It's the beginning of the new year, so it's time for resolutions and reflections. When I woke up this morning, I thought the following: I am happy to be waking up in a warm bed, in a cozy dwelling. I am not hungry, I am not sick, I am alive and I can see the sunlight on the trees and the snow outside, making them sparkle. I have two beautiful children who dazzle me with their growing and person-ness. I have family who loves me and tries to take care of me. I have a few friends, just enough, who support me and love me in everything I do. I have a mind that thinks and creates and dreams and loves impossibly beautiful things.

Everything that I need or I want in this world is possible for me to grasp.

I am so very fortunate.

I just need to remember, and truly believe that. That is my resolution for this year. I will believe that I am fortunate, that I am beautiful just the way that I am. I will do the things that make me happy, and work from a sense of purpose rather than a sense of duty. I will believe in my friends' dreams and cheer them on as they climb. I will listen more. I will encourage my children and try to be the example. I will be my heart, I will listen to it and appreciate that it is unique and crazy and marvelous.

And I will try to ignore the parts of me, and the parts of others, who tell me different.

All the best for 2013. It will be a good year :-)

At the banks

At the banks by dina bennettAt the banks, a photo by dina bennett on Flickr.

“It has always been a happy thought to me that the creek runs on all night, new every minute, whether I wish it or know it or care, as a closed book on a shelf continues to whisper to itself its own inexhaustible tale. So many things have been shown so to me on these banks, so much light has illumined me by reflection here where the water comes down, that I can hardly believe that this grace never flags, that the pouring from ever-renewable sources is endless, impartial, and free.” - Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

Building Montreal: The Aldred Building

Aldred Building

I was photographing Sunday morning in Old Montreal. Actually, I woke up at 5:30 and figured that if I was going to be awake I may as well do something constructive. I was not disappointed. I'm a morning person. I have always enjoyed that feeling of being awake before most of my world. I love driving around just before dawn, the empty streets, the street lights getting ready to flicker off, the chill in the air, watching another surviving soul in the sleepy, surreal apocalyptic grey light walking down the street or waiting for the bus. I wonder if they are feeling what I feel. There is peace and clarity and as a breeze floats over my cheek I shiver at the thrill of the world existing only for me.And there is always parking. I cannot wander down to the area and not photograph the Aldred building. My lens often seems a bit too preoccupied with the beautiful Art Deco building cross-corner from Notre-Dame. It's ziggurat, step-back design was probably due to the city bylaws prohibiting buildings over 12 stories unless step-backs were included, a bylaw also adhered to by New York City, and it is no surprise that the Empire State Building has a similar design.

Construction started three months before the stock market crash in 1929 and miraculously the construction continued and was completed in 1931. It was Montreal's first sky scraper, with state-of-the-art elevators and a visible break from the classical architecture in abundance around the square. The architects reflected the mass of the cathedral on the lower part of the building and cleverly aligned it to both Notre-Dame and Place D'Armes streets even though they do not meet at 90 degrees. I had never noticed until someone pointed it out to me on an architectour a couple of years ago. The building was commissioned to be a symbol of wealth and properity. Times had changed by the time it was finished, but the vision of the design endures to this day as a piece of luxury and beauty from an era that so many of us wish we were a part of.

Montreal love letter

I have discovered that the things that I love are the things that I never grow tired of looking at: my kids, a long stretch of road not yet run, an orchestra playing, a stack of unread books, a blank page and a good pen, the faces of my friends when they laugh, and a city that never fails to make my heart leap.Driving back into Montreal, 40 kilometres out and I catch my first glimpse of the city, lights off in the distance and the beacon beaming out into the night sky, lighting up the clouds. You are tantalizingly close. As I travel closer my anticipation to see you grows, my heart starts to flutter and become lighter, forgetting things that weigh on me. I cannot wait to see you again. Finally through the South Shore and up onto the Champlain Bridge approach and then the view that leaves me breathless every single time and replaces everything in my body with a momentary heady joy. Lit up and strong, you are so smart and clear and you shine and shimmer into the river and my head chants, "home, home". I feel so proud that you are mine, I cannot believe I live here.

Mahler's 2nd, Resurrection - Orchestre Montreal, Yannick Nezet-Seguin

It was beautiful. My crush conducted marvelously ;-) I set off through town, 30 minutes before the show (friend got stuck in traffic), only to find myself stuck in even more traffic. I finally managed to find a spot on Rene Levesque and ran up the street in the rain, in heels, umbrella being blown inside out, dodging puddles and feeling the damp chill on my legs. Worked through the maze of construction to get to the ticket counter and waited my turn. Mezzanine, G, but centre.

Ran upstairs, sat, waited. Speech about 30th anniversary of OM, short video, speech from YNS, what a sweetie. Then, MUSIC!

You know that you can expect good noise when there are six percussionists, two sets of kettle drums, that HUGE drum, and three other sets of clangy things, eight bass (basses?), two harps, obviously the rest of the instruments, and a choir behind it all.

Close my eyes, it starts, beautiful noise, then a part with strings where I started crying because it was so lovely. Dry my tears, flowing along with the big music, the quiet areas, the gentle, soft plucking, tinging, light, then heavy and dramatic.

The horns kept leaving then coming back, at some point I realised that they were playing in the wings. Three quarters through, three of the percussionists left, and the guy leading the way was trying to push open the wrong door without success before being redirected by the guy behind him.

The man sitting next to me had his elbow well into my side and possessed a muscle tic and kept jabbing me in the ribs. This grew worse once he fell asleep.

The mezzo soprano was rich and I could understand what she was singing, the soprano, as with most sopranos, I can rarely make out every word, but I actually made out even fewer, sounded nice though. She was on the "stick side" of Yannick and I swear he was close to poking her eye out a few times. Must have been farther away though because she didn't flinch.

The percussion was incredible, in a few places it came out like shimmering waves over the rest of the music and I was delighted at the joy I felt. The end was big and dramatic and clashy banging strings sawing, my crush in a frenzy of arms.

Back out into the cold and rain and home. Overjoyed that I went.


McGill Chamber Orchestra with Victor Simon

McGill Chamber Orchestra with Victor Simon

From the choir, Maison Symphonique, Montreal

From the choir, Maison Symphonique, Montreal

At the end of September I headed back to the Maison Symphonique to hear an evening of tango - Una Noche en Buenos Aires - with the McGill Chamber Orchestra and Victor Simon. Victor Simon, an Argentinian pianist and composer who fell in love with our city and founded Montreal Tango, is a master of spontaneous tango. Watching him play is a humbling experience for any piano student. He makes the intricate, finger-flying rhythms seem effortless, possessed digits weaving the seductive sounds, classic tangos as well as his own compositions. According to his web site, Victor didn't take up tango composition until he left his home for Montreal, an impulse the audience surely appreciated. The McGill Chamber Orchestra with Boris Brott played marvelously and the joy of the musicians was obvious. Tango is fun, and passionate, and freeing. The hall was tuned for the evening - seating was reduced and the ceilings were lowered and the musicians all sat on a single level. The sound was very good, the hall seems designed for the piano - the clarity of the Steinway in the new hall is delicate and clean and sharp. I cannot wait to hear more pianists to hear if there is a difference with a full hall. For the second half of the concert, the piano was moved from the front of the stage to the back to accomodate dancers who occasionally appeared from the wings to dazzle the audience with giros, ganchos, and sacadas. I have recently fallen completely in love with this dance (I'll share that in an upcoming post), and it was all I could do to keep myself from leaping out there and failing to dazzle everyone with my very basic step. Oh! And guess where I was sitting? In the CHOIR! When there is no choir, the seats are used for regular patrons and so I jumped at the chance to face the audience and get a new perspective on the orchestra. Sound is great in this area, but any talking using the microphone is garbled and difficult to make out, so skip the opening speeches.

There are many performances of Tango Montreal coming up and they've just released a new album, so check out their site.

Guilt-free Shopping

Christmas is coming and the usual crisis is upon me: I want to give my loved ones gifts, but I dread the feeling I get when I walk into a mall full of mass-produced garbage. It goes against everything that I love about the holidays and makes me feel cheap and commercial. Over the years I have taken to finding alternatives that make me feel more giving; I bake and make cookie baskets, I make gifts with my own little hands (I call them "rustically charming"), and I try to shop at stores that give something back. Shops like 10,000 Villages are my preferred haunts for finding presents for my friends and family, and now I have a new one to add to the list!

On my walk down Sherbrooke Monday, I came across a great new shop that takes all the guilt out of Christmas consumption.

Pure Art

Pure Art

Pure Art is a Canadian charity dedicated to alleviating poverty, promoting education, and providing clean water in developing communities around the world. Started by the McKinnon family in Hudson, the Pure Art Foundation has two fair trade stores, one in Hudson, and now one that has just opened in Westmount. An eclectic mix of jewellery, clothing, tableware, bags, cards, and children's toys from artisans around the world promise a unique gift for everyone on your list.

Pure Art - Westmount

Pure Art - Westmount

The friendly and knowledgeable service from Danielle behind the counter was educational and enthusiastic. She was more than willing to answer questions about the foundation and all the beautiful creations available in the shop. Many creations are made using recycled materials, such as purses decorated with pop tops and bracelets made from phone wires. With colourful friendship bracelets made by a shaman in Peru for $5 and an array of reasonably priced necklaces, bracelets, and original clothing, this is one-stop shopping for mom, your best friend, and your children's teachers.

Thoughtful gifts that give back are a trend that I want to see more often.

La Maison Symphonique - new concert hall for Montreal

new concert hall

new concert hall

September 11 was the inaugural children's concert for Montreal's newest concert hall. Five years after the project was approved, and 266 million dollars later, La Maison Symphonique is open for business! I bought our tickets in June, some of the last available in the balcony, and waited all summer in anticipation of the opening. I read the less-than-stellar reviews of the grand opening first show and Beethoven's ninth, but was not discouraged, and on the Sunday I got everyone dressed up and we headed downtown. By the time we got there, the kids and I were pretty excited. There was a lot of activity around the area with the Marathon des Arts festival happening at Quartier des Spectacles, with free tours of the hall being held to draw people in.

Approaching the hall, it is obvious that the building is not finished. Bare plywood and make-shift ramps are everywhere and the windows at the back reveal insulation, ducts, pipes, and general construction. Inside, the reception areas are sparsely furnished and airy. The spaces do not appear as large as Salle Willfrid Pelletier though, which makes me wonder how the traffic around the bars during intermissions will fair. Narrower stairs and escalators reside where I think that a wide staircase should have been. Elevators are also present, and the design seems beautifully thought out for wheelchair accessibility. I also spied some back stairs which will be no doubt ugly but will afford an easier escape. Both kids were delighted with the open space, running around an empty top reception level before heading into the concert hall. The glass walls made the space during a matinee bright and the hanging wooden sculptures are charming and set the tone for inside. The inside of the concert hall is finished, and is beautiful despite the outgassing of wood and upholstery. The light beech wood contrasted with the metal is clean and modern and a dramatic change from the weight and dark of the older Place des Arts halls, although I question the creamy white seat fabric which may be overly hopeful and ill-though-out by the designers.

We found our seats and settled near the middle at the top of the shoebox. Even on the balcony, the stage does not seem as distant. And the view is impressive indeed: 1900 seats and room for 120 musicians and 200 singers. The choir area can also be used for spectators, and being able to surround the performers allows for more seating and makes the music more of a community event. Everything about the new design seems more relaxed and casual and inviting.

The concert began without a lot of ceremony and Nagano appeared with two young female pianists, one his daughter, for Saint-Saen's Carnival of the Animals. Naomi's attention was very short-lived, and I had to start hissing at her almost immediately, but Ben and I were entranced and I tried as much as possible to point out which animals were being imitated so they could follow along. Peter and the Wolf was next and Naomi was constantly asking what was happening, sometimes quite loudly as I tried to quietly translate the narration for her. The last was a ballet by Debussy which was performed by École supérieure de ballet du Québec students and which was simply too long to hold the attention of children, or adults for that matter. In addition to the restless youngsters, I saw more than one parent checking their smartphones. I think opting for a shorter excerpt from a ballet and finishing with a more dramatic musical selection would have been more appropriate for the audience. I still remember the thrill my children got from the Queen of the Night's aria last year and going back many years to another children's concert, the Star Wars theme which left small boys humming down the stairs enthusiastically and perhaps considering a career in music.

Now, the sound. Yes, it is not life changing. In my opinion, it will take about a year to tune the room completely. I don't think that this is a failure, it is a process. There is simply no way to perfect a sound for every size orchestra and every type of music and different audience sizes without playing in the hall and tweeking. The sound baffles (nine motorized canopies that move individually) are designed to be adjusted and the hall was acoustically well planned, so even though there will have to be some changes made, eventually the sound will evolve to meet the expectations of the conductors and the audience members. I didn't find the sound muddy, but from the balcony it was dulled, and didn't seem to hit the audience with enough resonance. I want to sit in different areas and see what else is happening on lower levels of the room. Luckily, I think that the initial reviews may mean that tickets will be readily available this season, hopefully at discounts.