“I had a dream my life would be …” – Fantine, Les Miserables
My love affair with music began before I remember. The rapture that comes with the purest voice soaring crystalline, the beauty of a solitary note hanging heavy in the air, the force of emotion that builds inside as the chorus swells in lament and in glory. Half notes and violin strings. Mezzo sopranos and the deepest bass. Ancient acoustics reverberating with the songs of ages. Pulsing beats and rapid-fire drums and guitar riffs. Four-part harmonies and requiems en masse. Symphonies and madrigals. Lullabies and the latest hits.
My grandfather played the cornet with Guy Lombardo, a family treasure that now gleams in my parents’ den with a case that accommodated an unnoticed flask for border crossings. My father introduced us to centuries-old symphonies, simple notes woven together in ornate lyrical tapestries, while my mother’s loafs and crescent rolls filled the air with sweet warmth. John Denver carried us home over cross-country roads each summer, while Bing Crosby celebrated the snow blown white Christmases of my Arctic childhood.
But it is the musical – a story in song that transcends time and space – I adored.
I watched Annie until the Beta tape begged for mercy, and I imagined sounds of music rolling across the bluffs. I coerced cousins into impromptu family performances, and I remember vividly each Christmas pageant my mother orchestrated each year.
In high school, I found my voice under the guidance of a proper British music teacher who’s love of music transcended the classroom and put us in Westminster Abbey’s choral galleys on Easter Sunday, ancient Italian monasteries and let our voices float among the angels of the Sistine Chapel. House League music competitions and renditions of Jesus Christ Superstar and Webber’s Requiem blended with morning assemblies and carols by candlelight beneath the colorful majesty of the school chapel. We listened to our voices circle Roy Thompson Hall, an annual parade of boarding school tartans and choral elite. And in college as my voice faded into reality, I disappeared into the stories that came alive through other voices in Toronto’s theater district.
Music is life’s love letter. Morose and tremulous. Angry and defiant. Joyous and enraptured. Fragile and empowered. Bitter and triumphant.
And as I listened in the dark theater, the anthem for downtrodden women everywhere nipped at the edges of old wounds already smarting.
I am not suggesting that I am on an even plain with a woman so broken and used and desperate that she resorts to prostitution, shorn locks and having her teeth ripped from her head. I cannot begin to fathom such utterly wretched desperation.
But I do know what it means to sacrifice everything for your children, to believe in love only to find it beyond your reach, to feel the sting of criticism for decisions you make, and to question the true depth and motives of the humanity surrounding you. All of which I have had delivered in spades.
Standing here on the ramparts of another year past, I’ll once again raise a glass to days gone by and the life that used to be. And to the one ahead worth living.
(Maybe more than one glass. Just to make sure it works.)