The Hillhouse

The Journey of a Mother and Son

A Summer Free June 16, 2012

It’s here. Summer vacation. In years past I’d approached summer with a certain apprehension, as I assume many parents do – those who have jobs which continue after school comes to an end must dread this change in schedule – but this year it is a refreshingly different situation for me. While folks with unrelenting day jobs may be faced with some daunting child-care related logistic challenges in the summertime, that had never been my particular problem. In the past my difficulty was that by this time of the year I was knee-deep in producing a summer music festival – and doing it all myself – with a young kid at my feet whining to me that he was bored. In ‘my’ day my mother had no room for my boredom. I was given a bicycle and complete freedom. That was my summer. At the time I really hated it, but looking back now it seems rather idyllic. Classic, timeless summer. (But I suppose I might have been a year or two older than Elihu is now at that point.) What we did or how we passed our summers as tiny children, while my own parents were themselves tending to the same Baroque Festival that I have been running since I moved back, of that I have little recollection. The past three years have been great feats for me; keep the show going while keeping the small kid happy. A juggling act I didn’t have to repeat this year, because last year we wrapped up dad’s 52 year run of the Festival of Baroque Music. Lots less stress this year for sure.

It just hit me the other day as I stood in the Studio, conjuring the memory of harpsichord and viola da gamba ringing out so vibrantly in the hall, that we wouldn’t hear such music in this room again this summer. The Festival, as we all know it, has concluded. The thought hits me in my gut, and I am more than sad. I feel decades of memories become fainter and fall farther away into the shared oblivion of past performances everywhere. Many who were here to witness those performances are themselves no longer with us. Fainter and dimmer the memories become. I remind myself that the spirit in which all of that was created will continue on. It will take different forms too. But I promise myself something important: I will find a way to make Baroque music a regular part of the Studio’s offerings one day. But just not this year. Taking a year off isn’t so bad I tell myself, but still, it makes me sad, nostalgic. This is the first year here without music. I think of how far my dad has slipped since just last year. He might not even be able to attend a concert by next year. I know it, but I just can’t fully embrace it yet. I take in a breath of air, and I let a concept linger until it doesn’t hurt quite so much: I realize that we have come, quite definitively, to the end of my father’s era. It sits heavy in my gut. Yet I know that also means it’s now the beginning of mine. I’m still feeling the sorrow in my stomach, but I can’t deny that I’m also beginning to get excited here… Once again, I’m beginning to see the Studio’s new future and I can just feel possibility growing…

For now I am not personally hosting any classes or performances, but Ceres, my partner is. I chose not to take part in this season because I was feeling a bit overwhelmed. I had lots on my plate what with the new well and other infrastructure details – plus there’s been so much going on with us personally the past few months – a change of schools, family issues and such; I just couldn’t summon the extra oomph to do it all.

I’m letting my role in the Studio rest for a bit as I turn my attention instead to simply spending the summer with a nine year old boy. And I gotta say – it feels great to get up in the morning with the day wide open before us. While there are things we’d really like to do this year (like visit far-away family), we hope to keep things as under-scheduled and free-form as possible. Today we had a destination in mind, but knew little of what to expect once we got there. With the agreement that we might be disappointed – but that we’d go anyway – today we were happily surprised as we discovered some impressive waterfalls, visited an old-fashioned mill, got our feet wet in a lake and tried some homemade, spicy sauerkraut. Elihu ran after moths on a vast, shady lawn while I sat in an Adirondack chair under some tall maple trees and looked out at the Hudson making its way past huge outcroppings of rock. As we meandered through the small town Elihu found himself a couple of matchbox-sized airplanes. Then we came home and learned a bit more about the place we’d just been. Perfect.

Finally it’s summer. And finally… we’re free.


Pics of Conants’ Night Out December 16, 2011

Robert and Nancy

The Cathedral Choir of Men and Boys

Elihu with Grandpa's harpsichord

Elihu, at the restaurant, post-show

Elihu and Elizabeth

These were taken Tuesday evening at the Cathedral of All Saints in Albany, New York. Dad let them use his harpsichord for their performance of Handel’s Messiah. While it no doubt added to the splendor of the concert, the consensus in the Conant camp was that it was hard to hear.  Seems the sound went up to the mile-high ceiling rather than out to the audience. Nonetheless, it was a great room for the music. After a long day of school, no supper and a long drive, Elihu began to get tired, so we left before the end. Ah well – a nice evening anyway. Just wish I had a better camera. My pics are never very sharp – but they’re enough to remember the evening, and that’s really what counts.


Harpsichords and Airplanes December 13, 2011

Filed under: An Ongoing Journal...,Mommy Mind — wingmother @ 12:50 pm
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Recently, a local musician I know called and asked to borrow a harpsichord. Naturally, this is a very serious request, and he may have found it challenging to ask me at first. He knew, however, that he stood a chance. I personally like this fellow, and he has long been a part of my father’s Baroque Festival. Plus I really want to help people when I’m able to (especially because these days it seems most folks end up helping me). Apparently the instrument they’d planned on was no longer available do to logistic problems. At first I wasn’t entirely on board. It did take a little lobbying before I was able to agree. My father and mother also needed to be in agreement, and I myself only felt comfortable after having a chat with the concert’s director. In the end, my father’s gorgeous, double-manual Flemish harpsichord built by Allan Winkler, with lavishly painted soundboard, replete with flowers and one Eurasian Hoopoe (a metaphor used by Baroque instrument builders to symbolize how this ‘dead’ wood sings once again), will be part of Handel’s Messiah at the Cathedral of All Saints in Albany, New York. The concert is tonight.

My father has been out of the house fewer than a dozen times over the past year, and I made sure this would be one such occasion. Dad has also played harpsichord in this very cathedral years ago, and of course, he has performed the Messiah many times. (In fact, on Amazon one can still purchase a CD of his 1966 recording with Robert Shaw.) My young son sang in the local children’s choir last year, and he enjoys dropping in on the local men’s chorus rehearsals. I think both dad and Elihu will love the concert this evening. To hear his beautiful instrument in that space alone will be worth the trip. I’m so glad my father agreed to this – it will bring joy to so many. The very presence of a harpsichord in music – however delicate – adds a dimension and nuance like no other sound. Growing up, the sound of a harpsichord was easy to take for granted, it was always around me. Later, as I grew up and then apart from my parents, I can remember the feeling I got when I would hear a harpsichord… it comforted me, it sparkled there in the mix of other instruments, a tiny, beautiful voice that always reminded me of my father. I am so happy to be able to hear this music tonight with my father at my side. I pray he enjoys it too – in spite of the fact that he himself is not playing the instrument he has loved so well.

Before I can begin to think about the coming night, what to wear, how to get there, how tricky it will take to get dad up the stairs once we’re there… all those concerns must wait for a few minutes as I fulfill a promise made to my son early this morning. Yesterday, I had let him down. Today, I will not. Elihu, as a lover of all things that fly, has decided that he wants to give his pal Keith a radio controlled plane for his birthday, which comes just two days before Christmas. Elihu is concerned that once again both his folks and Santa will confuse Keith’s desire for an RC Plane for an RC Helicopter. It is my son’s greatest joy today to know that he, with his own money, is buying a plane for his friend, and that we will deliver it anonymously on the eve of his birthday. And so my very next task will be to place our order, paying an up charge if necessary to get it here in time.

How very good it feels to give someone just what they need, just what they want – be it a harpsichord or an airplane.