Saturday, 5 March 2016

The House of Music

The House of Music is a large bungalow sunning itself between a frozen lake and a row of snow-iced fir trees. No-one ever goes in through the front door. The side door is closest to the driveway, after all, and opens onto a friendly hallway populated by boots,mittens, ski equipment, skates and modern art. From the hallway a visitor can go up a step to the long galley kitchen or down two steps to the wide conservatory. The sitting room is at the front--but de facto the side--of the house, and that is where most of the toys are: the Lego, the "big Lego", the castles, the figurines, the blocks, the plastic construction straws, the adventures of Lucky Luke, the long squashy sofa and the television. It is a nice room, but it is dwarfed in both size and importance by the conservatory, for that is where the piano lives.

My brother, through some alchemy, managed to find a house with a concert hall. Well, that's perhaps an exaggeration, especially as my friend Tricia literally owns a house with a theatre. I suppose the conservatory is akin to the salons of musical patrons of the 19th century, only with a tiled floor and tall windows stretching almost from floor to ceiling, lined up wall to wall. There's a gas fireplace in on a corner wall painted red.. Between the red wall and the windows facing the snowy back garden is a painting by my sister-in-law showing two little figures sitting on the shore looking at boaters on the lake. It is quite obvious who these little people are.

The piano is across the room from the fireplace, beside the row of windows looking towards the snowy pines. It is black, something bigger than the standard parlour grand, but smaller than a concert grand. It is tuned beautifully, and why not? All four members of the household play it now. The lid is kept closed and across it are scattered a number of music books: thin, tidy books for Peanut,  Popcorn and Ma Belle-Soeur and fat, battered books for my brother. Many of the thin books have easy arrangements of great classical pieces; the "originals"appear in the fat books. Thus, the adult visitor can warm up with (and feel very pleased by) the simplest version of, say, Chopin's Prelude Op. 24, no. 4 before tackling those finger spraining, if immortal, chords.

At the bottom of the short flight of stairs from the hallway is an acoustic guitar. A visiting one-year-old, the son of Red Mezzo (a Montreal pal whom my most faithful readers may remember), toddled towards it yesterday. Was it in tune? The toddler strummed and pinged. Yes, it was in tune.

There was no formal recital during my visit this year. Sometimes my brother and his wife beseech Red Mezzo to leave the farm for an evening, plan a repertoire and open the house to music-loving villagers. Nulli plays, and Red Mezzo sings.. But this week the recitals were just informal affairs en famille: Scarlatti, Chopin, "Baa, Baa Black Sheep" and, er, Q-bert, as he has been rebaptized by my niece.( "You know, Q-bert. Beethoven's friend.")

Yesterday being a First Friday, there was a small expedition to Saint-Benoit-du-Lac to visit a golden strand of the precious fabric that was once Old Québec. Though it is thin and warn, the thread of French Canada's monastic life has not yet snapped. Fifty Benedictine monks still reside in their patch of Estrie, making cheese and apple cider, praying the Hours, tending the goats and cows. They celebrate Mass at 11 AM; the shop shuts fifteen minutes beforehand. That there is daily Mass in the same place every day in 21st century Quebec is a bit of a miracle in itself as the Quiet Terror continues to oppress and weaken the Ancient Faith. In the choir of the postmodern Gothic chapel were 19 monks, and in the nave were ... more than a few laity. My brother may have been the first layman to arrive in the chapel, but by the Sign of the Peace, he was neither the only one, nor the youngest.

Yes, it was the Novus Ordo--en français--but the Gregorian Chants were as they have always been, sung as only monks can sing them. My brother, a fine church musician, listened with respect. Afterwards we went right back down to the shop to browse among the cheese, the cider, the chocolates (made by Trappists), the maple syrup, the books, CDs and rosaries.

It was a very happy visit.

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