Excited to be preparing for “Labyrinth” in 3 days. Rehearsing with my former student Scott Ross-Molyneux is a treat and we are going to have such a great time at Wine-Ohs! Part of the Calgary New Music Festival, the programme is filled with exciting works that show the breadth of all the harp can do. No fluffy angels but raging bulls and epic battles. This concert will shatter any preconceptions of the harp as a musical lightweight!
First of all thank-you so much for your support of the 2014 Harping for Harps fundraising initiative which resulted in the purchase and donation of 3 new CAMAC lever harps to 2 projects in Brazil.
As you may know, since my return to Canada last June, I have been continuing to work with my Brazilian teaching assistants via skype. They and the students are doing well and some new ones have been started too!
In order to maintain the foundation laid last year, my plan is to return each year around the beginning of their school year. The time for my first return trip is nearly here and I am very excited to be working with the students again soon. As there are some items needed, I have decided to do a second Harping for Harps concert fundraiser coming up very soon – March 5th from 3 p.m. – 4:30 p.m. at St. David’s United Church, 3303 Capitol Hill Crescent NW, Calgary. I will play some music of course but will also share pictures, videos and stories from my time there last year.
As I mentioned there are some items needed for which I am fundraising specifically. The biggest challenge the students are facing right now is that they cannot take harps home to practice. To do regular work, the only option at the moment is for them to practice 3 or 4 times each week at the music projects. Unfortunately, many of the students live very far from the projects (3-15 kms) and most of them have to walk to get there so it is very hard to expect them to do this more than once or twice each week. Clearly, this is a huge barrier to their progress on the instrument. My goal with this second fundraising concert is to raise enough to purchase 2 or 3 “tiny” harps from a company either in the U.S. or the U.K. These harps would be used as models for the projects’ own luthiery students to build instruments for the children to practice on at home.
It is certainly a difficult time for our economy in Canada and I know we are all tightening our belts. Nevertheless, if you are able to support this initiative in any way, the students and I would be most grateful! It would be wonderful to see you at the concert on the 5th in any case! If you are unable to attend but would like to support the projects, please feel free to contact me by email or phone.
UPDATE 2016-03-01: Now includes details about Brazil Strings!
Thank-you again for your support which has facilitated an incredible opportunity for these vulnerable children in Brazil.
I am so excited that this concert will also be broadcast live tomorrow. The concert is free but if anyone feels so inclined, you can send a “tip” (donation) through concert window. All donations will go toward the Harping for Harps project costs in Brazil. See you tomorrow!! Wayfaring with Gianetta Baril and Friends
I love everyone here – I want to stay.
I love everyone at home – my children, parents, friends. I am so eager to hug them all. I miss them so much. Let’s go, I want to take you all from Brazil with me. No, I want to stay but everyone from home to come here.
I love my home – miss my garden, kitchen, my cats, the mountains the cool clear mountain air, camping in my wee little tent.
I love my beach in Rio, the islands in Fiji, the breathtaking mountains in Nepal, the feeling of freedom and joy racing up the hill on a moped to get a little closer to the infinite vastness of the sky above.
I miss my family in Nepal. I want to be there to help them harvest rice, share meals, spicy snacks, drink warm roxy on the rooftop, laugh, be together, be me. No, I need to be here to help them more.
I want to take the children to Canada so they can go to a good school. I want the children here to come to Canada to study in the summer. No, its better for me to be here for them. But then, I’ll need to leave home again, leave my children, my students there, my colleagues, friends…
I love my backpack – the weight feels so good on my back. Can’t wait to explore again – alone, meeting so many interesting people. No harp, no titles, just me. Learn new languages, food, feel unsettled and free.
But I can’t wait to come back here – not just for one month but for 5! Speak Portuguese again, listen to bossa nova, dance samba, walk on the beach every morning and greet all the other regulars. And this next time, bring my own children, or a friend. Introduce them to every unique and wonderful person I hold so dear in my heart.
I want to lie on the beach. Make music with friends. I want to race up a mountain on a scooter, down mountains on skis, learn another new language, improv. I want to fly on the water with a kite – one with the wind, sit alone at a lake so silent I hear the birds gliding overhead.
I want it all, I want you all – all to be with me, all the time.
Ah yes, you are here in my heart – always, everywhere, Forever!
Finding I have a few moments of quiet time this evening, I felt it would be good to let you all know how things are here in Brazil with the harp projects.
After 3 months of intense work getting the 2 projects organized and starting students, I realized that I really did need more time to establish a solid foundation before I could feel confident about returning to Canada. Thanks to the understanding and support of Canadian colleagues, I was able to extend my stay for another month. As it is now, I will be returning to Canada in one week on June 26th, exactly 10 months after my departure.
As you know, at the beginning of March, after introducing the harp to all of the students, many children took the opportunity to try it. What an exciting few days to share that first moment of discovery with so many curious young people!
After a couple of weeks of trial lessons, we had 10 eager and motivated new harp students between the ages of 5 and 13. 4 students are at ASMB (Ação Social Pela Música do Brasil) in Chapeau Mangueira community in Rio de Janeiro and 6 are at PIM (Programa Integração Pela Musica) in Vassouras, a city in the interior of the state of Rio de Janeiro. One of the 3 harps, Carlos, was donated to PIM and the other two, Judy and Henriketa were donated to ASMB. It has been humbling to witness the dedication of the children who have all come from such difficult circumstances. The potential of these children is immense and they have all blossomed in various ways. After less than two months of lessons, on May 6th, two students of ASMB gave their first live performance in a trio with me performing “The Girl from Ipanema.” It was a thrill for us all and one we will not forget. Thanks to the efforts of the director of the ASMB, Fiorella Solares, the media has broadcast, both in print and on television, reports about the harp donations and the opportunity this has given the students. Here’s a link to the TV report – http://noticias.band.uol.com.br/jornaldorio/video/2015/05/06/15464568/projeto-de-musica-em-comunidade-ganha-harpas.html
– filmed in the building in the community of Chapeu Mangueira where the students attend lessons 3 times each week.
With my departure imminent, we decided it would be wonderful to give the students an intensive weekend of lessons, masterclasses, ensemble and orchestra playing. From June 19 – 21st, besides lessons etc., the students will get to know each other and have some fun together – first steps to establish a broader community and support system. For some of them, it will be their first time away from home and to experience the countryside outside of Rio. They are very excited! For me, it speaks to the respect that the parents have for the project and myself and I am honoured to have gained their trust in such a way. When 7-year-old Samuel asked if I could take him back to Canada with me, it made me so much more aware of how dramatically the lives of these children has already changed. Before I agreed to start this project, I determined that if I were to open the doors to these children I could not possibly allow them to close again. Now I am even more committed!
The extra month has been spent doing some longer-term planning, working intensively with my two teaching assistants and getting another one started as well. Both ASMB and PIM plan to get internet in place so that I can continue teaching via skype once a month. As you can imagine, it will be exceptionally hard for me to leave next week but it will be eased by knowing that we are already planning for my return next March.
Wonderful people gave the generous donations to Harping for Harps in order to make a difference in the lives of children who have so little. In the name of the children and in my own name, thank-you most sincerely!
We’ve only just begun…
I am so pleased to write with some great news! After 5 months of travel, on January 31st I finally arrived in Brazil to begin work on the Harping for Harps project for which I began fundraising a year ago.
When I got to Rio, I was thrilled to see that the three harps which I had been able to donate had arrived safely from France! The sets of replacement strings were missing from the original shipment but they are also on their way to Rio now. The humidity here is certainly higher than in Calgary so it’s a good thing we’ll have the extra strings.
In the first couple of days, I met with most of the people with whom I will be working and discussed many of the details involved. There are only a couple of books for teaching so I have ordered some from the U.S. and France, hoping they will arrive in the next couple of weeks. I’ll be setting up two teaching studios as the projects are actually in 2 different cities (Rio de Janeiro and Vassouras, a small city in the state of Rio de Janeiro) so I will be going back and forth every week. There is still a lot of planning to do but I am very encouraged. I will have two teaching assistants, Rafael (seen in the photo above along with my dear friend and colleague, Cristina Braga) and Rayana, who will be with me for most of the time I am with the children. In this way, besides solidifying their own knowledge of harp technique and repertoire, they will also be learning teaching methods and be better equipped to continue the work with the children once I return to Canada.
As the children are now on the summer holiday and will not return to school until March 2nd, I am taking a few weeks up in the northeast of Brazil to work intensively on my Portuguese both in private lessons and in conversation with locals as well as to have some fun in the ocean. The upcoming time with the children is bound to be very intense and there is a lot of work to do to get the projects up and running on a solid foundation in the 3 months remaining in my sabbatical! The time already seems too short but if necessary, I may be able to extend it by one month. We’ll see!
To all of the Harping for Harps donors, I have a request for some feedback. It is quite common here to give names to the instruments (my harps all have names too!) and I would love to have your input on this. I have a few ideas for the 3 harps we have been able to donate so here are three sets of options:
– 1. Henriette, Carlos, Judy. This represents the direct lineage from my teacher, Judy Loman, a prodigy of the great Spanish/American harpist Carlos Salzedo, who was one of the two most renowned students of the great French harpist, Henriette Renié.
– 2. Calgary, Alberta, Canada – no explanation needed
– 3. Gabriel (Fauré), Claude (Debussy), Marcel (Tournier) – 3 of the great composers for the harp in the 20th century.
If you’d like to put in your vote for the naming, please leave it as a comment here. I will have to make the decision by March 1st so please get back to me quickly!
In many ways, Luang Prabang has a lot in common with Luang Namtha: separated by 300 kms of jungle-covered hills and an insanely curvy and mostly-unsealed road, both are quite small towns in Northern Laos, set in a very scenic area along rivers. Although both suffered massive damage during the war in the 60’s, they seem to handle their past and present realities very differently.
For me, its these differences between Luang Namtha and Luang Prabang, both in Northern Laos, that are so dramatic. Formerly the royal seat and capital of Laos, the town of Luang Prabang was added to the World Heritage Site list in 1995. A UNESCO quote from the web explains why: “Luang Prabang is an outstanding example of the fusion of traditional architecture and Lao urban structures with those built by the European colonial authorities in the 19th and 20th centuries. Its unique, remarkably well-preserved townscape illustrates a key stage in the blending of these two distinct cultural traditions.”
With that significance in mind, a place like this could easily become a monument suspended in time but void of life. In fact, despite the great number of tourists, this town seems to be very much alive and well. Given the amount of damage in the war, of course now, there is alot of reconstruction of the 32 temples and older colonial buildings going on but I got the impression that the government has a good sense of how to keep things in balance.
In my 4 days there, I spent a lot of time riding around in the townsite, exploring the temples, chatting with local shops owners, some of whose English was pretty decent and tasting the offerings on the tiny streets lined with a huge array of foods, both cooked and fresh. In my usual fashion, doing what I could to meet locals, I loved the fact that I could hop on a bicycle and explore the outskirts of the town as well as areas on the far shores of the town’s two rivers. Within minutes, I felt completely removed from any tourist routines and anyone who could speak ANY English! There were still temples to visit and some handicraft villages with opportunities to shop if I wanted. (Silk weaving is a real art in LP but I managed to resist the temptation except for one scarf!) In these areas, generally, the people I met seemed to be just carrying on with their daily lives while also curious to meet a foreigner, mug for my camera or take the time to show and have me taste (gotta love charades!) the tamarind fruit that grows everywhere.
Being that there are so many Buddhist temples, obviously there are lots of monks in the temple areas as well as on the street. One of the most powerful and biggest tourist “attractions” is the 6 a.m. daily alms procession of the hundreds of monks. Throughout the town, the tourists are given clear indications that they should be respectful of the religious practices and in particular of this procession when the monks are given food from the locals to cover their daily needs. Many tourists go to see the procession but it is made clear that one should watch from afar and avoid intrusive photo ops.
If one feels particularly spiritually drawn to make a gift of some food (or money) to the monks, then you can buy some food and someone will gently let you know how to act appropriately when you place it in their bowls. The woman I purchased some rice from showed me where to sit and kindly loaned me a particular kind of sash to wear. It was a very special experience for me to give to these people who devote their lives to prayer and I felt humbled to be part of it.
What really interested me though, was the action of the woman who sold me the rice. Nearly at the end, she herself crossed the road to bring rice to place in the monks’ bowls. As she did it, I noticed that she discreetly also gave them the banknotes with which I had purchased my rice offering. Clearly, this woman’s interest was not to sell something to a tourist for her own gain but rather, for the benefit of the spiritual leadership – and her own spiritual benefit in the long term. This is very much a Buddhist attitude so she was simply living her faith with active generosity.
It was this simple action that gives me hope that maybe this unique place can maintain the essence of what makes it so significant to humanity. For me, Luang Prabang demonstrates that spirituality and secular life are not mutually exclusive but rather that an active spirituality is an integral and essential aspect of living well. I pray that this special town continues to maintain that fine balance despite the notoriety that the UNESCO designation brings with it.
Crossing the mighty Mekong River from Thailand into Laos over the new Friendship Bridge 6 days ago, I was eager to meet the people and see this country about which I’d heard so much. I’d been told that the north was particularly special – both the scenery and the people – so I was very interested to experience it firsthand. That said, I knew that, more than anywhere I’ve travelled so far, I would be experiencing this place as a pure tourist. (Something I normally do everything I can to avoid!) I would only be in Laos a short time and the language was a HUGE barrier so I would have to accept being seen as what I was: a voyeur of a people and land of which I could not possibly gain an intimate understanding in a few days.
That said, my heart already breaks to imagine the suffering of these kind and peace-loving people in a war in which they played no part except as innocent bystanders, or, to use that now-acceptable but inhumane war term, collateral damage. This apparently was the country that suffered the greatest amount of air bombing and there are still large, unexploded ordinances being discovered, sometimes with devastating effects on children. This means that none of the simple but neat homes and orderly villages can be older than 40 years as the area was completely devastated by the war that finally ended in 1974. These are clearly a people who have incredible resilience but it is interesting to see just how differently the two main towns of Northern Laos – Luang Namtha and Luang Prabang – have moved forward. I certainly don’t have nearly enough understanding of the history so can only speak from a place of personal experience of the past 6 days. Nevertheless, the differences are dramatic and hard to miss.
The small town of Luang Namtha is the capital of the thickly-forested Luang Namtha province, through which runs the scenic Namtha River (creating for a foreigner numerous opportunities for confusion!). It is presently experiencing a massive amount of foreign (Chinese) investment and the development is staggering. There’s no question that this will be a completely different place within a very short time – maybe 2 years! In light of that, I was quite surprised that the locals seem strangely disinterested or disconnected from the foreigners coming in and moving around them. I wonder whether they are so numbed by the trauma of the past that they have a fear of any form of communication with foreigners. To what extent are they being exploited or are they willing to be exploited just to “improve” their quality of life? There is no question that the area is extremely poor and the percentage of population that has any education is very low. I wonder if they really have a sense of what is going on around them.
Although the people seemed very wary or reluctant, I did have some opportunities to at least try to communicate a bit. A few exchanges stand out in particular, all initiated by a smile. The first was a young girl and her mother who were selling noodles at the night market. In a very simple, honest way, with only the help of sign language, we exchanged warmth and understanding. At one point, after being ogled by a drunk, opium-drugged 60-ish Hungarian (opium is easily available and a BIG problem), he wandered away for a moment. The mother and daughter immediately indicated that this was my chance to escape from this sad case of humanity. I returned a grateful smile with my “Kapb jailailai” (thank-you very much) and made a quick exit.
The second really special experience was with this young mother in her home on a visit to a Lanten tribe village. She clearly loves her baby and sharing a few quiet moments with her mother as well was beautiful.
The third exchange was through another young girl who threw me a warm smile from afar at the fresh (day) market. Feeling encouraged, I gradually made my way to what seemed to be her family’s stall. Selling the typical Laos mix of unnameable veggies was a fairly young mother surrounded by about 5 children (one being the girl who had smiled at me) with a very young baby suckling at her fully-exposed though tiny breast. To be clear, I am in no way shocked by nudity but knowing that showing any form of it is considered highly unacceptable in this part of the world, this surprised me immensely. As my children know, I absolutely adore babies so of course, I couldn’t resist cooing with the little one for a moment. At that point, I got an extremely strange message from the now broadly smiling woman. She was either trying to suggest I take the baby in my arms for a picture OR she was suggesting I just take the baby – in either case, clearly in exchange for money. A strong sense in my gut told me that it was the latter.
Are these people so desperate to improve their lives, that the human person has no value except in a monetary way? Certainly selling her baby would have given her more to support her other children, so perhaps she was just as willing to exploit the opportunities that foreigners represent.
In any case, despite enjoying the scenery immensely, especially by moped and kayak, I was happy to leave after 3 days. To top off the experience, I had been scammed (or was it just another language-provoked misunderstanding?) by the ticket agent in Luang Namtha who assured me I had purchased an assigned seat in a sleeper bus for my 9-hour overnight bus trip to Luang Prabang. I was definitely unprepared for a seat in the second-last row on a smelly, ancient bus, full of locals, a chicken and a ride so curvy and bumpy I bounced right out of the seat somewhere from my half-sleep around 3 a.m.
As the wise “Ines”, whom I met in Fiji recommended as a rule for travel (and life!), “No judgements, no preconceived notions, no opinions. Allow, accept, receive.”
“Suspense” in Luang Namtha
Next stop (and next blog): Luang Prabang…
1. Avoid being stuck sitting at the back of the bus – the air conditioning drips (IF it has A/C), it smells worse than the front, its VERY bouncy and makes it difficult to type
2. Based on sage parting advice of my youngest son, Joseph, when in doubt, say Yes! Be willing to change plans at a moments notice
3. Don’t be so sure of what you THINK you know. When in doubt, TRUST YOUR HEART!
4. Travel with a built-in-filter water bottle – it is valuable beyond measure
5. Keep very well hydrated AND always remember that you never can be sure when you’ll find a toilet – plan liquid intake accordingly!
6. Always keep a wad of toilet paper in your pocket
7. Travel times can end up many hours longer than expected – refer to number 5 (especially if trip involves a boat with a wooden seat and no toilet!)
8. Sticky notes are extremely useful
9. Real travel guidebooks are way better than e-books and worth carrying their weight
10. Finger calluses take a full 7 weeks to disappear completely
11. Do not be afraid – fear makes one a target
12. Do not be afraid to make mistakes – they keep you humble and real. Likewise, embarrassment is a waste of energy. Instead, laugh easily, especially at oneself.
13. Trust your instincts and don’t second guess – one way or other, you have a 50/50 chance of being right. If you “go wrong” you might find something really interesting that’s not on a map
14. When things really seem to go off the rails, BREATHE (X3) – now they don’t look so bad
15. The first and MOST IMPORTANT WORD to learn in every place you go is THANK-YOU! Use it as often as possible
16. Ask for and take advice willingly but never forget that this is YOUR journey!
17. Acknowledge, Accept and Receive every moment with gratitude
18. Give yourself a rest when needed – take time to step back and let things sink in – put your feet up whenever possible (without offending anyone!)
18a. Keep a journal!! Take photos of information sheets for later reference.
18b. Whenever possible, when taking a photo, take it first with ALL your senses, before pushing the button.
19. A hot shower and proper mattress can be a very nice treat
20. Staying in a truly native village is a blessed and humbling experience. Nevertheless, smoke from open cooking fires burns the eyes and sinuses – 3 days in a row is my max
21. Try new foods, especially if you have NO CLUE what it is – you never know what kind of a surprise you’ll get!
22. When tasting new foods, ALWAYS have water nearby
23. REAL bananas are small, sometimes pink, taste like sugar on a stick and might contain big, very hard seeds – savour every bite!
23a. Avoid packaged food like the plague. It’s usually stale anyway!
24. Feeling and probably looking like a fat blob from all the interesting food you are trying is totally okay!
25. If you feel like something is crawling on you, it probably is! Get used to it!
26. Some people perceive 20 degrees Celcius as being cold. Laugh with them – not at!
27. Don’t judge people if they seem rude. It may just be a different cultural perspective. Remember that I can seem equally rude or insensitive because of my own ignorance.
27a. Be OKAY with feeling ignorant. It’s humbling and prompts one to learn.
28. Know and/or learn quickly what you TRULY need to be comfortable and allow for that in your budget. Be willing to let go of EVERYTHING else.
29. Travel involves A LOT of sitting – walk and stand as much as possible – exercise is possible in all positions.
30. Nodding (yes) and moving the head back and forth (no) can mean the opposite in a different culture!
31. Be ready to be challenged in ways you’d never imagined – those are the best opportunities for growth
32. Smile! Smile! Smile!!
33. Finally, a repeat because it bears repeating, learn THANK-YOU, say it out loud and PRAY it in your HEART, in whatever spiritual language you speak, AT ALL TIMES!
October 11, 2014
After being in SE Asia for 2 days I have a real sense that my trip is actually just starting now. In the first 6 weeks, I learned an immense amount about how to travel, what works well or not, what tires and what invigorates, what level of comfort I really appreciate (a decent mattress and hot shower every few days) and what pre-conceived notions really don’t bother me (cockroaches, rats and dorm rooms). Once in Australia, a cull of non-essentials brought my total pack weight down to 14 kg so the actual process of moving around has become streamlined and much less tiring. Apparently “hurry up and wait” is par for the course with this kind of travel so best to drop the “Hurry up” part and maintain my sense of “Fiji time.”
Besides discarding physical stuff, this trip is also very much about stripping away my default roles of “mother” and “harpist”. At the beginning of the trip, it was a huge but essential challenge for my ego to let go of those titles. It surprised me just how hard it was to meet people without including some words about what I do.
In our daily lives, we have such a propensity to define ourselves by our jobs as well as to judge others by them. Work becomes such an integral part of our identity but it can also become a safe place behind which we can hide our real selves – even from ourselves. Although I have been the recipient of jokes about going off to “find oneself”, I am discovering that this is a hugely important aspect of this trip.
My entire life has been imbued by a passion for the harp, so my identity has always been connected to my instrument. Now that I’ve had a bit of time to get used to the idea – by actively forced myself to refrain from using occupational titles – I am enjoying how much freedom this gives me to meet people on a much more human level.
It turns out that travelling with “no strings attached”, both literally and figuratively, is a pretty exciting way to go!