My life is always nuts. Even though I am just a quiet little blue-haired bassoonist, trying to look after my family, students, pay bills, update my website, make art, make reeds, light a fire under my snoozy management and play concerts, other stuff is always happening. My lawyer doesn’t even say hello when she answers the phone these days, she just laughs and says, “What now!?”
But you get good at whatever you do all the time, and I am getting good at multi-tasking. And I love connecting with people through playing my bassoon, and I am finding ways to bring music to new places as part of my complex life.
Life involves family… my family is complicated. My parents had extraordinary lives, helping thousands of people learn to build their own homes, self-publishing books, activism and more. My Dad, B. Allan Mackie, finished his last house six years ago, at the age of 84, then began a truly epic health battle (cancer, Parkinson’s and more), yet he can still motivate and inspire me by the fact that he just doesn’t give up, even when the pain is overwhelming. My Mom, Mary Mackie, was felled with breast cancer exactly four years and one month ago, but her spirit lives on. And she kept writing in her political blog, the Legislature Raids under the pseudonym of BC Mary (and continued by her friend Robin Matthews) until the moment of her final taxi ride. What I’m trying to say is that I have witnessed the true superheroes of my life being slowly twisted to the ground with mortal injuries that they had never anticipated, and still, despite the exhaustion, confusion and pain, their lives are still worthwhile and immensely valuable.
So, as I fit in the duties of life while playing concerts, commissioning new composers, writing grants for the next Juno-nominated CDs (a girl can dream), developing the new website, finishing large art projects and booking for the upcoming seasons, I am also seeing how many ways I can fit the bassoon into my life in ways that I never have before. Life is never convenient and it is my job to remind it (life) of my priorities.
I have now played regularly for the residents of my father’s hospital, West Parry Sound Health Centre. I make the long drive once per week to check on him, his house, and just make sure all is well, and I book other friends to keep him company every day. I have come to love the other elders who are waiting in the same transitional wing for a long-term care nursing home to become available. Though I wish them to heal, or to find a comfortable new home, my heart also lifts with gladness to see them again. Some of them open their arms for hugs, others tell me of watching over my Dad and bringing him a blanket, or adjusting the window shades… they are all different and they are all generous. One of them, who had lost his voice, was once a square dance caller! He loves music and still goes dancing with his daughter and is completely interested in whatever I bring. Another man, Mike, was a guitar player and would like to play again.
And one of them, an elven, bright-eyed man named Art, can no longer walk, and sometimes starts a rhythmic yelling of whatever phrase is in his mind. Two weeks ago, I opted to play for the group in the wide part of the hallways, near the nursing station, since some of them are not permitted to leave the area. And here is where the experience of adjusting to circumstance is really good for me… I played with full energy and perhaps a touch of anxiety, as I am doing everything from memory as part of the personal growth element. Art (who I affectionately call Yelling Guy when he’s out of earshot) was initially beating time with his hand, but I was playing too forcefully for the space, and he began roaring, “JUMP IN THE LAKE!”, so I packed up and my little team moved with me out into the lobby of the West Parry Sound Health Centre.
I had played the previous week in the lobby and the acoustics are amazingly spacious yet clear… certainly the best hall I have played in Parry Sound, but also the only place that I have played in Parry Sound. A small girl danced to the slow movement of my Vivaldi, an older volunteer danced, too… Terry, one of the elders in rehab, said that it sounded like a symphony! Bill asked if I liked playing my machine, then turned to his visiting daughter, and said, “Ya gotta hear what she can do on this thing!” The staff brought me a glass of water each time. Alphonse tells me that I am great and I return the comment, because he really does pump out so much positive energy that it is palpable. Marie, small and beautiful, parks her wheelchair at the end of the hall, far from the group, and listens to every note.
The first week, a few people came to listen, scattered throughout the lobby, the next week, more people gathered, and more people talked to me (I learned that the daughter of one of the surgeons plays the bassoon!). The next week, the nurses called the other wards and brought wheelchair bound patients out to listen and everyone gathered quite naturally into a concert formation, sitting on the welcoming couches and chairs in the lobby. Racil Land (angel friend) wheeled my Dad out in his reclining chair. And Art, aka Yelling Guy, came too! And this time, the sound moved through a bigger space, I was also careful not to use my spear-throwing tone technique, and I played in ways that encircled my listeners, sometimes approaching them, other times backing off, talking directly to them or fading out so they could relax. I am adding more pieces to my memorized repertoire, and last week, played them a Bach prelude, three Scarlatti sonatas (had a memory blank on the D minor, so more like two sonatas), Vivaldi C Minor RV 480, Flight of the Bumble Bee and ended with Weber’s Andante and Rondo… next week, if I’m ready (or even if I’m not) I will play the solo bassoon part for LeDernier Chant d’Ophélie, composed for me with string orchestra and percussion, premiered at CBC’s Glenn Gould Studio and featured on our Juno-nominated CD; for this event, it will be introduced as a piece of music written for me by a friend.
One of the nurses said this was the first time she had heard the bassoon and she loved it. I said I would like to return with my chamber orchestra and play the concerti with the full sound, since the hospital sounds so good, and Roxanne said she would come in even if it were her day off. We all know how hard these nurses work, so I cherish that comment.
This same nurse had wheeled Yelling Guy into the concert area, and this time she finally smiled and let him holler, “Fantastic!” along with “Hey, hey, hey!”, all of which meant that he liked it.
I told my group of attentive listeners that I was playing some music that included an orchestra, and that when I am performing these concerti next June in Oregon, I will be strengthened by the memory of playing for them today.
I know that next week might be different, and that Yelling Guy (I love that his real name is Art) might kick my butt again in the future, but if he tells me to jump in the lake again, I am prepared, thanks to him!
First movement of Vivaldi’s Concerto #14 in C Minor, RV 480, video by Racil Land
Flight of the BumbleBee for Bassoon and Orchestra (or piano!), video by Racil Land