30 June 2010

Time Travelling With Music

I stood in the center of a small, round, high-ceilinged room. Indentations on the floor marked the place where an altar once stood, leaving enough room for only one, maybe two people. The rough stone walls, which were probably once whitewash-clean, bore signs of many years of candle soot. Soft sunlight filtered down from narrow windows above my head.

Somehow, amid a sea of tourists, I had ended up alone in the hushed chapel of Conwy Castle. I closed my eyes and imagined it as it might have been in the past. A woman kneeling at the altar, praying for a loved one off at war with the rebellious Welsh.

For though it’s located in Wales, Conwy is very much an English castle, one of Edward I’s “iron ring” designed to intimidate the locals into submission.

Glancing furtively over my shoulder to see if anyone was near, I quietly tested the acoustics with a passage from a Schubert mass I had recently performed, a simple, pure melody that still sticks in my memory today.

The echo that floated back down to me from the domed ceiling sounded so unlike me, I stopped and listened. The tone seemed to split and reform into someone else’s voice. A voice from the past, answering my kyrie with his eleison? It must have been a he…the only women trained to intone the sacred words would not have lived in this place.

The hair stood up on the back of my neck and I hurried out to find where my husband had wandered off to. Blinking up into the sun, I found him pacing the top of the walls like a knight assessing the strength of the castle’s defenses.

That was years ago, but I remember it like it was yesterday. It occurred to me recently to me that every time I pick up a piece of music, I am in a sense putting myself in that composer’s place for a short space of time. Whatever was in their heart at that moment – pain, loss, love, joy, spiritual ecstasy – that moment is reborn in the vibration of my throat, the push of breath from my lungs. Pulled forward through time, through my body, into the present.

Music is a silver thread that connects us to the past. Have you ever heard small children chanting the same playground tunes that you sang at that age? Did you stop to wonder where they learned it – because you yourself hadn’t sung it for decades. Kinda spooky, when you think about it.

These days, I perform regularly with an Early Music ensemble, singing music from the Medieval, Renaissance and Baroque eras of Europe. Wearing authentic clothing and accompanied by historically accurate reproduction instruments, it’s easy to close my eyes and imagine myself in a candle-lit chapel or smoky hall of some castle, providing music for lords, ladies and knights gathered for a feast.

For that moment, suspended in time, we are an unbreakable link to the past. And, somewhere, a composer with ink-stained fingers is smiling.

(Cross-posted from the Samhain Publishing blog.)

17 June 2010

Off to home ground next week...

Next week I will return with my mother and sister to my childhood stomping grounds of the southern North Carolina Coast. Of course, I'm already searching for spooky legends of the area, among them the Maco Light.

We'll be staying up the road from Fort Fisher, a fort that saw key action in the Civil War. Ghost investigations that have been done there confirm that the place is, indeed, haunted. Here are some videos of a local paranormal research group conducting an investigation. Enjoy!