I open the north side door of St. David’s Church and enter the quiet, still sanctuary. The heat and humidity, the noise and bustle of the busy downtown streets of Halifax recede. Even as sound technician Rod Sneddon adjusts microphones, there is a lovely, deep silence enveloping this space. I sit near the back of church, on a cushioned pew that makes no creak, even though the wood is old. This church was well-built. It survived the Halifax Explosion.
I am early for the afternoon rehearsal for the Elizabeth Bishop Legacy Recording, so I settle into my seat and try to absorb the quietude around me. Rod comes over to say a quick hello. Shortly afterwards, Dinuk Wijeratne arrives (http://www.dinukwijeratne.com/). He is conducting the ensemble. We chat for a little while, in hushed voices. I learn about the many exciting projects he has done this summer, the equally exciting projects he is now working on, including a commission for the acclaimed Gryphon Trio.
Slowly, the musicians appear, one by one, and settle into their spots, tune, find their own levels and their relations with each other. Suzie LeBlanc (http://www.suzieleblanc.com) arrives. I chat with her briefly. We discuss how to get some photographs to an editor at The Colchester Weekly News. She introduces me to the producer John Adams of Stonehouse Sound (http://stonehousesound.com/). What a team Suzie has assembled for the Elizabeth Bishop Legacy Recording!
This session is to rehearse and then record the four beautiful Bishop settings, the songs, composed by Christos Hatzis (http://homes.chass.utoronto.ca/~chatzis/). There are eleven musicians (violins, viola, cello, bass, flute, clarinet, oboe, bassoon, French horn, and harp – the members of Blue Engine String Quartet (http://blueenginestringquartet.com) and Symphony Nova Scotia (http://www.symphonynovascotia.ca) – and then there is Suzie’s stunning voice.
What a privilege it is to sit in the quiet of St. David’s, to watch and listen to these consummate musicians work through the pieces, discuss the music, the process. To watch the technicians arrange equipment. I have never seen the inner workings of a recording session. I suppose for the musicians, it is familiar, a matter of course. I find it intriguing, exciting, mysterious.
I hear the settings of “Insomnia” and “The Unbeliever.” Even as this is practice, with starts and stops, and discussion, as the music soars through the high-ceilinged sanctuary, in spite of the warm air, I shiver. Whenever I have heard these settings and the others that will be included in this recording, I feel a thrill of excitement, a pang of pride, but even more, I am deeply moved.
I don’t want to leave, but I must. As quietly as I can, I slip out the north door into the now bright sunshine and steamy air. As I write this little note, I still hear the music in my mind (it is decidedly hum-able, songs that inhabit one’s soul).
The campaign to raise funds for the Elizabeth Bishop Legacy Recording continues. We need your help. Go to www.eb100legacyrecording.blogspot.ca to find out how you can be part of this historic project: the first time Canadian composers set Bishop’s poems – and they did so as part of the Elizabeth Bishop Centenary, 2011 – and presented in a series of memorable premiere performances that Nova Scotians had the great privilege to hear last year. Our goal is to share this music with the world. Your help is deeply appreciated.