“A blown-away leaf, the composer said, could be heard as a love song.”

19.julia's funeral, 1924

A morning when I am elsewhere, thinking, dreaming, and still trying to piece together some moments in my family’s history in Alberta. (Everything I write is a love song.)

                                    Listening to the young pianist playing Janáček’s “In the Mists,” I close my eyes and imagine the landscape where you were born. Foothills of the Beskids, near Janáček’s home village. He was a folklorist as well as a musician and gathered the songs and spoken tales of Moravia-Silesia. Did you sing? Did your family have its own musicians? Did you listen to the bells on the sheep and imagine them into simple tunes? Listening, I am in Moravia, I am in a village of white buildings painted with ultramarine flowers by Anežka Kašpárková, I am myself a babička, stitching blue cloth in long red stitches, my four grandchildren running in the tall grass.

                        Listening to the young pianist playing “In the Mists,” I hear birdsong, the brittle canes of winter roses brushing against my house, the sounds you would not have noticed in your daily work (a house without roses), feeding chickens, washing the laundry of a family of ten, then nine, then eight, then rising again, the deaths and births echoing the seasons, the river freezing, thawing, the return of green leaves on the cottonwoods in Drumheller, on the beeches of your childhood home in Moravia-Silesia, all of it hidden in mist, morning mist coming down off the Beskydy Mountains, frozen mist in your final years in Beverly, a stone’s throw from the North Saskatchewan River.

               Listening to the young pianist playing “The Madonna of Frydek,” I am in the fields of barley, soft grasses, poppies. A blown-away leaf, the composer said, could be heard as a love song. The children are running ahead, a bag of apples slung over the back of the oldest.
–from Blue Portugal & Other Essays, University of Alberta Press, 2022

Note: I first heard these Janáček  pieces played by Zoltan Fejérvéri. You can listen here.

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