Monday, December 05, 2016

Wonderful weekend of music-making

Well, this weekend (the Handel's Messiah extravaganza in Lismore) has been both exhausting and uplifting/energising at the same time! I was a bit concerned about how I was going to cope with 2 long days (9.45am to 5.00pm + 1 hour's drive each way each day !) of singing and waiting around. But - it was wonderful! Probably a combination of the wonderful energising effect of singing, and the fact that I am definitely getting better! I did collapse into bed pretty early on both evenings but felt wonderful again the following morning .....

Handel's Messiah concert at Lismore with Richard Gill

And our guest conductor, the wonderful Richard Gill ... what can one say about someone like him?! So completely full of energy and love for the music ... But not in any rarified way! He had us in stitches with comments/stories about how it was NOT a democracy! What the conductor (him!) wanted was the way it was going to happen! But also, how people like us (choirs and orchestra) choosing to come together to perform music was what made communities happen / come together. Feel like I learnt so much over those 2 days ... hopefully I'll retain some of that!

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Friday, November 18, 2016

Another update (No 3)

Another week, another update on my health! I think this past week has been a case of one step backwards, two steps forward ... at the end of last week I had a couple of days when I was really really tired. Collapsed on the sofa all day, no thought of doing any yoga, finding myself falling asleep around 7pm (!!) in front of the tv...

But things started to get better over the weekend, and I haven't actually felt anything like as tired since then. Of course, when I re-started yoga earlier this week I did have to start from the beginning again ... Surya Namaskar B is still hard (energy-wise) - and I think I'm just now back at the stage I'd got to ... in other words, 3 x Surya Namaskar As and 2 x Surya Namaskar Bs ... Its going to be very interesting to see what happens when I get to some of the poses that I used to find challenging - eg UHP (balancing!!), and Marichyasana C - will I still be able to bind that I wonder?! Well, hopefully I'll find that out in the next couple of weeks!!

Next week is my last 2 rehab sessions in Tweed Heads - I definitely think they have helped me a lot. And then the following Saturday afternoon I'm having an Alexander Technique treatment which should be really interesting.

And the singing, the choir practice (of The Messiah) goes on, filling a lot of my day, happily. Today a friend is coming round in the morning bringing coffee and cake (!), and we may do some singing too ...

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Thursday, November 10, 2016

US election, and Recovery update no. 2

Well, against all expectations, it's happened again!! To be honest I do remember thinking that if I'd got it so wrong after the Brexit vote then who was to say I wouldn't get it wrong again about the US presidency!! And although it did feel it was (way past) time there was a woman in the White House, I really did not like Hillary Clinton. Far too close to the 'establishment' and big end of town. Far too much of a sense of entitlement ...

And I have to say - my sense of dismay is much much less than after the UK Brexit vote! Maybe I'm a bit numb about it all, but ... No doubt many many horrors to come but we'll just have to wait and see!

Went off to rehab again this morning - I'm halfway through the program now. I am still pretty (very!) tired after I've been, and indeed also after I've been out doing a bit of shopping etc. but yesterday I remembered something an osteopath friend said to me. That after having a brain operation it would take at least a month before I stopped being very tired ... apparently a fairly common side-effect of such operations. But that this would definitely come to an end! So I was very pleased when I remembered that conversation!

The other great thing that has happened is that I've finally 'tapered off' the steroids I was on, and last night I slept for 8 hours!! Woohoo!!

My Thursday chauffeur, Beth and I went out for a nice Thai lunch in Tweed Heads after the rehab was finished. Then I came home and really collapsed on the sofa again - totally exhausted! Another friend (my other main chauffeur, Victor) had been going to come round to watch something from this evening but I had to put it off for a day or two!!

My wonderful singing teacher Ian, came round early this morning for a singing lesson. My voice is getting stronger again - hopefully it will soon be back to where it was before the operation. I've just started learning a new song by Gluck - O Del Mio Dolce Ardor ...

And I have also started my yoga practice again! I'm managing to do it every other day at the moment ..The first day I did 3 sun salute As. The next time I added in 1 sun salute B which nearly wiped me out! And yesterday I did 3 x sun salute As and 2 x sun salute Bs! Slowly slowly I will build it back up ...

Friday, November 04, 2016

My recovery update (1!)

Well it's Friday and I've been home from hospital since Tuesday of last week. I'm still taking steroids each day (as well as anti-epileptic medication) but am slowly tapering the steroids according to a program. I will stop taking the steroids next week - which will be a big relief! I'm still having problems sleeping although it's not nearly as bad as it was when I was on higher doses!

And this week I started 4 weeks of physio / speech therapy up in Tweed Heads. Twice a week (Monday and Thursday) for 3 hours each time ... so far I've been pretty tired after each of those sessions, but it should get better! On Monday I went with my friend Victor, who just went and hung around in a local bookshop for the 3 hours. On Thursday I got a lift up with Victor, but then an old work friend, Beth Cavallari who lives in Murwillumbah came and picked me up from Tweed Heads and brought me home - after going out for lunch! That was great, and she's going to actually do the whole pickup / drop off for the rest of the (3) Thursdays.

However, like I said, I was pretty tired after all that - came home and collapsed on the sofa for the rest of the afternoon!

I'm also hoping to re-start my yoga practice in the next day or two. Probably just start with some sun salutes, and then gradually build it up. I won't be able to go back to class in Byron for another 2-3 months (ie. until I can drive again)

But anyway - right now life is sweet. I am very content pottering around at home and in the garden, and being taken out shopping or to appointments occasionally. No doubt as my strength returns I'll get a bit fed up, but that too shall pass!

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Monday, October 24, 2016

Back to Hospital!

I've kept quiet about this for ages - years in fact! I just didn't want to embark on another tale of woe and thought if I kept quiet about it then it might just go away ... (big fat chance!!)  But - well let me just tell the story, and there is a happy ending though a big hiccup on the way!

So, some years ago I was changing specialists for the bronchiectasis (and don't even go there!!). The new specialist wanted to do lots of CT scans, not just of my lungs, but why not my sinuses too. And then he discovered a "benign brain tumour"!! A meningioma!!! Well, this was just too too much! When my biggest fear (pre-cancer anyway) was that if I had a headache for more than 3 days I probably had a brain tumour!! Arghhhhhhhh ...

But eventually with the help of a neurosurgeon, Dr David Walker, I accepted it and ultimately came to annual MRIs and reviews for a few years.

But all good things come to an end! This year when I had my MRI and review he told me that was in fact growing slowly, and I should really get it taken out within the next year. Cue more tears! That was in April I think and again I ultimately accepted it. But I decided to delay it till this month as a) an overseas friend was visiting in September, and b) I wouldn't be able to drive for 3 months!!

So, cut to the hospital. Oh, wait. When Dr Walker was telling me about the operation he also listed the risks ... which because of my bronchiectasis, included having a coughing fit, in turn leading to a stroke or epileptic fit!

So anyway, the op took place on the 13th October. It went fine and I was recovering well in the ICU when sometime in the afternoon / evening I started coughing. And then I started having strokes! I was rushed into CT scan and there was some bleeding / bruising on the brain. Several subsequent Scans revealed no further progression but I definitely had some aphasia (speech problems) ... Over the weekend I made a bit of progress, but it wasn't until I was able to get out of ICU to the ward (bit of a logjam) and had some much-needed rest that I really started to make progress!

And now it's the following Wednesday. I've been out of hospital for a couple of days, home since yesterday. I have a friend staying overnight for 2-3 nights, and I'm so happy! I know there's still rehab work to do on my speech but I'm completely confident I can make a full recovery!

Phew - that wasn't so bad! Always good to get it out there, eventually!!

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Thursday, September 08, 2016

Yoga 'movement'

Don't know that it's right to look at my yoga practice in terms of progress, (or lack of!) But I'm not going to beat myself up too much for being quietly pleased at visible signs of - shall we say 'movement'!! A few months ago I posted on Facebook about my delight when Christian crossed my ankles in supta kurmasana - a cross-legged turtle you could say! And lately I've been thinking I should try and do this myself - but it seemed quite impossible to actually lift one leg up and do that. Then last week I was shown how to do it - and of course it's so much easier than I'd imagined! I still can't actually bind my hands behind my back - can't even reach them yet! But I do believe that will come!

Then the other pose I get assisted in a lot - Marichyasana C ... Just this week I am suddenly able to bind myself on the second side! The first side is months, years away yet, but ... It is quite a thrill !!

Onto other things ...Winter (such as it was!) is turning to spring now. I've been planting some shrubs in the front where some of the palm trees once were .. And the veggie garden is just flourishing - an oversupply of broccoli at the moment! The tyranny of the garden as a friend's father used to say (happily!)

Rehearsals for the performance of The Messiah in December are going well. I do know it quite well having sung it 4-5 times in Brisbane with the Bach Choir, but am finding out how much I leant on the other choir members there who had sung it every year for many years. Now there is pretty much no one to 'lean on' and others are wanting support from me! So I am seeing all the bits where I need to do extra work!! But it will be wonderful I'm absolutely sure!

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Sunday, August 14, 2016

Musical loong weekend!

Bangalow Music Festival

What an amazing music-filled few days I've just had at the Bangalow Music Festival! Didn't make it to all 9 concerts - but I think I made it to 7! Plus the pre-opening one that our choir sang at (Va Pensiero and the Hallelujah Chorus). Which was especially memorable because Teddy Tahu Rhodes, the well-known bass baritone singer who was performing at the festival, just strolled in when we were rehearsing in the hall, and joined in with the basses! (He also sang with them during the actual performance!)

Another highlight was during the morning concert yesterday, which had a presenter, and a theme based on the Olympics motto - Faster, Higher, Stronger. The presenter told the story of how the Russian composer of one of the pieces, Ysaye (I'd never heard of him) owned a Stradivarius. But one time (in the early 1900s) he left it unattended in a dressing room and of course it vanished. It resurfaced in a shop in Paris many years later, and was ultimately bought by the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra to be used by their principal violinist. Who is currently one Ilya Konovalov, who was performing at the Festival. And he performed a piece by the same person who once owned that same particular Stradivarius!

Hard to pick favourites! Would have to include Teddy Tahu Rhodes singing the Vaughn Williams Songs of Travel song cycle, and a Celtic song selection that we all joined in with on the choruses - eg the Skye Boat Song and Loch Lomond (my Scottish roots showing!). And a truly wonderful performance of a Schubert String Quartet (Death and the Maiden) by the Orava Quartet, that had everyone on their feet applauding ... And yes, the concert I went to this morning which comprised Aaron Copland's Appalachian Spring, Barber's Adagio for Strings and a Mozart Piano Concerto (no 21 in C Major) ... More standing ovations at the end of that!!

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Saturday, July 09, 2016

The Carnival is Over

I'd been playing around with a half-written blog post for a few days - my thoughts about things like the UK Brexit vote and the election situation here in Australia. Throw in some superior comments about how people should really be turning inside for what they're looking for (although true!) - and well, you get the picture!

And then, today. Today I went to a little school hall up in the hills behind Mullumbimby - Wilsons Creek. To a memorial service for a wonderful 84-year old woman who had been in our choir - we sat next to each other for months during rehearsals for the Faure Requiem last year.

I knew so little of her life, and listening to family and friends talk it was obvious that she had truly lived life to the fullest. Followed in her father's footsteps and graduated as a dentist in the early 1950s - probably one of the earliest women dentists. Music had played an enormous part in her life. Her son said she had - I don't know, was it 5 pianos in one house alone?! Anywhere she lived she looked for and joined choirs and music societies. Brought her children up on a farm in beautiful countyside  - 10 minutes from the school hall where her memorial was held, and where her children went to school. After she retired as a dentist, she volunteered at an Aboriginal dental service in a county town that was at that time infamous for bad treatment of aboriginal people. Found love again in her 80s(!) ...

I could go on and on - but for me this was a(nother!) wake-up call - to take advantage of this wonderful gift of life. Don't waste it. Stop putting things off till later.

So we - two choirs, (yes she had been in two local choirs) and everyone there, sang songs that she had loved, and songs of farewell. Ending up with one I hadn't heard for ages - The Carnival is Over:

Say goodbye my own true lover

As we sing a lover's song

How it breaks my heart to leave you

Now the carnival is gone

High above the dawn is waking

And my tears are falling rain

For the carnival is over

We may never meet again

Like a drum my heart was beating

And your kiss was sweet as wine

But the joys of love are fleeting

For Pierrot and Columbine

Now the harbour light is calling

This will be our last goodbye

Though the carnival is over

I will love you till I die

Not a dry eye in the hall! Thank you Rozzie ...

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Saturday, June 11, 2016

Thoughts on Dena's Intensive

Well the 4-week intensive with Dena finished yesterday. Unfortunately I actually missed most of the 2nd week after coming down with the worst cold I've had in years! (Apparently it is/was going round the district). And of course, despite my silly fears I really enjoyed the whole experience. Oh, there were many mornings getting up in the dark when I really didn't want to, but once I got to the shala I knew I was in the right place!

Not that there were any great dramatic 'leaps forward' in my yoga practice ... More a gradual building of strength (still sadly lacking after all these years!) which I hope/intend to take advantage of over the coming months. Dena had got me to do a 2nd series pose (shalabasana) before upward dog in the seated vinyasas, and said she could see that things were 'moving' or bending (if only infinitesimally!) in my thoracic spine ... Finally! She has been on at me for years about that!!

I'm going to try and do one of these twice a year ... Much cheaper than going to one of her Bali workshops, and they're only one week! Plus there is only so much hanging around in Ubud one can do, and I've done a lot of that!! And now Dena is having a much needed break before heading to Europe to do workshops there. At the end of the practice yesterday we sat in a circle and shared something of our feelings. And she said she had left her children every morning for the last 4 months to come and teach because of her love for the practice and to carry on Guruji's legacy. But she was so looking forward to some family time !!

So now I'm sitting with a coffee (from Yum Yum cafe!) on my back verandah, writing this while listening to ABC Classic FM's Top 100 Classic Music (Voice) as voted by listeners, including me! I can't remember what my top 3 picks were - I think it was the Faure Requiem, the Allegheri Misereri ... Yes, and Mozart's Ave Verum Corpus ... Perhaps not very adventurous but still really beautiful music!!

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Friday, May 20, 2016

Intensive with Dena

One week down of the 4-week intensive with Dena! I did it - actually made it to all 6 days' classes - some didn't!! Wasn't sure I would be able to cope with the intensity - I think it's actually the first time I've been to 6 days' worth of classes in a week. Except for workshops of course ... But they are just a week - will have to see how I go over a 4 week period! I was, however, very glad to hear that Sunday was a moon day, so 2 days off this time!

Dena said to me that she was glad to have a month to 'work on' me!! Ha ha - she'll need it I think! Jokes aside, I'm really glad to have this chance to deepen my yoga practice. I know I've been doing more / putting more effort in since I've moved, but this is definitely another step!

We've been doing various breathing / pranayama 'exercises' at the start of each day ... That and the things Dena has been saying to me (which all yoga teachers say to me, and even my mother ... !!!) about sitting up, straightening my back ("think of it as a big push-up bra"!!) - well, they all apply to singing too - singing teacher is another person saying the same things! ! Interesting how different parts of my life have such strong links!! Hopefully it'll all go in properly at some point!!!

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Monday, May 09, 2016

Part of the music family

Went to a really lovely lunch in Tweed Heads with various friends on the weekend. We were all told to bring our singing voice/instruments, so I knew it was going to be a musical afternoon! A couple of the people invited were professional musicians who I've seen perform in front of 5,000+ people, the rest of us were (just) people who like to sing!

And after a yummy curry lunch people started singing and playing different songs - mostly that they'd written themselves. Some were a bit shy, but it was lovely to see them blossom when they took the plunge and started singing/playing. I sang a couple of the songs that I'm singing at my music teacher's soiree on Thursday night ... One of them is a duet I'm singing with someone else so I sang that one to a recording I had on my phone of the two of us rehearsing it - otherwise it'd have been missing half the song! We finished up by all singing (and dancing!) along with some Aretha Franklin videos on YouTube ... Such a fun day, although my voice is still feeling the effects of that high Aretha Franklin singing 2 days later! (No photos being shared because some there specifically didn't want photos on the interwebs!)

And I'm so pleased that I seem to be able to sing in public now without too much embarrassment ... At least with friends anyway! How I'll feel at the soiree is another question - but I have certainly moved a long way from the initial panicked response when I was 'told' I'd be singing a couple of songs, solo! My friend K who's the professional singer told me her strategy for getting over stage fright (which I was astonished to hear she did experience!) was to think of herself as a warrior going into battle. And of course once she starts singing it's all okay - just the going out and starting being the problem sometimes! So I will definitely bear that in mind!!

That night when I was in bed I realised that I could think of myself as being part of the 'music' world now ... It certainly consumes a lot of my every day ... Felt really nice! Mind you, don't anyone think I'm imagining I am or ever will be a professional in this field. But an extremely enthusiastic amateur, yes!!

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Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Musings on life and changes of direction

(( Warning!! This post contains a lot of 'navel-gazing'! ))

I've been thinking lately how it's funny that when you (I) make a big life change, you can think you have a plan for how it's going to be ... And it all turns out completely differently! I mean, really I shouldn't be surprised at all. I'm always thinking that I'm in control, and then discovering I wasn't! But anyway ...

I had this fixed idea about how my life would be when I stopped working in university IT and moved down to this lovely green area with soft green hills to the west of me, and beautiful beaches just to the east. I was going to do more yoga - get to more Mysore classes (tick!). I was going to find a good classical choir to join (tick again!).

So those ideas have worked out wonderfully.
But the other two are a different story ... !

Having come from a website/IT background I also had a big focus there - and it had been something I'd really enjoyed (well, the website side anyway!) So I was planning to do more website development, finally learn Python properly, and really get into learning other coding languages / stuff, and other website-related things.

And another thing I'd thought I'd maybe like to do - albeit a bit more of a distant possibility, was to get back into curtain-making. I always loved working with fabrics, and did a 2 year course on soft furnishings at the London College of Furniture years ago while living in London. I then had a small soft furnishings business both there and in Sydney.

And when I was packing up my old house in Kholo I just couldn't bear to get rid of the cutting table we had gotten made in London for the curtain-making business and then brought back to Australia. Had done virtually none of that since we moved up to Queensland (and lost access to people with wealthy connections who could afford to get expensive curtains made for them!!) But I still had all the 'stuff' from those days and so ended up bringing most of it down to my new home ... Where it now sits either in the garage or stored in cupboards! (And I still don't know when if ever I'll do anything with it all ... !)

However ....... Since I've moved I've hardly lifted a finger to do anything website or curtain related! Oh I still look after a few websites, and did spend a few weeks working on the 2016 edition of the poetry website. But, despite getting heaps of techie emails from places like Sitepoint and online course offers from Coursera etc, I have felt no inclination to dive in and learn new things.

No ... Most of my available attention seems to have been drawn towards music - classical music in particular. I'm loving the choir. I'm loving learning to sing. I'm even loving trying to learn music theory! I'm spending at least 1-2 hours virtually every day practising singing exercises, music for the choir, songs that I'm learning to sing at a little private soirée (!! Being run by my music teacher and his partner, just for their students ... But still a very scary thought!!) And then lots of extra time spent puzzling out things like the relationships between major and minor scales, identifying intervals, etc etc. All of which would be a doddle to learn if I was 5, but having a considerably older brain, is painfully and embarrassingly difficult!!

And as well, yoga is definitely getting a lot more attention now. I can see/feel the difference from the improved effort that I've been putting in, and from making it to at least 3 Mysore classes a week (up from just 1 in my previous life!)

I guess the moral / lesson here for me is - once again, to be open to unexpected things that life offers. I'm so glad I was, this time!!

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Thursday, February 25, 2016

Been a while

Yeah, it's been a while since I posted ... Guess I feel like my life is in a really smooth space at the moment ... nothing much new to report on! (Although I really hesitate to even write that - don't want to tempt fate!)

But this is (for me) a kind of on-line diary and I do enjoy looking back at what I was doing years ago, so ...

Anyway! Yoga is good and bad! Good in that my attempts at bhujipadasana are moving forward. Now I can just about get my hands flat on the floor, so I can start to transfer more weight into my arms. Slowly, slowly progress is happening. Kurmasana and supta kurmasana are going well too. But ... I seem to be going backwards in the marichyasanas! Can no longer bind in MariB, and C seems to be further away ... sigh! Am wondering if it's to do with me having put on a bit of weight, or what!! Well of course I know what to do about that, but it's much harder/slower to take off than to put on!!

Choir and singing - well that's going wonderfully! Choir rehearsals have started again. We're working on a Bach chorale, a beautiful Liszt piece (Salve Regina) and some other things too, for a concert in May. And in the classes I have with Ian I am working on songs by Henry Purcell (I Attempt from Love's Sickness to Fly) and John Dowland (Flow My Tears) ... Both from around the 15th or 16th century! And of course, as Ian told me, this is just to put into practice the work he's getting me to do on vocal development/technique etc.

In addition to all that, I'm also going to classes on 'musicianship'. Lots of work on solfa (moveable do) and things like key signatures and working out what key a piece of music is in from the key signature. Including whether it's the major or minor key for that key signature ... When I was learning piano as a child it was all learning scales by rote. No explanations of the pattern of tones and semi-tones that is the basis of written Western music. But now, picking it all back up again after so many years, I can see those patterns and it makes it all so much easier. Not that it isn't hard working out the solfa of a written piece of music (ie. no keyboard) in a minor key. But I'm really enjoying the challenge!

Someone told me about some wonderful series on music by a guy called Howard Goodall. One is Howard Goodall's Big Bangs and there's another one The Story of Music. Both available on YouTube. I think they were BBC series ... Well worth watching if you're into music, of a more classical variety - or in fact interested in music generally. Like how it first went from being passed down by memory to actually having a system of writing it down (notation), and how that meant much 'bigger' music could be written. Really interesting!!

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Thursday, January 21, 2016

Yoga and choir in 2016

When I started doing yoga at Christian's new place on my return from overseas (see a previous post about this!) I wanted to start it properly. All my previous yoga teachers (in Brisbane) had left poses out, so I felt like I was 'picking and choosing' even though it wasn't me doing this at all. So I said to Christian I wanted to do the first series properly, even though it would mean me stopping at navasana, as I had never been given the next pose (bhujapidasana) despite having been given poses further into the series.

I might say, this decision was kind of cemented for me after being stopped at navasana by Hamish in London twice during two UK visits 5 years apart! It's not that I can even do Marichyasana D. But I do want to at least attempt each pose, and nowadays most teachers don't stop you at those so-called 'gateway' poses like MariD, as long as you are making a real attempt. And I'd really like to at least get to the end of the first series in this lifetime!

So, a few days ago Christian got me started on beginning to attempt bhujapidasana ... I know it's going to take a long long time, but I'm on the journey - in it for the long haul! And today he got me to start doing kurmasana / supta kurmasana again! Which was very pleasing ... :)

And on other matters - I was deliriously happy to get an email from our choir director yesterday laying out what we would be doing in 2016. The one thing I have missed choir-wise since moving down here, has been being able to sing Handel's Messiah. There was just nowhere around here that was doing this. I was actually in the process of chasing up a Messiah 'singalong' held in in Brisbane church every year before Easter. (But this year there's a question mark over that, as part of the roof is being taken off for repairs and they're not sure whether it will be fixed in time!!!)

But It appears there is going to be a big performance of The Messiah in Lismore in December. Directed by a wonderful choir director/conductor called Richard Gill (who directed a performance of Carmina Burana I was in back in 2007 with QUMS -aka Queensland University Music Society - my first choir!)

So that's something (one of many things!) to look forward to this year ... It's going to be a great year I think!

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