Sunday, December 23, 2018

The Sounds of Christmas

A  Certificate of Baptism dated February 13, 1949 signed by Minister J. Arthur Forbes, St. Paul's Church at Fredericton, New Brunswick stipulates that I was baptized according to the Order and Doctrine of the United Church of Canada. Presumably it was my father's religion of choice - even though my mother was a Roman Catholic whose parents I understand strongly disapproved of her marrying a Protestant - much less an Englishman. Her parents reputedly refused to attend my parents' wedding - or at the very least to submit to entering the Protestant Church (Grace United Church, Lachine, Quebec) where it took place on May 29, 1948 witnessed by my bawdy godfather Sqd. Ldr. H. Cail Vinnecombe of 426 Squadron in Dorval, Quebec and my father's wacky sister Audrey Kitchen married to my equally eccentric Uncle Herb, entrepreneur and art dealer. Parenthetically the date of marriage intrigues me because I was born less than nine months later on December 11, 1948. I have always heard it touted that I was born two months prematurely, a possible (though highly doubtful) fiction which I have nonetheless happily employed to excuse my native impatience. The further extrapolations are endless, including for example why my father so willingly condoned my own subsequent withdrawal from engagement to be married to a woman. Less favourably I project a theory of his seeming intolerance of me.

But to return to less parochial matters - though perhaps very much related to this early combination of religious and social conflict - I am a confirmed member of the Anglican Church of Canada. When I was deposited by the driver in a black car alone on a grey and rainy September day with my bag at the front of MacDonald House, St. Andrew's College at 14 years of age, I didn't hesitate for a second to determine from then on I had to make my own way. Within months thereafter I was enthralled by all that pertained to the Anglican Church not the least of which by the way was its music including the now famous rendition of Chariots of Fire based on William Blake's "Jerusalem". Neither do I consider it an accident that the fact-based story of two athletes - a devout Scottish Christian who runs for the glory of God and an English Jew who runs to overcome prejudice - had its parity in my association with Paul Rubin at boarding school.

Though I now prefer to think of myself as a having adopted the "natural" or Deist religious fervour of Thomas Paine, Sunday morning is when I particularly enjoy listening to sacred music. Very often my choice is choral music like that of Thomas Tallis. At Christmas nothing competes with Handel's Messiah.  I began today with Eugene Ormandy, the Philadelphia Orchestra and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, a 1953 recording which I recalled from my tender years of age eight or nine when living in Washington, DC. Initially I heard it on an LP which my mother played in a huge square device in our study overlooking the ground ivy covering the hill at the front of our house.  Many years afterwards when I began practicing law I aligned with a small record merchant in Ottawa on Dalhousie Street who succeeded to track down a CD re-issue of the original album.  The CD came all the way from Salt Lake City!  I still have the CD but it has since been replaced by an on-line electronic version on my iPhone, iPad and Mac Book Pro.

When fulfilling my matutinal bicycling today along the Gulf of Mexico I found myself humming Christmas carols reminiscent of the traditional popular productions of Mantovani (from an album which coincidentally is also a product of my parents' music library, though again now in electronic format). I returned home two hours later and immediately resorted to a chaise longue on the beach overlooking the Gulf of Mexico.  Exhausted by my exercise (a mere 19 miles but nonetheless withering), I flattened myself on the chair and dissolved onto the plastic mesh.  Through closed eyes I saw a white light with a black dot.  When occasionally I opened my eyes I faced directly into the yellow sun. A triangle of light mottled over the sea pointed towards me. The waves crashed, oddly far noisier than yesterday during the gale-like winds.  Tiny particles of sand swept about me, stridently abrasive as they passed through the sea grasses in the dunes behind me.

I lapsed back into dreaminess. Voices approached along the beach from right and left.  Children galloping in front of doddering grandparents.  Gambolling teenagers hopping on one leg, chattering relentlessly, betraying their enthusiasm. Slender young girls in tight-fitting clothes, pony tails exuding from the back of their baseball caps. The waves approached, curled and crashed again and again and again.

Afterwards - at precisely quarter past four - I shook the sand from my crocs and withdrew to play the grand piano, Christmas music.  Good King Wenceslas, the former Duke of Bohemia who worked to Christianize his people before being murdered by his brother.

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