Despite the strangeness of life these days, I take comfort in sure signs of Spring: warmer temperatures, trees growing small bright green buds that have developed into deeper red/orange ones, robins singing in the evening, and last year’s perennials making their way through the soil. Our cherry tomato and cucumber seedlings are thriving and I’m looking forward to the day when we can safely plant them outside.
Last month, our choir was able to resume virtual rehearsals, with each of us tuning in from home and leading sectionals in break-out rooms on Zoom. Although it’s by no means a replacement for live rehearsals, it is nice to be able to see all those familiar and friendly faces and I’m pleasantly surprised at how smoothly they’re running and how much we’re able to accomplish.
My colleagues and I continue to broadcast live-streamed services from our still-empty St John’s United Church in Oakville. This year, we’ve created beautiful pre-recorded services for Maundy Thursday and Good Friday with music and spoken reflections, which will be uploaded to the church’s YouTube page on the appropriate days. Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday services will be live-streamed as usual at 10:30am (EST). You can find links to all services here. Unfortunately, I won’t be able to join the wonderful musicians at Beth Sholom for Passover services this year. The synagogue is still closed to the public with only the cantor providing music for services. I hope that we will all be able to meet and sing together very soon.
I’m also very pleased to report the success of Opera Sustenida’s live-streamed event “Date with the Divas, Volume 1” in February. Online events are a completely different ball-game than live performances, but I am so pleased with how ours are developing. I’m also amazed at the possibility to explore new dimensions through post-recording video editing. This last concert was set up to be more educational about the whys and whats of early opera, and many audience members have told us how helpful and informative our live chat segments were.
We’re already preparing for our next concert – “Date with the Divas, Volume 2!” This live-streamed event will feature some of our favorite arias and ensembles from the Bel Canto and Romantic eras, meaning all of your favorite “-ini” composers: Bellini, Rossini, Puccini…Wagner? I guess Wagner doesn’t follow the formula, but you get the idea.
To get a taste of our Opera Sustenida events, you can watch my performance video of “Dido’s Lament” (Purcell) here. As the name suggests, this is a tragic aria and often ends with Dido taking her own life. We created two different Dido characters to show the progression from the sudden and strong wave of grief that takes over Dido in life, to clarity and bittersweet serenity as she looks back at her loved ones after death.
I struggled with sharing this aria with you as it is so obviously steeped in grief and pain…things I felt we’d had enough of this year and which seemed to go against my mission to bring love, truth, and beauty to the world. But Dido’s grief is also an aspect of truth, beauty, and even love – an imperfect, human love that once she dies becomes transformed into whole, eternal love. Dido looks back at her loved ones, remembering their wonderful time together and saying “Do not mourn my death – Celebrate my life!”
Tonight marks the beginning of the Jewish holiday Passover, and the Christian holiday Easter is not far behind. When I was growing up, my family celebrated both of these holidays; but, although we held a traditional Seder meal, we only celebrated the secular egg-hunt and chocolate rabbit version of Easter. I didn’t know the connection between the two holidays, let alone the story of Jesus’ resurrection, until much later.
Despite their obvious differences, both of these holidays carry a message of hope, of freedom, and of new possibilities. I think it’s fitting that both of these holidays come in the Spring, just as the light is beginning to shine more brightly and strongly after the cold, dark winter. And it seems that this year especially, we feel all too keenly the significance of these holidays as we remember past gatherings with loved ones and grieve those who are no longer in our lives or whose physical presence has been missed in this past year.
But I also feel that both of these holidays invite us to look towards the vibrant future that awaits us. The restrictions that we find around us are only temporary and cannot prevent us from celebrating the complex gift of life. Just as the dead leaves of winter always make way for spring shoots, so will we emerge from this period of darkness with freshness and clarity of purpose.
Of course, I look forward to the time when I can visit with friends and family, give them a big hug, and (figuratively) throw the mask to the wind. But until that time, I will continue to find small things to rejoice in, and I hope that this post might inspire you to do the same.
With love, gratitude, and hope,