the harp and other musical adventures


Before we left Toronto, when we were imagining what we might miss most about the big city when we moved to the Maritimes, I decided to take harp lessons.

Now I’ve always loved the harp. I remember sitting entranced at a performance of the Jeunesse Musicales as the musicians introduced their instruments, and the harpist played the solo from Tchaikovsky’s Waltz of the Flowers. But instead of harp lessons, I had piano lessons from the age of 6. I suppose a harp was out of the question — those concert harps cost more than a car.

Fast forward to 2006. There has been an explosion of interest in the harp, precipitated in part by the new popularity of the folk, or celtic harp. This is a much smaller instrument that uses levers instead of pedals to sharpen the strings for playing in different keys. They are much cheaper than cars, and a lot more portable than full-sized concert harps. I took lessons for a school year, 20 lessons in all, then I stopped. The harp rental and lessons were expensive, and at the time my passion for photography was eclipsing everything else.

But when we finally made the move to Saint John three years later, I bought a harp to bring with me. My partner bought a recorder. I’m not consistent at practicing, but the harp is beginning to sound pretty good, and the two of us are beginning to look for other people to play with, and maybe the occasional gig. We sat down and played with a violinist and another recorder player on Sunday. It was fun!

I would like to take more lessons, but it’s hard finding a harp teacher in this part of the country. So for now, I’ll focus on polishing what I know, and enjoying my beautiful harp.

Photo taken on October 23, 2009


a brave new year

sun beams

Change is in the air. A new year has dawned, we have turned our backs on regret and missed opportunity, and now we step forward into the future. At least, that’s our intention.

The future, of course, is always here in front of us, but sometimes it turns out to be just the past again, recycled and wearing new clothes. We think we are open to new possibility, but we don’t notice how our blinders of habit and prejudice show us only what we expect or want to see.

I have been reading Stuart McLean’s The Vinyl Cafe Notebooks, which I received for Christmas, and I was caught by an observation he makes about change. He describes how as a boy, for no particular reason, he stopped eating eggs, and “as is the way with these things, behaviour became belief, and eventually I came to believe I hated eggs.” Then someone he admired mentioned how much they liked fried eggs, and Stuart discovered he liked them too. He started eating eggs again, just like that. He concludes: “We have the desire to change hardwired into our systems. And maybe our capacity is greater than we think. All it takes is a little courage…”

If we think of change as something small, something simple and everyday like that egg, then it doesn’t seem so difficult. Old habits die hard, but they might just melt away when we are inspired to do something new or different. May we all have that little bit of courage we need as we step into the brave new year.

Photo taken on December 7, 2009

happy holiday!

happy holiday

Can you feel it? When you first opened your eyes this morning, did you have that “day before Christmas feeling”? No, not the stressed “I have too much to do” feeling. The other one, the feeling that’s been part of you since childhood, that catches at your heart with the magic of twinkling lights and shortbreads and singing.

I get that feeling when I’m wrapping presents and humming along with carols. I get that feeling when I come downstairs in the dark of the morning and find the living room awash with soft glowing colour from the Christmas lights. I get that feeling when I hang each special memory on the tree: the stack of gifts ornament my mom helped me make when I was young, the felt rabbit that I sewed years ago, the cat with angel wings to remind me of my special Tobey, and all the treasures given by friends and family.

Wishing you much magic amid the madness, however you celebrate the season. Happy holidays and Merry Christmas!

Photo taken on December 23, 2010

friends & neighbours


Someone commented on Twitter lately that Saint John feels like a big urban centre with a small town heart. It’s easy to fall into conversation with a stranger while waiting in line at the bank or watching the harbour seals from the boardwalk. While it’s true that many people are in a hurry or isolated in their own little bubbles, the general impression for newcomers and old timers is of a friendly city.

So when one of the vendors in the City Market asked me about my camera, I stopped to talk to him. And I found out that Daniel has a lot of interests, a lot of ideas and a lot of enthusiasm, and he loves to meet people. As we talked and passersby shopped, I remembered that Christmas is not stuff, it’s people. The spirit of Christmas is right here, in these conversations, where strangers become friends, and newcomers become neighbours.

The next time I walk through the market, I’ll be sure to say Hi to Daniel, my new friend and neighbour.

Photo taken on December 18, 2010

streets of purple

streets of purple

I went uptown to go shopping on Saturday, and found the city centre beautifully decorated. But then the sun set, casting a bright wash of purple colour along the streets and making the harbour glow with reflected golden light, and that was the best decoration of all.

Photo taken on December 18, 2010

seeing is… seeing eyes

morning, Chance Harbour

When I first joined Flickr in 2006, I merely wanted to share my travel photos with family members on the other side of the world. I was surprised and pleased to see comments on one of the first photos I uploaded, and from then on, I was hooked. I would not be as avid a photo enthusiast today if I didn’t have Flickr to encourage and inspire me.

I chose my Flickr name “Seeing Is” partly because it can be read in two ways (I love puns) as “Seeing is… believing” for example, and as “Seeing eyes”. Having “seeing eyes” has become increasingly important to me. To see means to have vision, to pay attention, to notice and observe and wonder at all things great and small. I’ve always liked the image of the eagle, who sees clearly and far. Here on WordPress and other sites, I am eyeGillian (another pun), referring to photography and also my internal ego-emperor, a reference to the Robert Graves novel I, Claudius.

As I write this, my father is struggling with failing eyesight, and I can see how it has affected his previous enjoyment of driving, hiking, reading and even simple everyday tasks. I remember my disappointment when I had to get glasses at age 19. The thought of what my father must be going through, and the possibility of someday losing my own sight makes me cherish it all the more.

Yet there is something deeper than just seeing. I need to remember the wisdom I read as a child in The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry: “It is only with the heart that one sees rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye”.

Photo taken on November 14, 2010

men in skirts (and other seasonal attractions)

pipers piping

No, it’s not yet the 11th day of Christmas (“11 pipers piping”), but the pipe bands marching in Saint John’s Santa Claus parade on Saturday night have helped to put me in the Christmas spirit. Twinkly lights and red bows brighten the streets from one end of the city to the other, and carols accompany every trip through the grocery store.

The newspaper is also fatter — just like the legendary Christmas goose — filled to overflowing with sale flyers promising super specials on everything from cranberry-stuffed cheese balls to a computer-enhanced paintball game. My own Christmas shopping will be much too modest to boost the local economy, so as an antidote, I try to focus on the non-commercial aspects of Christmas. To quote a perennial holiday film, here are a few of My Favourite (Christmas) Things:

10. Pipe bands (gotta love those kilts) or brass bands, playing outdoors.
9.   Skating on Lily Lake to the sound of waltzes from the pavilion loudspeaker.
8.  Watching dogs and children frolicking in the fresh-fallen snow.
7.   Strings of lights and cheery decorations on people’s homes and businesses.
6.   The food. Oh, the food, the food, the food.
5.   Visiting. Seeing farflung friends and family is worth a holiday all by itself.
4.   Decorating the tree. All my ornaments have stories; hanging them on the tree is like opening a box of precious memories.
3.   Singing along with Handel’s Messiah. Just try not standing up during the Hallelujah Chorus (I know, that’s part of the Easter section, but who’s counting…).
2.   Giving gifts. While I do enjoy getting, giving is even better — I love seeing that pleased expression on a loved one’s face.
1.   Hearing the Christmas story. You know the one — pregnant teenage girl, hasty wedding, weary travellers desperate for a place to stay, the stable, the birth of a baby, singing and dancing shepherds — a real barn-burner. And you know there wouldn’t be a Christmas without a baby.

Photo taken on November 20, 2010