Monday, 30 June 2014

Preston and Rowena's Excellent Adventure

I have always wondered why The Travellers included Bonavista in their Canadianized lyrics to Woody's classic This Land Is Your Land. I mean, why not St. John's harbour or Cape Spear? You'd think that those places would have as much of a claim to the eastern seaboard highlight of our country as would some small fishing village on the northern peninsula of Newfoundland.


Well today I figured it all out thanks to our hosts here in Bonavista, Preston and Rowena Abbott who run the quaint little B&B at which we are staying. We weren't three feet inside of their front door before Preston had the map out and was quick-talking up all of the highlights of the area. His penmanship was a whirlwind of swirls and ink stains dotting the page as he sent us in a myriad of directions to find the most magnificent highlights of his hometown. (He also managed to tease us about our hapless Maple Leafs, but it was all in good fun.)


There are some days in our lives that we look back upon and say "That was an excellent day". Today was one of the all-time greats. I can't decide if it was Preston's directions to the heights of Cape Bonavista where we saw dozens of the most unbelievable icebergs floating in the bay; the puffin colony a few kilometres away with thousands of the brightly beaked birds circling the inlet and proudly posing for us as they landed less then a few metres from our feet; or the shocking sight of whales feeding just off the coast. Yup. Today was just about perfect.


A few random thoughts.


We had been warned by many to keep a sharp eye out for moose on the highways. We hadn't been told about the black bear that ran directly in front of the car on the TransCanada just outside of St. John's. He was playing chicken with the traffic as he lollopped across the road. Thank God for The Husband's quick reflexes.


When we saw our first berg rounding a corner turn on the way into Bonavista, we screamed in unison. Four people just gleeful at the sight. These icebergs are so majestic and so clear in colour that they almost don't look real. There is a magical quality to them that simply cannot be captured by a mere photograph. The locals tell us that they haven't seen this many bergs at one time in more than 50 years. It is truly a natural phenomenon.


The Husband and I have never before stayed at a bed and breakfast. Not anywhere. There is an intrusiveness to the experience that we have avoided, partly due to our introvert natures. That said, the Abbotts are lovely people who run a first class establishment. And they help give us an excellent adventure.



Sunday, 29 June 2014

Songs in the Key of D

There is always much to absorb when we travel. It is as if I am on sensory overload. Colours are more vivid, odours more pungent. It is almost too much to take in all at once. But it is the sounds that I always find the most magnificent. Perhaps that is because my ear has a heightened tuning much like others might have viewing patterns or shapes. I hear music in everything and here in Newfoundland it is abundant.

I heard it yesterday when we heard the ships singing to each other with consecutive horn blows. I heard it this morning at Tim Horton's when two young women were exchanging Sunday pleasantries in a definite Avalon pattered accent littered with local slang and jargon. I heard it on the rocks at Cape Spear where the waves of the North Atlantic hit the coastline with a syncopated rhythm. I heard it as we climbed toward the lighthouse as two foghorns played a magnificent duet in the key of D. (No...I don't have perfect pitch. There's an app for that.) I heard it at Pouch Cove where two seagulls and their young 'uns were nesting in the rocks beside the crystal blue sea. I heard it in the hum of the artisan's sewing machine in the village of Quidi Vidi. And I heard music from another time when we climbed through the anchor grave yard at Bauline where I imagined fisherman from the distant past sharing a sea shanty as they hauled in their daily catch.

Yes, the music is abundant here and not all of it is found in the myriad of pubs that line George Street. The undercurrent of music and lyrics seems to act as a score for daily lives of the locals and it is quite magnificent.

A couple of quick notes. There was an intense feeling of smallness as I sat on the rocks at Cape Spear overlooking the Atlantic. There was a period of time while we were there when we surmised that when Twin Son disappeared onto a trail that he wasn't supposed to be on, for that singular moment in time he was the furthest east of any person in North America. (Google Maps might prove me wrong.)

A unique Canadian experience. While at the lighthouse at Cape Spear, a couple walked in and admitted that they hadn't purchased tickets. The young guide told them not to worry. "We work on the honour system here." She told them to purchase their tickets on the way out....and they did.

The people here are amongst the friendliest we have ever encountered. We didn't pass a soul who didn't wish us a "Good Morning" or share a smile.

Saturday, 28 June 2014

St. John's...The Biggest Small Town

I am not a winter girl. This is not news to those who know me well. I prefer open-toed shoes, tank tops, and a bead of sweat rolling down my forehead and on its way to a stinging encounter with my eyes. I understand other people's fascination with winter, but it simply isn't for me. I hate winter more when it breathes a cold last gasp at the end of June, just as summer is rounding into form.
That about sums up the weather today in St. John's. This small town that thinks it is a cosmopolitan metropolis, will continue having a difficult time drawing tourists if it persists on celebrating a cold weather Canada Day.

Our plan was incredibly simple today. Try and walk around and see as much of the downtown core as possible until sheer exhaustion from lack of sleep over the past 36 hours put us asunder. And walk we did. Up and down quaint streets that have a Benjamin Moore paint store quality to them. I love the jellybean row houses. What a magnificent way to make this gem of a capital city stand out from the others.

St. John's reminds me of San Fransico. The harbour and the massive cargo ships that come in and out of port each day are part of the fabric of life. Every day here, several of the ships sing to each other by blowing their horns at different pitch levels. Apparently they are actual songs, but you could have fooled us. It sound more like whales mating, but what do I know? There is another aspect of St. John's that is reminiscent of 'Frisco...the fact that many of the streets are at 45 degree angles. Between the bitter chill in the air and the workout of my glutes, I could almost swear that I was on the left coast instead of the east. We are going to be sore tomorrow.
We capped the afternoon with a trek up Signal Hill. Viewing the city from this vantage point almost made the lower body workout worthwhile. The mist and fog that was rolling in off the water made for an ethereal scene reminiscent of fairy stories.
Dinner was at a traditional Irish pub, Bridie Malloys. Honestly, if I didn't think I might fall over, we would have stayed for the pre-Canada party on George Street. Of course I might have required a parka for the occasion.
Sleep and resting our weary bodies is on the menu for this evening. Back at it tomorrow.

The Epilogue

 A quick epilogue from yesterday/today's tale of woe.
We were flat out lied to by the cabin crew on our original flight and by Westjet.
 When we landed in Stephenville, the captain and flight crew all reassured is that we were being put aboard what is known in the industry, as a rescue flight. An empty plane would be brought into Toronto in order to shuttle all of us wayward travellers. 
When we arrived back at Pearson, bedlam ensued. Everybody was put on different flights. The Husband and I were aboard the 7:30am and Twin Son and His Better Half were to follow twelve full hours later. People were being re-routed through exotic locales like Ottawa, Philly, and Halifax. We just lost it. That is what lack of sleep will do to seemingly decent people. We all became extras in an audition for The Walking Dead and the poor shnooks behind the Westjet service country appeared as though they had just been the breakfast course. Screaming a litany of obscenities doesn't even begin to tell the tale, and we weren't alone. There were a couple of young women sobbing knowing that they were about to miss a friend's wedding. My friends of the golden anniversary fame, were awaiting their fate in wheelchairs and the lineup went clear across the 5:00am. 
By sure luck (call it fate), our complaints worked and the four of us managed to secure the last seats on the first flight out this morning. We are here...exhausted...and the proud possessors of $150.00 worth of Westjet food vouchers, which......expire today.  Thanks so much for the overindulgence at Timmie's Westjet.
A letter to Westjet home planet is forthcoming. In the meantime we are ready to light St. John's ablaze, if we can drag our sorry asses out of the hotel and into a vertical position. Hopefully that was our glitch for the trip.

Boybrick Newfoundland

What would travelling with Dawn be without a fabulously unbelievable airline story? It just wouldn't be the same, would it?


Where the f*** is Stephenville and what the f*** am I doing here?

Well..after all of our planning and anticipation, we have finally made it to The Rock, but we are on the west side of the island as opposed to the Eastern Peninsula where we were supposed to land in St. John's.


I suppose that we should have expected the unexpected. I mean flying onto an island. At night. In summer. With fluctuating temperatures. Surrounded by icebergs. Fog sounds incredibly logical under those circumstances. A meteorological certainty.

So here we are in Boybrick Newfoundland in the middle of the night watching a guy in a Shell Oil vest and cap (I am not shitting you) come on board to discuss refueling so that we can...

Wait for it...

Return to Toronto from whence we came. 

You see, there is nobody awake in Stephenville. I think that the airport here is run by Sam Drucker. They had to wake up the Shell service guy so that we could get some drive through gas and a squeegee for the windshield. I could swear I saw the pilot hand over his credit card.

A few hearty Newfoundlanders exited the plane hoping to locate a car to drive the 10 hours back to St. John's. The rest of us cattle are at the mercy of Westjet and their schedules. Supposedly we are to be shuttled back to The Rock on a 7:30am flight. Hopefully we'll see St. John's around noon. No sleep for you!
Here is my take on the difference between a plane full of Americans versus a plane full of Canadians. Had Americans been trapped in Stephenville with absolutely no hope of reaching their destination, they would have stormed the flight deck with pitchforks, demanded their constitutional rights, and demand that the pilot take them to the nearest breath of civilization, preferably housing an Appleby's. Canadians? All this group wanted was access to the bar service and then they groaned politely when told that Transport Canada regulations prohibit the serving of alcohol between 2:00am an 10:00am. If you have to strand us in Stephenville couldn't you at least allow us to get bombed?

A final thought coming from my sleep-deprived and truly addled grey matter. The lovely couple seated next to me is celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary today. Today!! As in right now. They are on their way to St. John's for a party this evening with 100 of their closest family and friends. They haven't slept one single minute of the entire round trip and are worried that they will be falling over from exhaustion by the time the celebration rolls around tonight.

Hey Westjet! Isn't a golden anniversary deserving of a drink?

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Saturday, 21 June 2014

Dawn's Strange, Weird, and Wild Day

It is extraordinarily strange to have people, well-intention to be sure, constantly ask how you are feeling. To continually have to express one's emotions, when they are already a jambalaya, shall I put this politely....exhausting.

And yet that is exactly what everybody around me has been inquiring for over a month. There is an expectation that I have a wonderfully prepared and articulate answer that will either satisfy their own sensibilities or will shed some illumination on why I have chosen to put an exclamation point on my career on the bimah. I am neither criticizing nor am I ridiculing these wonderful and caring individuals. There has been a real depth of emotional outpouring from my congregation over my retirement, and I love and respect each and every person who has sent me cards, emails, Facebook messages and the like. But, it has been extremely difficult to put into words exactly how I am "feeling".

I awoke this morning with full awareness that today was my last service acting as Cantorial Soloist. I have long approached this date on the calendar with excitement rather than wistfulness, and I was determined to make this Shabbat one of which I could look to with pride. The universe had a different plan. It was almost as if God dispatched a variety of gremlins into my world today just to see how I might react to my own personal shitstorm.

First, there was the asthma attack that awakened me at 5:00am. There is absolutely nothing that compares with coughing up a lung before sunrise. I love the smell of Ventolin in the morning.

Next, there was the small matter of dozing back to sleep after my near-suffocation, and almost sleeping through services. As I dashed around the house gathering all of my necessary belongings, I spilled hot tea all over the kitchen counter. Hooray for first-degree burns!! Nothing says Shabbat like Polysporin.

I ran out to my car only to discover that it refused to recognize my fob and basically told me to "F*** off. We will leave when I say it's time to leave." No amount of head meeting steering wheel, expletives uttered, or fob exchanges would entice my sweetheart of an automobile to turn over her goddamned engine. After almost ten minutes of pleading and bargaining with a machine that I am certain has had its soul possessed by Satan, she decided that she had played chicken with me for long enough and started, just in time for me to make it synagogue on time. Or was it?

You my aggravated state, I left my backpack with all of my books, music, and tallit sitting on the stairs at home. I promptly called The Husband, recounted my tale of woe, and asked him to meet me in the driveway with the backpack because I was too afraid to turn off the car, lest she find another reason to f*** me over.

I got into the office exhausted and not at all ready to be an active participant in the service, but I was determined.

"It's the last one," I kept thinking.

"It can't be worse than it has already been, can it?" 

Oh yeah??

I ascend the bimah and collect my thoughts. I am having some serious flashbacks to some of those early services.

"How far we have journeyed together." 

"Remember that time when....."

I strum the opening chord of Ma Tovu and begin to sing.....


I almost blow the entire congregation into Olam Haba  because some dumb fuck has been fiddling with our sound system and my mic is turned up to Dolby-intense levels. And what's worse is that nobody can figure out how to fix it because the cabinets are locked. A couple of lovely gentlemen spend a good half hour looking for the keys and trying to determine which of the inputs is mine. In the meantime I am leaning over the lectern microphone just hoping not to strain a back muscle.

I spent the rest of the service looking inward and asking the Holy Spirit if this was His idea of fun? I could swear I heard quiet chortles of laughter coming out of the ark.

We managed to get through the rest of the morning without too much more fuss. We linked our arms for the Motzi and just like that twenty years was in  the books.

How am I feeling? Relieved that nobody lost a limb or was injured.


I feel blessed. Blessed to have had the backing of such wonderful people. Blessed to have been able to share music in such a meaningful way. Blessed that I am leaving while they still like me. Blessed in the knowledge that there will be many more adventures to share with my friends and family at Kol Ami.

One last thought. I did have a bit of a Joni Mitchell moment this morning. As I looked into the congregation, I noted that there were 4 people in the crowd today who were actually in attendance for my very first service. I went over to them all and hugged them and we shared a moment and a few tears. It really has come full circle.

And the seasons they go round and round
And the painted ponies go up and down
We're captive on a carousel of time
We can't return we can only look
Behind from where we came
And go round and round and round
In the circle game.

Sunday, 8 June 2014

Lesson Learned

**These are my remarks from a wonderful honouring service this past Shabbat. I was so touched by the immense outpouring and generosity from everybody in my community. Thank you all for joining me on this journey and supporting me as I begin the next one. 

Two years ago, when we gathered to commemorate my “Chai Anniversary” here at Kol Ami, I gave a helluva speech.

No. Really I did. It was great.

It was full of charm and witticisms and it was about all of the things that I have loved about being the Cantorial Soloist here at Kol Ami, or as I have lovingly labelled you all…."Temple Sings All the Time and Won’t Shut Up."

I won’t rehash those words. If you are completely lacking in memory due to the rapid onset of old age or you weren’t here for the occasion, I will repost it later on my blog for anybody who cares to look. Instead, I would rather share with you a few important life lessons that this wild and wacky journey of being a Jewish musician has taught me.

  • Life is always easier in appropriate footwear. Heels are the bane of any woman’s existence and this is especially true on Yom Kippur. Be comfortable and the music will flow with ease. This is a moral imperative that we should recall in all circumstances.
  • Music is always more beautiful when one is hydrated. Water, green tea, and honey/lemon lozenges are my own personal fifth food group.
  • Don’t inform the congregation during a service that you just snapped your G-string. It makes for uncomfortable conversations at the Onegs. 
  • If you must remove your engagement and wedding rings in order to properly play the guitar, don’t leave them on the bimah following a service. It makes for uncomfortable conversations with The Husband at home.
  • My favourite innovation over the last 38 years of song leading? Wireless mics. They have allowed both me and my guitar to roam freely amongst you, all the while saving my voice its annual bouts of laryngitis. I love the feeling of hyper-kinesis when we sing together. It makes the music and the prayer come alive.
  • Music is filled with flavours and everybody has their favourite. Embrace those differences. Here is a typical post-service conversation that I have had many times. 

Moishe Congregant: “I loved the service, but I really don’t like that new setting of the Mi Chamocha. I liked the old one better.” 

Me: “I understand how you feel. Was there any piece that you did like this evening?” 

Moishe: “Well….I always did like that version of L’cha Dodi.” 

Me: “Then I guess we were successful, right?” 

As my father always says…that’s why they make chocolate and vanilla.

  • Jewish music should ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS be a shared experience. When we sing together as a community, it facilitates prayer in a manner that can only be described as transcendent. I am at my happiest when you all are singing with me. If I could have one wish for this community going forward, it would be that you never just sit back and let somebody else do your singing and praying for you. Sing with full hearts and full voices, and believe me….you will find God in this place. To me….that is the best definition of spirituality.
  • If you are going to do this job as Cantorial Soloist, make sure that you surround yourself with  only the best people. They are everywhere in this congregation. My teachers, my students, my rabbis, my musician friends, my choral singers, my conductors. You have all made me better than I had ever hoped or ever deserved to be. I count every single one of you as friend. This journey has been incredible mostly because you all came along with me for the ride. 
  • If you are going to do this job as Cantorial Soloist, make certain that you tell your family how grateful you are for all of the sacrifices that they have made throughout the years. For all of those times when we couldn’t sit together; had to rush through Shabbat or holiday dinners; for when you attended family functions without me; when you had to spend your birthday at an honouring service; when you just wanted to blend into the scenery but couldn’t….for all of it…..know that I love you all and I appreciate everything that you have done. You are my heart and soul. 
  • And finally…know when it is time to let the next person come in and teach new things. We are never too old to learn. Embrace the change and accept the uncertainty of the future. Excitement awaits. Dr. Maya Angelou once said “I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” I can only hope that the feelings are good ones.
And now we sing.....

Music Speaks Louder Than Words  (Music and Lyrics by: Harold Payne, Edgar Pease, Michael Scarpiello)


Music speaks louder than words
It's the only thing that the whole world listens to
Music speaks louder than words
When you sing, people understand

Sometimes the love that you feel inside
Gets lost between your heart and your mind
And the words don't really say, the things you wanted them to
But then you feel in someone's song
What you'd been trying to say all along
And somehow with the magic of music the message comes through


The longer I live the more
I find that people seldom take the time
To really get to know a stranger and make him a friend
But the power of a simple song can make everybody feel they belong
Maybe singin' and playin' can bring us together again
Singin' and playin' can bring us together again


Monday, 2 June 2014


My father-in-law has had a moustache for as long as I have known him. As a matter of fact, he has been bushy on his upper lip for as long as The Husband has known him. Without getting into a grim discussion of the passing of decades, suffice it to say that that is a lot of years with a sneeze guard. 

This past week the wonderful attendants who care for him shaved his face clean. It is a matter of ease and cleanliness especially when it comes to mealtimes, but the long and the short of it is that the moustache that he had so lovingly cultivated for most of his life is now but a memory consigned to the family photo albums.

Last year when he was still able to make his feelings known, he was adamant about keeping his hairy upper lip. It was an important part of how he saw himself and he was very negatively vocal when the idea of becoming clean-shaven was broached. 

This whole episode has me thinking a great deal about identity. How do we view ourselves and what are those things, tangible or inconspicuous, that go into defining who we are? Are we the labels that others ascribe to us, or is there more to us than the obvious and the visible?

As my time as a Cantorial Soloist draws to a close, I have been asked a lot of questions by a lot of people.

"Aren't you a bit young to retire?" (God bless these deluded souls!)

"Won't you miss it?" (Absolutely!)

"You're so good at it. Why would you want to leave?" (The time is right!)

And of course the biggie....

"What are you going to do next?"

Thank you to all who have cared enough to grill me. It has allowed me some serious moments of self-reflection. The truth is that I honestly don't know what is coming next. I plan on taking it one day at a time for a bit while I decompress. Hopefully something will present itself to me and if not, hopefully I will present something new and different to myself. But I have come to realize that contrary to my previous thoughts on the subject about how I define myself, I am much more than what I do. I have truly loved my work and I have viewed it very much as a calling, but the time has come to add new and obscure labels of self-identification. 

Maybe I'll grow a moustache?