trip”, she said as we waited a minute or so for her luggage to make its way from the baggage car into the station. “Did you know I had prime rib for supper tonight? AND a caesar salad.” “Did you know that they serve champagne and snacks in the dome car in the afternoon? And they weren’t stingy. The guy came around three times!”

"Passing Trains" by Glen Frear

Gathering up all her stuff, we made our way to the exit and the cold February night. I glanced back over my shoulder and sure enough, there was our train-man. Standing off to one corner in his old-fashioned coat and haircut, watching silently as we returned to 2011.


Filed under blogposts