(4:00 pm on November 20, Av. Mont-Royal, Montreal)
Are the weather and dwindling daylight getting you down? Read this, for starters, all ye northerners!
My own techniques for combating seasonal mood problems are similar: bright lights, warm baths, comforting warm foods (making soup always seems to make me feel good twice over), getting out of the house at least once a day for some real exercise in the fresh air, wearing (and knitting with) brighter colors, listening to upbeat/beautiful/favorite music and singing along... I also try to make myself get up from the computer and move around - just moving my body more intentionally helps to counter the confined, cooped-up feelings of a northern November. Although J. is still biking, I can see my days are numbered for this year - the last time I rode, a couple of days ago, I ended up with a terrible sinus headache that's still lingering, and I was really bundled up -- it's not worth it.
I think I'd be in much worse shape this year if I hadn't joined finally a choir. It's done wonders - for me, singing is just about the best emotional and physical therapy, and for the first time since living in Montreal I feel like I'm really becoming part of a group. Anyone who's sung in a northern choir knows that you don't stay home on Thursday nights just because the weather is bad - you get in the car, or put on your boots and heavy coat, and make it to choir rehearsal because, for one, you're a northerner and proud of it, and two, that moment of walking through the door into the brightly-lit room, soon to be filled with music made by the quickly-warming bodies of the friends you sing with, reminds you once again that this night will help keep you going through the entire next week.
I remember talking to a cantor who'd been practicing in the cold, dark, grey interior of St. George's Bloomsbury (London) one late December - a very nice woman with an excellent soprano voice - and she told me part of her lifework had always been giving singing therapy to victims of war injuries, especially people who've been confined to wheelchairs for years and years. "It's the deep breathing, as well as the emotional release and the general joy of it, that's so good for people," she said. I know she's right.
The other day - a cold and dark one too - as I paid for some groceries in a Vermont general store, I also thought about another soprano who had lived there and been the soloist in our choir when I first lived in New England - I think someone who looked like her must have walked in and jogged my memory. After this woman descended into Alzheimer's and couldn't come to church anymore, the choir director went every week to her home, out in the country, to give her a voice lesson. It was a long trip for him, and I doubt it was really a lesson: Ruth didn't need them anyway, but she needed to sing. He played hymns and familiar arias for her, and she sang, even long after she'd forgotten the words. He went there for years, almost until the day she died.
This Thursday night I drove downtown to the cathedral for the first time, instead of taking my bike. It was only 6:45, but night had fallen over the city. After I parked in the forecourt, I saw several people in heavy coats, carrying plastic bags, bending and picking up something under the trees, and I finally decided they were Asians collecting the best of the fallen, yellow gingko leaves before snow or rain destroyed them. On the cathedral steps, the homeless people were already wrapped in their sleeping bags for the night. I walked down into the underground mall and into the cathedral undercroft, already bright and chattery with the voices of this new group I'm just getting to know. Rehearsal began promptly at 7 - a half hour of work on Advent music - and then we were joined by members of the director's secular choir for a two-hour run-through of Handel's Messiah, which we'll be singing with the McGill chamber orchestra next week, stopping only for a ten-minute tea break halfway through. It was hard and happy work, with brief comments and instructions in French and English about the breathing, pauses, and tempos . When I left I was tired and still had a headache, but, driving up l'Avenue du Parc to the Plateau, with the lights of the city around me and the streets familiar, I had one of those moments of clarity where I realized - with full force and no little astonishment - that this was now my life, and that I'd actually become comfortable with it. I think many of my own hallelujahs this season will be simply for that.
If you're interested in hearing our choir and some traditional (though not always!) Anglican liturgical music, Sunday Evensong from Christ Church Cathedral is broadcast live and on the internet from 4:00 - 5:00 pm. Here's the URL for Radio Ville-Marie (click on "Nous ecouter en direct) and tomorrow's program: