Dec 30, 2011

Three Good Memories of 2011

During a recent conversation I was asked to name three personal stand-out memories of 2011. While I could easily talk about two highly inspirational moments, I was a little hesitant about the third. You'll see what I mean as you read.

We were busy in 2011; our Roman holiday, my step-son’s graduation in Los Angeles, a romantic weekend in Seattle, another at a rustic resort on Vancouver Island, a visit with my sick mother in Toronto, the memorable stage productions from Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice to Wagner’s ring cycle, a modern ballet and a church choir. Then, our disruptive move, my college grades and the memorable small film I produced at the Olympic luge run in Whistler. There were plenty more, but three was the target number. Here are my three:

Memory One
While on a much-needed, two-week, April vacation in Rome, we got to know the city well.  It’s an exceptional city, with antiquity and bustling street life in abundance. But the highlight presented itself during the last half hour of the Vatican tour. We had snaked our way through the fascinating, yet endless museum of religious and Roman artifacts, the delightful and crowded Sistine chapel and we spent lots of time viewing the gigantic main Basilica and Michelangelo’s Pieta. But, as we were about to leave, I noticed a sign outside pointing up. “Cupola.” We looked at our watches and realized we had just enough time left on the Vatican tour before we were closed out, or perhaps locked in.

Running down the alley beside the Basilica, we were stopped at a booth where we had to pay to ascend an old elevator to the top of the building. At the top we entered what, at first, looked like a large room, but it was actually a round balcony that circumnavigated the base of the dome itself, overlooking the main alter of the Basilica many feet below. As we moved toward the railing, spectacular sights unfolded, both up and down. From way above we were looking down onto the high altar where, below the marble floor, the bones of St. Peter lay in a crypt. Here at the alter, a multitude of Popes had reached up to high heaven to pray to their Lord; up to where we were, and above. I looked up at the awesome dome; it was like a giant crown over our heads. Michelangelo had designed, built and worked on this dome until his death in 1564. This was his last masterpiece. It was covered with exquisite paintings of biblical scenes and artwork leading to the top, and into the cupola. We slowly walked around the balcony railing, taking in the vast building, until we were stopped by a door to the outside.

The door opened onto the roof of the Basilica, looking toward the front of the roof, and to the row of Saints who peered down onto St. Peter’s square. We were poised behind them, almost like sneaking backstage to watch performers taking their bow onto the world stage. We were then quickly hustled to a small flight of steps sandwiched between the outside and the inside of the dome, like two domes, one inside the other, separated by a staircase. Here, we ascended, spiraling around the narrow slanted steps that wound up to the cupola.

It’s a massive dome and a good climb up the narrow passageway. Like climbing a claustrophobic, interior mountain, the old worn steps wound up the well trodden staircase that threads around the darkly lit dome. We stopped occasionally at one of the many slanted windows and glanced down on the incomplete panorama of Rome. Here we gained a sense of just how far we had climbed. Then, there was more; marble step after marble step. Some sections were easier to climb, but there was a constant echo of others climbing behind, some catching up and passing, while others were to be passed. At one point, the steps got wider, but then narrowed down to barely a body width. We reached the cupola and were ejected into the light of day.

On the crown of Rome, we reached the peak of Christendom: The cherry on top of the worldwide Catholic church.

Late afternoon cast a gentle glow around the city. We edged our way, shoulder to shoulder, around the small cupola portico. Spectacular panoramic views of Rome lay before us. Surveying Rome was a thrill, but looking down on St. Peter’s and the Vatican gardens, I realized that this was a country in itself; 0.2 square miles of the smallest country on earth.

The thrill, I would imagine, would be like climbing to the top of Mount Everest. There’s a euphoria in having done it. And a special feeling of just being there.

Memory Two
Just before Christmas, we were invited to attend Christchurch Cathedral in Downtown Vancouver to hear the Vancouver Bach Choir singing songs of Christmas. The edifice is small on a world-scale of Cathedrals, but the acoustics are ripe with the refurbished wooden alter, pews and floor, which resonate with musical sounds. The whole church is much like a music box itself.

Over time, the various religions have spurred on some of the greatest art mankind has ever known; sculpture, paintings, frescos, stain-glass, architecture, literature, plays, movies, music and more. And to me, there is nothing that brings better emotions than a choir of beautiful voices singing magical music from the great composers. The religions had their marketing skills aimed at bringing in crowds via an artistic direction, and they did it well. There is one story that tells about Viennese classical composer Franz Schubert, who was noticeably delinquent in his church attendance. They were going to excommunicate him, but he wrote a song that was instrumental in attracting hundreds of new church goers and possible converts. They forgave him, and that piece of music was “Ava Maria,” one of the finest songs ever written. It remains one of the primary songs that every choir uses in their reparatory.

We entered the church that Advent Sunday and sat beside our friends in an area they had saved, at the front side of the main alter. They were not seats we would have chosen, but they turned out the be the best in the house. At one point during the singing, the choir left their benches near the organ and toured the church, enthralling us with madrigals, melodies and a wonderful rendition of “Ava Maria.” Then, they walked toward us, and around the back of where we were seated.  The choir master stopped and set up his music stand immediately in front of us. The baton was raised and the song, “Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming,” by Michael Pratorius, sprung from the voices behind. The experience was of revery, of being so totally immersed in this musical art form, the composer, the conductor, the church acoustics and each individual choir member melded into one. Like all arts, music takes on a life of its own, voices become song and song filters through our consciousness and senses to become at one with our imagination and our mind. The music itself hangs in midair and envelops the soul.

I was in musical heaven. This was the perfect harmony of surround-sound in all its glory. Had the choir been in front of us, perhaps the experience wouldn’t have been quite so magical. But from behind, I could hear individual singers, their tones and nuances. My mind floated between meditation and the conductor’s baton as I sailed through a place that had no space and time, but was filled with this beautiful music.

Listen to a wonderful rendition of “Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming”

Memory Three

This memory is difficult to write about because I don't wish my thoughts to be taken as a boast or a brag, but as an inspiration to others.

I recently enrolled in college to learn how to teach and to attain a diploma for instructing adults. This is for my proposed course in creativity and innovation. I attended Vancouver Community College's teaching course which had six, one-week classes. Some of them had another week of extensive homework for each class to complete the assignments. To graduate, a practicum/capstone project must also be completed. This was a difficult course, but fortunately I was able to spread the classes throughout the year.

My focus was not in achieving the highest grades, as I had never been one of the top mark earners at school, those many years ago. My plan was to learn as much as I could by enjoying the process, watching the instructors’ performing abilities and gaining as much knowledge as I could to start my own adult course.

Class One put me in the mindset of how difficult the whole course was going to be. It took in the process and mapped out the road for a curriculum. And while the class studies were quite doable, the assignments were complicated and time consuming.

Each class had its difficulties, some were instructor driven while others were learner driven. The class I liked the best was the second course where I had to teach three, ten-minute classes. I chose different styles and levels of teaching and learning. For me, it was about performance art and being able to put across a succinct subject. I also learned a great deal about the learner’s capacity and retention.

Other classes were about styles of learning and styles of teaching, and the last class was an instructor-driven, fascinating and funny lecture about the way the brain works and learns. With each course the homework assignments were extensive. However, this last class was the easiest for me. The assignments demanded simple answers to simple questions. But, I tried to make each answer creatively different.

A college grade of 100% is just about unattainable, but somehow I managed to touch gold. All my classes scores were good but it was the last class that got me an A+ (100%).

Telling this story is not about gloating in the arrogance of winning. As with the course I intend to teach, it’s about inspiring the many who, like me, may not have excelled at school. School takes dedication to learn, comprehend and concentrate, and if you can’t grasp what the instructor is teaching, you must ASK and persist, until you learn. Many learners are shy and afraid of being ridiculed, but teachers are there to help, and will help when asked. One thing that helped me, I was fascinated with the subject and I spent much more time on home-work than usual. I really wanted to learn and I made sure I did.

Joy in learning and curiosity is a wonderful way of gaining the knowledge of the world. And that puts us on a path to wisdom.

I have written about just three memories but there are so many more. Yet, we tend to forget them. Write them down in a diary, a notebook or a journal to help you remember, then share and inspire others. Because it is through our memories that knowledge gets passed around the world.

It is singular how soon we lose the impression of what ceases to be constantly before us.  A year impairs, a luster obliterates.  There is little distinct left without an effort of memory, then indeed the lights are rekindled for a moment - but who can be sure that the Imagination is not the torch-bearer?”
 ~Lord Byron

"Our memories are the only paradise from which we can never be expelled."
- Jean Paul Richter