Friday, August 04, 2006

The Sound of a Particular Music

I am thinking of my favorite listening experiences. I have not thought of this before, of breaking down my life experiences into the sense they pleased. In terms of gustatory experience, a particular bowl of potato leek soup served me in a restaurant on a rainy day in Montreal comes to mind. Visual experiences: Lauterbrunnen valley in the Bernese Oberland in Switzerland in June. Tactile? a particular rain I felt in Florence one night I was locked out of the Ostello Camerata for coming back too late, having spent the evening romping with Jorn and Russell (from South Africa) and Maritza (from Chicago). The rain was thick and almost warm. Jorn kissed me in it; that might have helped drive it into my "best of" memories. Olfactory and Auditory are a bit more specific, more difficult for me to name. Olfactory? Best smell ever? Something about when the Spring temperature hits a particular feel and mixes with a perfect kind of blue in the sky, more specifically, that one morning after my 8th birthday in Toronto and Bethy and I walked to school wearing our matching white capes. Best sonic experience? Now, I can name it.

I was in London in the Fall of 1989; the Berlin Wall was coming down but I was in London. I'd wandered into St. Pauls to kill some time (and I hear Sam Beckett retort: but who wants their time dead?) between lunch at Whitbread and evening curtain at the Barbican. I sat in the pews of the choir stalls, thinking that was a place other tourists were sitting. But they weren't other tourists. They were people there to attend vespers. All the tourists, I realized as men in robes began to appear through secret little doorways facing our stall, had been ushered out. And Midsummernight's Dream started in 20 minutes. So I broke all protocol--stood and made my apologetic way back to the black and white marble of the nave. I was a third of the way to the door Christopher Wren's masterpiece when the choir blocked the light of the exit. Men, countless men, draped in black and white robes and processing in two collumns, all singing the deep baritone of the Gregorian nature. Their song filled the dome, filled the engravings of John Donne's tomb, pressed into the grooves of the wood of the pews, and I stood there in the aisle, the opposite of a bride, headed out in my green woolen coat, my blue wool hat, and these singing men walked past on either side of me.

Outside again in the gray chill, it took a moment for me to recognize all the other sounds of the world, which in that moment, meant nothing.

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