Kathryn Canan did not learn recorder in third grade. After her parents forced her to slave away on piano from an early age, for which she is now very grateful, she picked up flute and is still astounded at the adventures and friendships music has brought into her life. At a Christmas party in 1991 she saw someone playing tenor recorder, went to a workshop on Renaissance music, and immediately developed severe instrument acquisition disorder.  She has studied recorder privately with Hanneke van Proosdij and medieval music with Shira Kammen.  She also earned an M.A. in liberal arts at CSUS, specializing in medieval culture, so she is one of few world experts on diseases caused by elves. She plays a variety of early music with Baroque and Beyond and keeps finding excuses for musical adventures with Early Music Maui, including shows at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Kathryn’s CD of medieval English music with Briddes Roune, Lenten is Come, is available at Amazon and other online sites. She also plays modern flute and piccolo for Light Opera Theatre Sacramento.  Kathryn teaches recorder and early flutes to students of all ages and levels in her studio in Grass Valley, CA.

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“Follow me to my secret world.”

I overheard a child saying this while walking at Asilomar, a conference center on the Monterrey peninsula, and the phrase keeps echoing within me, evoking many different kinds of secret worlds from my childhood.

I had a Thinking Place near our family’s cabin in the Beartooth Mountains of Montana. I sat beneath a great grandmother pine tree whose roots formed a comfortable seat at the edge of a glade. If I sat quietly, deer often came through without noticing me. I could hear a tiny stream murmuring through the edge of the glade and the shimmering leaves of the quaking aspen. Squirrels informed me that I was invading their territory. I wrote in long lost journals, dreamed up stories and poems I never wrote down, played my flute.

In our backyard in Billings there were three lilac bushes growing close together, two purple and one white, and they formed a cave fragrant in the spring. I spread a blanket beneath them and lost myself in books, including of course Under the Lilacs:  “The lilacs nodded over the high wall as if they said, we could tell fine secrets if we chose.” More often, as a teenager, it was fantasy and science fiction, worlds that could be, might be, will only be if we can be wise or creative enough.

Music is another secret world, the hours practicing or just playing around. I do invite friends into this world, and my closest friendships are with those who accept that invitation. We create a world together by listening and responding. Even concerts become an invitation into that secret world. I share both my vision of each piece and my vulnerability in opening up that secret world.

I write essays and songs inside my secret world and then open the door, wondering if anyone will enter and understand.

“Follow me to my secret world.”

 

 

WP_20160807_20_40_05_Pro 2What would it be like to live in a world  where the arts are valued above all else?

At the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, there are 3677 shows of all kinds being produced this month–music, theater, dance, comedy, even circus acts, in over 300 venues.  There are enough audience members to justify this; millions of people pour through Edinburgh  every August. The mission of the Fringe Society is simply this: “We’re proud to include in our programme anyone with a story to tell and a venue willing to host them.”

I just returned from performing an original musical comedy, Vivaldi for Breakfast, with Early Music Maui. Somehow people actually managed to pick out our show from the thousand on offer each day, and most of them even liked it. For many in my company this was our third appearance after the (ahem) mega-hits Bach for Breakfast in 2004 and Mozart for Breakfast in 2005. (Breakfast shows with coffee from Maui are a nice little niche.)  Given the costs and trouble of transporting a dozen cast members with sets and costumes to Scotland, putting together a show, and actually getting people to buy tickets, what’s the payoff? It’s not a financial profit, of course, and we didn’t garner worldwide fame, although that has happened for a few Fringe performers.

It is, quite simply, getting to live in that sort of world for just a brief time, and finding hope for all of us in the fact that such creative, talented, and courageous people exist.

WP_20160807_20_52_40_ProIt’s a place and time where everything is accepted. I saw a one-woman show by a Polish Irish immigrant, a beautiful portrayal of Robert Burns, Tolkien’s Leaf by Niggle, and Albatross, an expansion of Coleridge’s “Rime of the Ancient Mariner”. I heard a countertenor singing songs of John Dowland, a show choir from Toronto, and a Hawaiian opera.  In 2004 I first saw Lady Boys of Bangkok there, before transgender issues became a prominent issue in the States, so my introduction to that culture was colored by the sheer joy of that performance. A hit show this year was the Naked Magicians, who clearly had nothing up their sleeves.

WP_20160811_20_30_16_ProI forgot to be shy in Edinburgh.  I walked the streets late at night, always well lit and full of people just having a good time. Costumed performers give sample performances on High Street and hand out flyers for their shows. I kept a pack of ours to give in exchange and often stopped for conversation with everyone from Big Bird to Donald Trump. Turns out that Polish Irish immigrant knew the guy who co-wrote our show, so we met her for coffee after seeing her show. Small world things happen a lot there.

People help each other out. We had two cast members down with stomach bugs for our last show, so an actor from another show stepped in as Handel. Our nun managed a quick costume change to double as a soprano of questionable morals. Live theater rocks!

The Fringe is, in short, a place where everyone is giving everything they have to make the world more fun, more thoughtful, more caring. And in the end we all make magic.

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WP_20140224_002I lay on my back in my yoga class, legs sticking straight up in the air. “Rotate your ankles and find every number on the clock,” said the instructor. I automatically sent each ankle rotating in opposite directions, unable to get them to agree, and the clock image dissolved in confusion.

“Now flex your feet and fan out your toes,” she continued.

I looked at toes and willed them to move. Up and down, yes, but sideways? I imagined them staring back at me in bewilderment.

“Now, for many of you your toes won’t move,” Inez said reassuringly. “That’s fine; just keep on sending that message. Someday, believe it or not, your toes will start listening.”

I concentrated hard on my toes like a fledgling mage trying to learn telekinesis. “Agite, molesti digiti!” Latin commands work in Harry Potter, after all. But my Latin is in my brain, not my toes, and there’s no connection in any language.

“Now hug your knees into your chest.” I breathed deeply in relief and earned an approving smile from Inez. Breathing is good too. But my mind wasn’t ready to move on.

“Keep sending the message, and someday your toes will listen.” What a great analogy for parenting.

My children are grown now; my youngest is about to graduate from college, the middle is a doctor who has the right to give us advice, and the oldest has just become a father. And finally my husband and I see some of those toes responding to the messages we’ve been sending.

I read to all three from day one, and they all learned to read fluently by age four. Tim had an argument with his kindergarten teacher; she wanted him to make his own alphabet book by pasting pictures on construction paper to go with each letter, and he wanted to go off in a corner to read Charlotte’s Web. He won. But the lure of television and later the Internet was major competition for mere books, and the high school curriculum of seriously depressing classics didn’t help matters. Jon agonized over Red Badge of Courage in 8th grade,  and Tim hated analyzing existential poetry. One year my daughter Robin listed the books she was required to read–every single one ended with the main character committing either murder or suicide. But the messages I kept sending did make it through. My sons did return to reading for fun after college, and Robin had an inspiring teacher in high school who opened her eyes to the world of film.  I can’t complain that she prefers film to books now that she is determined to become a screenwriter.

They all love to travel. I went to Europe for the first time when I was ten, a glorious romp through five countries with castles, cathedrals, and people speaking different languages. it cemented my love of all things historical, especially medieval; I’ll confess that I chose the University of Chicago for college because I fell in love with the gargoyles on the pseudo-Gothic buildings. I began studying Latin at age 12 and German at 15 because the two together are the basis of all European languages. I wanted to know what all those people were saying. So I made sure to plant the travel bug in all of my children. Jon went to Switzerland with his great aunt at 14; then he became fluent in Italian and cemented his friendship with his future wife Ramona on a trip to Italy.  They’ve been traveling together ever since. Next month Tim is off to Africa on a medical trip, and he’ll celebrate his 30th birthday on a safari in Zambia. That should be a bit less demanding than the time he cycled the coast of Italy and made up the calories eating pizza, and perhaps less dangerous than his adventures running with the bulls in Pamplona. Robin, who grew up along with Harry Potter, went on a People To People trip to Harry Potter sites in England and Scotland at 11 and to Costa Rica with her Spanish class at 13. She wants a trip to Europe for her graduation present.

Perhaps because of that traveling, all three are compassionate liberal progressives in politics. Travel shows that there are many ways to live and think, many ways to view the miracles of life and creation, and there is no one right way to journey through life on this planet.  My children came of age in a time of increasing acceptance for equal rights. Same sex marriage, increasing equality for women in the workplace, and Barack Obama are all signs that their generation is more accepting of differences and the future looks bright. We couldn’t be happier that Jon’s wife is a gorgeous Persian woman who has introduced us to a whole new culture, including gormeh sabzi and fesenjan, and that our red-headed Irish son has a baby who won’t sunburn as easily as he does.

But I hope the most important message I have sent is that they should follow their passions and find their true talents. I hope their searches are simpler than mine has been, but at least I’ve been a model of someone exploring many interests and finally coming to love who I am—someone who loves to keep learning and will never settle down to specialize in anything. Hence this new blog: The Eclectic Tutor. I’m migrating here from Women’s Solo Retreats because I just couldn’t stick to one subject anymore! I hope you continue to follow my eclectic adventures.

What do you do?

I never really decided what to be when I grew up. In school as a child I loved every subject and did well in every class except P.E., where I didn’t see the point of being graded on whether I could do a headstand or not.  I still love to read in just about any genre–when people ask what my favorite book is I’ll answer anything from Winnie-the-Pooh to the Iliad. I enjoy  math because there is a real answer that is right or wrong; I like English and history because there often isn’t. Science explains how the world works, and philosophy wonders why. Languages open up communication to people in other cultures with other ideas that may be right too and help me find the bathroom when I travel. Music communicates without words and pushes me to every limit I have.

I had a rich and varied childhood spent mostly in Billings, Montana. It was big enough to have two colleges, a symphony, and a community theater, and small enough that I was able to play in the symphony and the theater’s pit orchestra while still in high school. Billings is on the plains of eastern Montana but close to the Beartooth Mountains, where we still have a cabin. Even though I hated PE, I loved horseback riding, hiking, and skiing, and in those more innocent days my parents let me bike all over town. Girl Scouts taught me backpacking and many other life skills–I still know when to use a square knot or a half-hitch. My grandparents in Illinois had a farm where I had the freedom to play in the creek, gather eggs from the chickens, and climb to the loft in the barn to throw corncobs at the pigs; I learned to draw water from a well, drive a tractor, and crunch whole grains of wheat right from the stalk.

My parents loved to travel, and as the youngest of three daughters I was the luckiest. They had the money and the time to travel by the time I was ten, and they didn’t mind taking me along.  During my first trip to Europe at age ten I fell in love with history, languages, and French champagne.  They sent me to Europe with a youth orchestra at 17 and gave me the courage to go to college in Chicago, so that I could learn about big city life as well.

I got the broadest possible education, with an A.B. in biological sciences from a liberal arts university, and an M.A. in liberal arts which enabled me to further resist specialization.  My department head at California State University, Sacramento, told me my thesis on Anglo-Saxon medicine was the most interdisciplinary thesis he had ever seen. It dealt with history, biochemistry, psychology, languages, Greek literature, Norse mythology, Anglo-Saxon paganism, Christianity, herbal medicine, and diseases caused by elves shooting invisible arrows. I had great fun writing it and decided to keep writing.

If “what do you do” translates to how do you earn money, then I teach music and perform on all kinds of recorders, flutes, and whistles–any sort of stick with holes in it. I also tutor Latin, since that’s a niche no longer filled by most schools in our area and I get to subtly teach English grammar and history at the same time. Math has made me a better musician; Latin allows me to translate the texts of most of the music I play, and science keeps me rational.

So this blog is for whatever I find interesting enough to pass on. I dedicate it to my daughter Robin, who on her first trip to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival with me declared: “You’re weird, your friends are weird, and that guy over there is dressed like a chicken.” I hope you enjoy all the weirdness in my life, and that I inspire you to explore new corners in your own life.

Kathy