Finding My Voice Again

After many months of silence I’m finally returning to blogging. I am almost always writing at home in my journal, for the private audience of my mind and my heart has much to share. However, whenever I think about posting my writing and thoughts on the internet, I somehow feel it to be in disagreement with the sacred privacy of my journal entries. When considering my current practice of online teaching and administrative work, perhaps my reluctance to spend more time on my computer than is absolutely necessary keeps me from blogging more often…well, more than once every two years… However, as we are all so very physically separated these days, I have been feeling a more intense calling to write and share with a greater community. I love to write and connect with people, so here I am, and here goes.

Last year, life became a very joyful form of busy. I was growing my teaching studio, conducting the choir at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian, accompanying the SCC Cantare choir as a collaborative pianist, leading painting workshops and completing painting commissions. In addition, I was touring, recording and making plans with one of my best friends, Emily Shaw in Duo Estelle (if you haven’t already, check out our website: https://www.duoestelle.com/). My partner and dear beau, Stephen, was there every step of way, and was rapidly becoming an increasingly important part of my life’s journey.

As I sit here on this sunny October morning, the increasing chill of the season cannot touch the warmth held in my memories of 2019, each moment tinged with a sort of unique nostalgia often considered foreign in the remembrance of events that happened only a year ago.

I close my eyes and can see the silvery white bark of the birch trees at Kenosee Lake as I walk hand and hand with Stephen along the lakefront. I see the vibrant fields of flowering canola and maturing wheat at my uncle’s farm, punctuated by the antics of their growing family of outdoor cats flitting around the deck in the early morning light. I see the snowcapped spruce trees greeting me on dark, candlelit winter mornings outside the north-facing window of my apartment.

I can smell the delicious aromas of meals made with love by my Mom, my Auntie and my future Mother-in-Law. I see those 365 days as a kaleidoscope of vibrant prairie sunsets and quiet, blue-skied mornings interspersed with fierce winds, cloudy rains and relentless snow. I hear laughter, gentle whispers, boisterous cheers, meaningful conversations and so much music. So many memories swim in my mind involving so many people. I somehow knew as it was happening that it was a special time.

As we know, when March 2020 took the world by storm everything shut down. Here in Canada we kept to our homes in an effort to slow the spread of the virus, only emerging in Saskatchewan in mid June with tentative and cautious footfalls. Those months of quarantining were deafeningly quiet, yet full of constant noise and sound. The music events stopped. The laughter was stifled. Sometimes the colours seemed to drain from the sunsets as the days blended one into the other. My painting practice ground to a halt. I stopped writing for a time; my journal pages lay empty and expectant on my bedside table, a daily reminder of my inner silence. The poetry stopped flowing from my heart. My body tied itself into anxious knots, making singing a challenge rather than a pleasure. My voice was constantly fatigued from worrying and trying to speak through my tiny smartphone microphone to my students during their digital lessons. My inspiration and imagination had joined the lockdown.

However, while reflecting on this period, one must balance the darkness with the light. I continued to bake sourdough bread with renewed purpose (yes, I did indeed bake bread before it became Pandemic Chic!) and developed a pizza dough recipe with my starter. Stephen and I delivered bread to friends and family in town and drew ourselves a little chicken wearing a cupcake liner to serve as a mascot for our imaginary bakery called Holliston Bread Co.

My challenges with singing caused a direct funnel of my musical energy toward increased piano practice. I started to be able to manage more difficult repertoire with greater ease. If my voice failed me, I knew I could sing through the works of Chopin, Mozart and Bach at our loveable old Nordheimer piano. I was also incredibly lucky to have kept my contract with St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church. The music director, Gillian Lyons and I worked tirelessly to keep music as part of weekly online services. Virtual choir rehearsals and projects have become a norm — you could say that church choir has given me the opportunity to learn more about music production and video making. I’m excited to see where all of this newfound knowledge will take me.

Speaking of technology, teaching online presented a new set of challenges to explore and embrace. I chose Zoom as a platform to connect with students each week. My families did their best to adjust, and my teaching took on a new focus — to connect and to support students in pandemic times through music education. I now am the proud owner of a studio microphone, a tripod, a separate webcam (which I refer to as the “Spy Cam” or “FBI Cam” that sits above my keyboard) and of course a whiteboard. One of my favourite parts of this whole process was being able to connect with students I had worked with in Ontario. Digital lessons will never replace the value of face-to-face interaction, and I miss in person lessons terribly. However, it has been rewarding to find new ways to innovate my studio in order to continue in the safest way possible at this time.

At Easter, Stephen and I dressed up and enjoyed a night of Ukrainian and Greek fusion (we live in SK, thus these foods are as common as the endemic flora and fauna). After dessert, Stephen sidled around the edge of our cozy table, knelt down and asked me to marry him. An overwhelming sense of certainty and purpose filled our hearts. Despite the woes and challenges of this pandemic era, we were ecstatic to have happy news to spread some joy during these times that are continually labelled “uncertain” and “unprecedented.”

The neighbour’s cat, Scout, paid us frequent visits to snuggle when he was able, and sometimes just to sit by the dining room window with us during coffee breaks and meal times. We reached out to friends and family all over the world to connect and share in the unifying joys and struggles of a quarantined lifestyle. Perhaps our greatest accomplishment was taking in Wagner’s entire Ring Cycle over a period of four days…somehow after that we needed a little break before returning to the realms of opera viewing. Fifteen hours of Wagner = no regrets.

Stephen and I took wintery walks around our neighbourhood, slowly watching the snow and ice melt into spring. We witnessed the elm tree in our yard awakening from its snowy slumber. As April thawed into May, we tilled up a corner of the backyard and started a potato patch and garden from our reclaimed, weedy earth. Stephen trimmed the giant lilac bushes that line our back fence as I excitedly ordered seeds and brought home entirely too many plants, supplemented by rhubarb roots, dill, lilies, hostas and delphiniums from my Mom and Auntie adding to the riotous explosion of life in our burgeoning garden. Oh, and we grew weeds, so very many weeds. They must be mentioned, as they seemed to work the hardest of all our plants.

I started up running again after several months of pandemic infused hiatus. I found new paths to explore and experienced moments of humility as I pushed the limits of my body’s endurance, making a few mistakes along the way and generally taking time to be alone with the river and the trees.

It has taken me several months to put all of this into words, to balance the light with the darkness. Perhaps more darkness is yet to come. I try to embrace the shortening days and the increased isolation with a greater commitment to my family, my studio and my art. Like so many others inhabiting this planet, I cannot quell the concern for my family, my friends, my students, my community. For people I do not know and will never have the opportunity to meet. Wherever you may be in the world, I hope you feel safe, and I hope you are supported and loved through the challenges, pains and frustrations that accompany humanity during this pandemic. No one can say what tomorrow may bring, but for my part all I can do is take things one step at a time, one hour at a time, one day at a time with as much hope and love I can muster for the people around me…while wearing a mask and keeping a respectful distance.

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