Somewhere in Winnipeg

When Sammy Cahn wrote the lyrics about “frightful” weather in his iconic song with composer Jule Styne, he must have been writing about Winnipeg. Today the high was -23 degrees Celsius with a low of -29 degrees. The ten minute walk from home to the bus was fine, as was the wait. The bus ride to my weekly piano lesson at the University of Manitoba was productive, as I drafted an article for Wellesley Underground. My piano lesson was delightful as usual; I spent most of the time tackling the right hand of Debussy’s Little Shepherd which was technically stimulating (interesting rhythms, lots of chords with a fraction of the notes held, and interesting fingering to achieve legato). I practiced my Bach a few times and realized I need to work on starting spots (like restarts in numerical programming) to avoid memory hiccups during my masterclass tomorrow.

Then I ventured to walk to my accompanist’s house for a rehearsal for my vocal masterclass piece for tomorrow, Somewhere, from the musical West Side Story, with lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and music by Leonard Bernstein. It was a thirty minute walk, but the sidewalks didn’t seem to be completely free of snow, and I would have to walk on a path through a field and woods. First, I became a little lost about which gate entrance to enter, and then on the path (while on the phone with Andrew who is used to my being prone to becoming lost), as I became increasingly late, I ran/stumbled through the snow. Cold pained my legs, my icy hands fumbled with the phone and gloves, my exposed nose I worried would fall off. I panted while I stomped through the snow, having to yell into the phone to be heard as I tried to navigate the path. I was late, which stressed me out, as I was paying by the minute, cold, and out of breath.

I arrived at my accompanist’s home eventually, put the phone away, and she welcomed me into her cozy abode. She was all warmth and graciousness, as I coughed, sputtered, and gagged from my half running tromp through the snow for the previous half an hour. I removed my coat and deposited my bag. We warmed up with major and minor arpeggios and scales. Still I felt distraught. She suggested we warm up with my piece.

With the opening bars, I calmed down and felt soothed by the musical piece. It is a song longing for peace, compassion, and forgiveness. The song resonates with words full of hope and companionship, about finding space to exist in harmony. I used to be conditioned to feel tense when I sing, striving to stay in tune, but with my current teacher my conditioning has been reversed, and I relax while my voice naturally falls into place. Singing is somewhere I find the ideals suggested in the piece. Music is therapeutic and healing, as well as the kindness my accompanist administered who gave me as much time as I needed and even walked me to an easier bus stop to return home.

We live in a world whose currency is profit and success. But in the music studios, rehearsal halls, and living rooms of many, there is a place for music and art, whose value might not be much to the big banks and industry, but which can warm the frozen and give an ineffable quality to all involved in the music making, including an audience if there is one. Money might pay the rent and put bread on the table, but music and art nourish the soul.

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