Sunday, January 20, 2008

Sleepless in Suburbia: The Rooms Are Singing

It has been over a month since I last posted here, busy with the station blogs and trying hard to avoid that year-end assessment post, the holiday post (“What I Did on my Christmas Break”) and the New Years Resolutions post. Part of the time at home (since this is essentially my “home blog”) has been spent not composing while dealing with the Flu That Would Not Die. Every time I try to get back into composing again, another round of congestion and never-ending headaches kicks in.

Reading in general has been useless except for the lighter, mindless variety where, in one eye and out the other, little retention is required and less accomplished. I managed to finish Ian McEwans’ “Atonement” on a night my sundry aches went into a brief remission last weekend, during which I was also able to write and present a pre-concert talk for the Harrisburg Symphony’s concerts – primarily about Bartok’s Concerto for Orchestra (you can read “BarTalk” here). I managed a few days of near-normalcy and was allowed to fit in a concert in Philadelphia for the world premiere of Jennifer Higdon’s amazing new violin concerto with chorus and orchestra called “The Singing Rooms” – then writing a review you can read here. The premise behind the poems of this part concerto/part choral work reflects a walk through a house, standing in the different rooms and how they speak (or sing) to you of distant memories before returning to the first room at a different time of day and seeing it in a different light. But I spent this weekend dealing once again with the redux of symptoms, thereby cancelling plans for concerts with the Wednesday Club and Market Square Concerts.

Dozing off during a day dreary and cold enough to match my mood wreaks havoc with the normal sleep patterns and so I find myself typing this at 6:30am, a rather ungodly hour for yours truly. I awoke about 45 minutes ago thinking I was sleeping in a vibrating bed only to discover mounds of cats wrapped tightly against my fetal form. In the crook of my knees were three of the kittens, though big if not old enough to no longer be called kittens, a few days shy of nine months, now: Blanche, Guy Noir and Charlie all bundled together in a heap, purring in polyrhythms as loud as an outboard motor that needs work. Against my chest was Max, 12 pounds of white fur with gray patches, himself purring contentedly for reasons known only to a cat. Perhaps contentedness is contagious? Perhaps this is how the room sings to them?

Minutes later, in the John Cage Silence of the Night, I heard the familiar sound of another cat scratching in the litter box, located on the other side of my bedroom wall. This was probably Murphy who manages to spend five minutes scratching robustly around the litter pan but focusing mainly on the floor and the wall and the pipe under the sink without ever actually touching the offending mound in the middle of the box which by now I have gotten a serious whiff of.

Then I hear the equally familiar sounds of a pen shuffling off my desk into the oblivion of some Bermuda Triangle. For the next several minutes I can trace its progress across the room to the opposite corner, a slim space between an old end table and the outside wall of my bedroom, virtually inaccessible to a cat no longer a kitten and totally inaccessible to a human dealing with a pulled muscle aggravated by a week of sneezing and coughing. Fortunately I keep packs of pens handy since it’s easier to replace them than crawl around peering under furniture or behind the piano trying to rescue the old ones.

By now, the other cats have decided to investigate, leaving me free to extricate myself from the warmth of my bed to shuffle out to the bathroom where I discover something in the middle of the hallway, an odd bent-shaped bit of brown plastic that I recognize at one point would have had leaves and a flower on it, three inches of a small twig, once a silk rose that I had recently found and kept on the top shelf of my grandfather’s desk, the one that had been his graduation present, Class of 1905. I have no idea where the missing leaves and the peach-colored rosebud itself might be, padding back to the study to check that the rose indeed was missing. It’s not important but I had kept it because it reminded me of the beautiful old Peace Rose my grandmother had growing over a huge trellis in her backyard when I was a child, sitting on a small bench beneath it in the warmth of a summer day. I sat down now on the piano stool – which once belonged to my grandmother’s upright piano, purchased when they moved into their first house in 1919 – the remnant of a rose in my hand and was reminded of a poem I had once set to music as a college student that concluded something like:

Take this rose I give you now
And tear the leaves and petals off it one by one.
Trample them under your feet
As you have trampled on my love.
And when you have nothing left but the bare thorny stem,
Shove it up your ass.

And so my day has begun.