Paysage Intime

Today, another walk.  Tonight, a different poem.

Paysage Intime

Melissa Dalton-Bradford

 

Reckless fecundity this spherical here

with its fugal loop of falling and fruiting

and its persimmon tree’s jeweled danglings of rubbery flame

and its pregnanted soil so upholsterously greening

the moss tresses draping over

worn gutters racing into

ancient creeks gushing for the

spongéd earth’s guzzling.

 

The whole scene a blister, haute pression

its elastice the very verge of burst.

The whole seen by eyelidded roofs of shingled browns

like these horses whose manes streak and rust with the spill of rain

neighing, newing

and the succulent heifers astroll on the bosky ooze,

stepping, steeping

silvered nostrilling through this plein-air mysterium.

 

And here, I must stop before the resilient silence of pliant

row after row after row of crucified pommiers

who grow to yield, seed to cede, stretch to droop,

leaking their burden.

Heavy drops of red eversoak our distended-unquenchable canon.





Annie Dillard: Frayed & Nibbled

The following text comes from the 13th chapter of Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim At Tinker Creek, a singular poetic/scientific meditation on heaven and earth, a Pulitzer Prize-winning walk through the world.  These photographs were taken in the vast and lush English Gardens by our gifted friend Rob Inderrieden the day before we moved from Munich to Singapore.

Is our birthright and heritage to be, like Jacob’s cattle on which the life of a nation was founded, “ring-streaked, speckled, and spotted” not with the spangling marks of grace like beauty rained down from eternity, but with the blotched assaults and quarryings of time?

“We are all of us clocks,” says Eddington, “whose faces tell the passing years.” The young man proudly names his scars for his lover; the old man alone before a mirror erases his scars with his eyes and sees himself whole.

“In nature,” wrote Huston Smith, “the emphasis is in what is rather than what ought to be.” I learn this lesson in a new way everyday. It must be, I think tonight, that in a certain sense only the newborn in this world are whole, that as adults we are expected to be, and necessarily, somewhat nibbled. It’s par for the course. Physical wholeness is not something we have barring accident; it itself is accidental, an accident of infancy, like a baby’s fontanel or the egg-tooth on a hatchling. Are the five-foot silver eels that migrate as adults across meadows by night actually scarred with the bill marks of herons, flayed by the sharp teeth of bass? I think of the beautiful sharks I saw from the shore, hefted and held aloft in a light-shot wave. Were those sharks sliced with scars, were there mites in their hides and worms in their hearts? Did the mockingbird that plunged from the rooftop, folding its wings, bear in its buoyant quills a host of sucking lice?

The summer is old. A gritty, colorless dust cakes the melons and squashes, and worms fatten within on the bright, sweet flesh. The world is festering with suppurating sores. . .Have I walked too much, aged beyond my years?. . .There are the flies that make a wound, the flies that find a wound, and a hungry world that won’t wait till I’m decently dead.

I think of the green insect shaking the web from its wings, and of the whale-scarred crab-eater seals. They demand a certain respect. The only way I can reasonably talk about all this is to address you directly and frankly as a fellow survivor. Here we so incontrovertibly are.

That the world is old and frayed is no surprise; that the world could ever become new and whole beyond uncertainty was, and is, such a surprise that I find myself referring all subsequent kinds of knowledge to it. . .But knowledge does not vanquish mystery, or obscure its distant lights. I still now and will tomorrow steer by what happened that day when some undeniably new spirit roared down the air, bowled me over, and turned on the lights.

Can I say then that corruption is one of beauty’s deep-blue speckles, that the frayed and nibbled fringe of the world is a tallith, a prayer shawl, the intricate garment of beauty?

It is very tempting, but I honestly cannot. But I can, however, affirm that corruption is not beauty’s very heart.

And I can I think call the vision of the cedar and the knowledge of these wormy quarryings twin fiords cutting in the granite cliffs of mystery, and say that the new is always present simultaneously with the old, however hidden. The tree with the lights in it does not go out; that light still shines on an old world, now feebly, now bright.




I am a frayed and nibbled survivor in a fallen world, and I am getting along. I am aging and eaten and have done my share of eating, too. I am not washed and beautiful,in control of a shining world in which everything fits, but instead am wandering awed about on a splintered wreck I’ve come to care for, whose gnawed trees breathe a delicate air, whose bloodied and scarred creatures are my dearest companions, and whose beauty beats and shines not in its imperfections, but overwhelmingly in spite of them, under the wind-rent clouds, upstream and down.


Simone Weil says simply, “Let us love the country of here below. It is real; it offers resistance to love.”

“The fact is, ” said Van Gogh, “the fact is that we are painters in real life,and the important thing is to breathe as hard as ever we can breathe.”

Thank you, Rob and Tasha Inderrieden, for the beautiful photographs, but even more, for the indelible memories

I am a sacrifice bound with cords to the horns of the world’s rock altar, waiting for worms. I take a deep breath, I open my eyes. Looking, I see there are worms in the horns of the altar like live maggots in amber, there are shells of worms in the rock and moths flapping at my eyes. A wind from noplace rises. A sense of the real exults me; the cords loose; I walk on my way.

Walking Upon Waking

Walking Upon Waking

Melissa Dalton-Bradford

 

The doctrine of this world is decay.

On its ephemeral face the toothless corncob, the rot

of log, the knuckled luster of plane trees

groping leprously at gauze above the wrung mallard

neck of leaves and the downy brown sounds of geese fleeing

and the mango violet molderingness of rooster russeting

pierced through with black-metallic crow-pocked caw-caw

scripting punctuation, an airborne caveat:

All is autumnal.

 

Cows muzzle-udder the green, their liquid-eyed knowing

their massive dappled backs like torn pieces of the world map

while the bald farmer rigs a heifer in the blueness of his boots,

his red collared shirt, his olive sweater, his thin wisp of graying breath

and the grayness of an old ochre-eyed cat on the crumbling gray

wall with yellow lichen beneath a pewter sky

soundproofed with cotton batting

voices like old oboes pulse the corpuscles through

tissues of watery landscape gravitied in place

lapsing waning sentencing:

This daying-dying earth.

 

Ceremonial this doctrine of decay.

Solemn, ineludible, effulgent musicing and

Furious quietus.

The grandiloquent silence of this brief stroll through a pasture.

**

Last week I took a long early morning walk in the hilly vineyards around our village.  I set out with no goal except to keep moving, but quickly submitted to two guiding ideas: to  see things afresh and to find a poem.  Not ten minutes into the walk, I sensed that poem already forming, so when I returned home with flushed cheeks, sweat and frost marking my hairline, limbs still tingling and fingers swollen from the pooling of fluids, I came right to my laptop and pecked out all the images and connections that had come to me in those two hours and in a steady stream.

(Memo to self: take a scrap of paper and a small pencil everywhere.)

This photo of our Luc was taken with nothing more than an iPhone in our back yard during leaf-raking season.  He looks like an imperious, emerging God to me. This particular picture shown broadly though softly across my imagination as I took in my surroundings and walked and walked.

Thanksgiving was that same week.  My mind was tuned, appropriately, to gratitude.  But it was also tuned, appropriately, to death.  Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter do that to me.  To process this confluence of feelings, I sat down this weekend and read favorite passages from three works either concretely or metaphorically about pilgrims: Plymouth Plantation from Governor William Bradford; The Pilgrim’s Regress from C.S. Lewis; and A Pilgrim At Tinker Creek from Annie Dillard.

It was Dillard’s scrupulous vision that truly seized me, maybe as never before, and probably because I’d just written this poem.  The genius of her analysis of death and decay is worth a slow, meditative read.  So if you’ll please come back tomorrow and give yourself time to read thankfully and thinkfully, I’ll share passages from Dillard and a few more photos.  They’re taken not with some cutsie iPhone but with a serious, multi-lensed air craft carrier of an apparatus, and shot not by just anyone, but by a professional photographer friend with a keen eye.

Global Mom: Dreamcoat

Weddings. Messiah barn burnings. Feminine hygiene product pitching. New Orleans Jazz. Embassies. My own Mormon church.  And then at last, a biblical musical. It seemed an appropriately epic way to end our Norway years.

Josef Og Det Utrolige Farvet Drømkåpet needed a lead narrator.  Barbara, my multitalented musician girlfriend was already directing the musical’s children’s chorus and doing orchestrations from a massive keyboard, working her big circle of local music talent to build the band.  She was overbooked.

Since I’d already done the English version, Joseph And The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, in New Jersey, the producers thought I might be able to do it here. So I said yes to play the narrator in Norwegian.

Then I became the show’s artistic director.

And choreographer.

And even found myself back stage in one of the performances, training dogs. (They were the biggest hounds I had seen in my life, cast in this show as Ishmaelite camels.)

The closing night of Josef, I walked out into the parking lot, costumes in a suit bag, humming one of the show’s tunes.  When I stood next to my car overlooking Oslo fjord, I stopped abruptly in my tracks.  I looked straight ahead.  Had I not noticed before? Across the road and down one block was a small barrack painted barn red. Next to it, a chain link fence.  There was a gravel parking lot and four swings, a simple metal slide, a teeter-totter. I’d known it all first under a meter of snow. And where I was standing that night, still in my stage makeup, congratulatory roses in my arms, was only a few meters from where I’d once hidden behind the steering wheel of my parked car, thermos of peppermint tea in my hand, scouting out this intimidating but undeniably enticing new world, weighing the dangers of a thing called barnepark, considering the foreignness of this cold, impenetrable land.

Somewhere in the middle of the post show cast party we held at our home, I felt the same vice grip I’d had in that dressing room at the television studios.  The whole Bradford clan, Melissa, Randall and their three children, and a dozen of the main players in the cast were gathered around our long Norwegian table, then watched taped footage of our closing performance of Josef.  Claire bopped up and down in the lap of Anita-Marie. Parker was with Tormod and Per Trygve who’d played Jacob’s oldest sons, Reuben and Simeon, doing phrase-by-phrase translation from the Norwegian text to its English original he had learned when I’d done the show in New Jersey and this nine-year-old son, then three, had memorized the whole script. Dalton, now toddling sturdily, raided every last refreshment platter.  Randall did crowd control and video machine duty while dispensing casual Norwegian one-liners to all our guests. 

Here were the faces.  Faces of real people whose language I spoke and whose humor I caught, whose regional accents I could identify, whose families I’d eaten with and worked with and sung with. These folks, they brought me a Thank You gift.  A Thank You gift! . . .?. . .They said they wanted to thank me for helping with their show, for serving them.  I tried to tell them nei, det er ikke lov! And that they forstår ikke.  I tried, but know I never managed to tell them or Johanne or Britt from barnepark, or Bente or Pia or my whole loving church family, or Barbara or Sigrid from Nesøya Skole, or Ellen my jordmor, or Gunnil from barselgruppe, or the nameless conductor on the sinking Yamaha keyboard, or little Karolina or Louisa who’d checked my grammar as well as my sanity, or strawberry-blonde Jesper who’d just needed toilet paper, or my neighbor who’d hiked over my head and shoveled off my roof, or the many nameless but not faceless others who filled our Norway years – I know I never managed to tell them thank you and that nei, nei, nei, I had not done a thing for them. It was they and their country that had done endless much for my young family and for me.

© Melissa Dalton-Bradford and melissadaltonbradford.wordpress.com, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Melissa Dalton-Bradford and melissadaltonbradford.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Global Mom: Farm Wedding

Østfold lies southeast by an hour from Oslo’s talk show and television commercial studios.  In the middle of that county is the village of Ski, and in the middle of Ski is a tiny white stucco chapel.

credit: woophy

There, on one of those brilliantly blue-skied late spring days, Sigrid, the daughter of a prominent local farmer, is getting married, and I’ve been drafted to serenade the day-long traditional farm wedding. What will unfold before me, the only non-Norwegian on hand, is like a movie so enchanting I start to feel I’m unfit as the soundtrack.

I arrive early by car, ready to review the program one last time with the church organist who skids into the gravel parking place on his road bike, and who, with no more ceremony than the nod of his head (which he keeps wiping as he continues to sweat) launches us into a break-neck dash through our program, tearing through four Norwegian love songs at the same speed with which he arrived on his bike. “Well now,” he says, slapping the organ bench, “I think that’ll about do it,” and he’s running over a hill to squirt off at a nearby farm. I’m still catching my breath, leaning against a pillar in the choir loft, when I peer down to see a procession.

A thick, inching sea of rich bunad colors seeps into the chapel’s all-white interior. Figure upon figure, couple upon couple, family upon family file in gracefully, cautiously, as if someone had told them the floor was made of the thinnest sheet of glass.

fylkesarkivet sogn og fjordane

There are mostly heavy black wool skirts that swish almost to the floor, barely exposing the occasional edge of white stocking, which meets the black shoes. On the front of the shoes, ornate, pilgrim-like silver buckles.

credit: artemesia1

In some of the many regional versions of bunad, the skirt fronts, as the bodices, are gathered into the waistline with the smallest pleats—dozens of pin-tucked pleats—that make architecture out of wool. They’re encrusted with clusters of embroidered flowers, the sheen of which looks like jewels in the early afternoon light coming in through the high windows.

Everywhere there are balloons of starched white linen sleeves tapering to lace-trimmed cuffs and, on some women, wrist wreaths of silver coins which tinkle and glint, the sunlight flitting on their surface. There are brooches, some larger than your palm, clasped at the top of the bodice near the collar. Some women wear small hats, wool and embroidered too, without brims and close to the shape of the head and in the same color as their dress, tied under the chin with ample satin bows.

And there are small handbags made of matching wool with iridescent embroidery, affixed to a silver chain draped at the waistline.

There are dresses, a dozen among hundred, maybe, that aren’t black or deep red, but are bright cornflower blue.

The men look like they’ve arrived on the last commuter train from Brigadoon: velvet knickers, embroidered vests, white linen shirts, black leprechaun shoes. Some children, just a handful, are there, too.

One mom indiscreetly yanks her Karl-Andreas or Anders-Håvard to attention, and directs him into the pew next to her as she tugs down the bottom of his red vest and re-tucks the bunched hem of his starched shirt.  He’s sullen. Thirteen. Has spent the morning bailing hay or milking his own goat, I fantasize.  Or skateboarding, my inner realist corrects me.

fylkesarkivet

Here is old Norway, but again contemporary, now-a-day Norway, History and The Present, in all its splendid finery and well-mannered neighborliness waiting reverently for a høy tid.

My organist has traded in smelly lycra bike shorts for full bunad regalia himself, and ashamed that I’m just in my best cream silk suit and heels, I slip behind a marble pillar.  At the same moment, the organ opens up all pipes announcing Sigrid’s arrival.  The groom, vigorous-looking with muscles everywhere, (even in his jaw, which he’s clenching, like his fists), waits at the altar.

Sigrid, also blonde, is fresh and freckled, poised in a simply-cut white satin gown.  She proceeds up the aisle: a cool, tall glass of milk. I’m staring at her while I take a deep breath and begin singing: “Kjaerlighet, varmeste ord på jord. . .”  Love, the warmest word on earth.

credit: andersmadsen

When the ceremony ends, the new couple clambers up into a handsome horse-drawn carriage which, trailed by other horse-drawn carriages carrying parts of their bunad entourage, clops over the rolling hills of Østfold toward Sigrid’s family estate.  The parents who’ve invited me to sing, Solvor and Lars, lean down from their carriage to give me road directions, complicated automobile ones, I’m told. It’s much more direct over the fields.  I’m in a tailored suit with stiletto pumps, driving a motor vehicle with a CD player and automatic windows.  I’ve obviously missed a road sign and driven into the middle of the wrong century.

fylkesarkivet

This family farm’s got to have its own zip code. Lars escorts me up to a crest beyond the limits of the groomed property that radiates outward from the central manor house, and there points to a place on the horizon that I’m sure must be Sweden.

“It’s just the easternmost edge of the property,” he smiles softly.  Then he swings his arm in a full arc in the other direction and, those specks over there?  Those prominent mountains several kilometers away?  “Also the edge of the family domain.” It’s deep green the entire expanse of it, abruptly tree-rich in spots, deliciously farmable in general. Lars seems too soft-spoken to own a whole county.

credit: woophy

“It’s my husband’s family’s soil, too, you know,” I tell Lars. “Aamodt, Haakon. Thorkildsen, Christian. Farmers going way, way back. Do you know the names?”

“Then,” Lars reaches down and pokes his finger into the earth, drilling it softly, pinching and rolling its brownness in his fingertips like he’s testing its character, “Somewhere not more than a century or so ago, we were family, your husband and I.”

Back at the manor house people are starting to arrive, leaping down from buggies, off of single horses or out of Volvos. Solvor wants me to see the house, and doesn’t hesitate to escort me, room by room, through its every antique corner.  The place is a fortress with massive oak staircases flanked by oak banisters so big you’d need two hands to grab the circumference, leaded-pane windows dating back 300 years, lustrous floors of wide, worn planks bulleted in place by chocolate-colored dowels, hand-tufted carpets brought from Sweden and hand-woven linens from Denmark.  Huge family portraits with their oily sheen on pallid, stern visages line the walls above a stone fireplace that cuts a garage-sized hole in the front salon.  Everywhere I turn there are signs of The Hunt, and rounding a bend a bit too frivolously, I nearly lose an eye on a low-hanging reindeer antler.

creidt:papafrezzo

The men look ready for a barn raising, but tonight they’re only reinforcing the orchestra pavilion in the courtyard, and moving into rows the long, decorated banquette tables where wine, breads and dried meats are already being laid by a troop of diligent women. I’m handed a pewter platter of cured venison and a wooden trough of sculpted pickles and radishes to put on a table somewhere and make myself inconspicuous (in my twentieth century silk suit and patent leather stilettos) by being industrious like every last body around me.

Suddenly, the farm’s cutting loose. There’s the metallic commotion of cow bell ringing and wild whooping, everyone around me chanting something in unison, something that’s accelerating, something that has us all stamping our feet and clapping our hands at once.  I dive in full-throttle, although I end up almost falling over when I jab all 4-inches of my  stilettos into black-brown farm soil.

The bride and groom have arrived.

A large woman, Inger, red-headed and white-toothed, clinches her fleshy arm around my shoulder and shoves a glass of wine in my hand, hollering and stamping still.  Since I don’t drink, I wrap my arm around the shoulder of the next guy, Ingemar, white-haired and red-cheeked, do a little holler and a light stamp, and shove the glass into his hand.  He downs it in one hearty swig like water, establishing the drinking blueprint for the rest of the night.

People stay primarily sober for at least the first two hours of the four-hour dinner for two-hundred guests, a spread of gelled vegetable aspic, smoked salmon with scrambled eggs and sour cream with dill, crab and coriander salad, cucumber salad in a light vinaigrette, lamb, and tender little new potatoes, all served in a grand hall downstairs in the central house. I sit on the middle table, not far from Lars and Solvor, who are poised under an enormous stuffed black bear head that looks like it’s belting a high note.

credit: US Gen Web

After dinner and under a sky of polished cobalt, we all dance and sing like barefoot children.  Really like barefoot children, because somewhere between the hired band’s Johann Strauss and Bee Gees, I’ve kicked off my shoes like everyone one else.  Has grass ever felt so cool?  Has the moon ever been so close? Have I ever not lived here, not loved these people, not wanted to sing at every single one of their weddings?

Around four in the morning I watch the delicate, black shadows of horse-drawn carriages tiptoe over the far ridges, disappearing in a rising sun: spiders crawling into a flame.  Motors cough and hum, the trumpet player Hermann is packing it in, the lead singer Nils drops another empty Aquavit bottle onto a pile of many other empty Aquavit bottles.  Its “cli-shink” makes the mottled cat dart under a cleared banquette table.  Solvor comes at me from behind and, putting one arm around my waist, strokes my hair, and draws my head to her shoulder.  A mother’s touch. A new sisters’ pact.

credit: woophy

© Melissa Dalton-Bradford and melissadaltonbradford.wordpress.com, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Melissa Dalton-Bradford and melissadaltonbradford.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Global Mom: Winging It and Singing It

After today’s post, there will be two more that  specifically describe some special professional singing opportunities I was blessed to have in Norway. Why do I bore you with all this? Did you come to this blog (or will you come to Global Mom) for a run down of recitals?  I hope it’s clear there are several reasons I hang on this note for so long.  In Global Mom I want to show, not merely tell, what it means to leave a promising trajectory in one geography (New York) and transplant it elsewhere (Norway). That’s helpful, I think, for those who are reluctant to move internationally because they fear not being able to parlay their identity and professional/creative pursuits from one place to another. I also want to share how that very effort knit me– knit us as a family –to an entire people, a people with an exceptional love of all music, and how Norwegians were so welcoming and supportive.

Beyond all those reasons, I’m painting a canvas of Norway in this section of the book, and these intimate stories give that canvas depth, perspective and texture.

So . . . continued from the scene where you last found me singing a Norwegian sheep herder’s song with four lumberjack types and Ole the accordion player under the moonlit mountains . . .

From Global Mom: A Memoir

**

. . .I don’t think it gets much better than this.

Unless you’re doing a screen test for a Norwegian television commercial for  [can I say this here?]  feminine hygiene products:

“Fine, fine, that was just fine, Melissa. Let’s just try it one more time, and this time even more enthusiasm.  All right?”
“No problem. Enthusiasm? Got it!” I responded in Norwegian. I’d gotten the script just that morning from my agent, and had drilled it in the car on the way to this recording studio on the northern edge of town. I clear my throat, mess up my hair a bit (my enthused look), stare deep into the black hole of the camera, and start afresh:

“Now I dare to try on whatever clothes I like on whatever day of the month!”  Beaming, I pick up a small, imagined cardboard box from an imagined counter off to my right, and flirt with the camera, adding, “Always Ultra Feminine pads with wings! So you can really fly!”

“Super! Cut!” someone calls out and the man holding the hanging microphone lets his arms drop with a grunt.

A woman in a sound booth steps out and all I see in the shadows are the hem of her short denim skirt and boots. “Now remind us, Melissa, you’re from . . . let me see . . . Trømsø? Or was it. . .” she’s flipping through some papers, “from Bodø? You’re from the north I can tell, am I right?”

“From the west, actually.  The western States, actually.”

“Hmm? Really? Interesting. Hey, can we put some more on the tape here?” the woman asks. “Like, I don’t know, Melissa. . .Uh. . . Can you sing?”

“If you’d like me to, yes.”

“Give us an American song, is that good?” I can’t tell who said that, but I think the voice has come from the mike guy who is no more than a shadowy shape on top of green Converse All Stars right outside the glare of white spotlight. I shield my eyes with both hands, like I’m looking into a solar eclipse.

“Sure, well, okay, let’s see,” I stall. “What’s your favorite American song?”

Mike guy has a face, I can now see it as he steps to the right.  And he looks exactly like a teenaged Ron Howard.  Reddish hair, fair eyelashes on smiley eyes that make him look vulnerable and also kind to foreigners, baggy dark denim jeans on a pole-thin frame.  I’ve claimed him as my friend. If it comes to it, I’ll get him to sing back-up.

He’s quick with a favorite song and starts whistling it right there from the dark.

By “rainbow, way up high” I’ve taken over because, like millions of people, I know this tune by heart.  I sing it a capella, into the baking but also calming heat of four huge spotlights. I sing it all the way through. All the time from “there’s a land that I heard of ” to “why, oh, why can’t I?” under all that text and simple melody, I’m scratching my inner head, laughing a bit to myself, asking how did I get here? But also feeling like I had fully awakened in this country like Dorothy awakens in her black and white comfort, that there’s no place like this home.

At the same time, my agent was deep into plans for that concert tour the next year.  We’d done publicity photos and a demo CD.  He was contacting venues. We’d had preliminary meetings to pin down calendar details.  “You must bring your husband and children, too,” he’d said, “It would be a great cultural experience for them.  We’ll let that son of yours play on the drums between shows.”

Also at about this same time, Randall’s company was discussing a possible transfer back to the States or a transfer elsewhere outside of the States.  Randall and I, however, were lying next to each other in bed at night, staring at the ceiling, wondering, “Ever thought about. . . just staying here? For good?”

And, “Do you also just want to stay here for good?”

And, “What do we need to do to stay here for good?”

**
© Melissa Dalton-Bradford and melissadaltonbradford.wordpress.com, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Melissa Dalton-Bradford and melissadaltonbradford.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Global Mom: An Ambassador

There would be many other singing engagements over the two years that would remain in Norway. There were months when I was learning new music every week, my children wandering in and around the piano or sometimes around other vocalists or orchestra members. I was recruited to sing at all sorts of functions; the library’s opening social, a 50th birthday gathering, the kindergarten’s closing social, the local book club, a corporate mid-year social, a neighboring town’s Late Winter Song Evening, another town’s Early Spring Poetry Reading, a high school’s mid-spring chamber concert, and the frequent American Broadway potpourri.
Breech after flagrant breach of the sisters’ pact.

When invited with three other American musicians to give a private concert at the U.S. Ambassador’s residence, I took along nine-year-old Parker. He sat primly in his navy suit and bow tie, his hair parted on the left side and slicked flat like a confederate soldier.

“You have to sit right in that seat, honey,” I told him, pointing to an upholstered chair in the front row, “Because in one song, I’m going to give you the signal like this,” I nodded just once and discreetly, “and then I’ll come get you with my hand just like this,” I took his fingers in mine, “and then I’ll bring you uon front of the audience. Then I’ll sing right to you. Right into your eyes. Kneeling in front of you. Got it?”

“Got it. I don’t have to sing, too, do I?”

“No, you only have to listen. And you also have to help me not mess up, buddy. Can you do that?”
It was “Not While I’m Around,” a lyrical, haunting piece from Stephen Sondheim’s dark musical, “Sweeney Todd.” When I pulled the young boy with a bow tie and confederate hair to my side and knelt on the stage and sang right into his eyes, I nearly abandoned all efforts at composure. I nearly forgot about the respectable audience, the professional distance, I almost forgot about Mr. and Mrs. Ambassador sitting right over my shoulder in a gown and suit. I nearly let emotion seep into my vocal chords, a perilous thing. But I was composed and tried not to feel the moistness of his palms as I held his two hands, tried not to sense a quiver climbing up my sternum. I just kept singing the tender tune a bit baldly, I think; “Nothing can harm you,” I sang to my child, “Not while I’m around.”

And I finished, as I remember, with a smile so totally incongruous with the broader context from which that song is taken – a smile, now that I think about it, like that of a weather channel person waiting for the camera to blink on – I ended smiling with my head tilted, squeezing his skinny suited shoulders, giving him a peck on the cheek and dismissing him with a tap on his rump, clapping the fingertips of one my right hand on the palm of my left,  nodding to him and then to the audience, “Too cute, isn’t he?”

(Some minutes in life you revisit to reinhabit their sweetness. Others you revisit to reinhabit their sweetness and to mentally redo them altogether.)

After a performance with fellow artists. The Great Dane favored us with a solo.  It was in Danish, of course.  And great.

 

 

I didn’t take the children to all of my performances. One such, I described in my Journal:

Flå is a small arts community tucked deep in the folds of Hallingdal. Flå had invited an “American Broadway Singer,” to appear at their annual Arts Days celebration.

I stood in a glitzy American gown on an outdoor stage with microphone in hand and sang three hours of show tunes and big band standards flanked by twenty-five somewhat rigid but nevertheless hearty and well-amplified members of Hallingdal’s civic “Big Band.” The locals, robust and impossibly well-scrubbed, wielding sausages and wearing boiled wool knickers, stomped patterns across the pavilion’s dance floor till all the Aquavit ran dry and the moon peered over the rough ridges of Hallingdal’s towering walls. I went through everything the band had in its repertoire; Benny Goodman, the Andrews Sisters, Bing Crosby, Glenn Miller, even Neil Diamond.  Which was a good fun even though I felt strangely like a disco ball rented for a country picnic.

But then there was this last number, a traditional Norwegian Saeter tune I’d prepared just for this event. When it was announced, five band members, rosy-cheeked, woolen knickered, flannel plaid, stood to join me.  Against the evening chill I slipped the bass player’s boiled wool jacket around my shoulders.  Three of us sang tight harmony first with Ole on the accordion, then all six of us sang in a capella harmony, arms wrapped around one another’s waists or shoulders.  We howled like mountain sheep herders under the moon’s perfect spotlight. And on the way home, driving alone down that ancient black canyon, I decided things don’t get much better than this.

**
© Melissa Dalton-Bradford and melissadaltonbradford.wordpress.com, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Melissa Dalton-Bradford and melissadaltonbradford.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Global Mom: Holmenkollen Kapell and T.V.

On another night, it snowed heavily over Oslo, but I was toasty inside. I stood in the fully restored Holmenkollen kappell, a stave church high overlooking the Oslofjord, an important historic landmark built entirely of wood and lit with candles that night so it glowed like a jewel box.

The chapel was packed to SRO capacity. From where I stood at the microphone on stage, who did I see seated front and center? My family. And behind them, Bente, Jan Åke, Børre, Pia, and a whole pod of friends from church and from our island of Nesøya and from Randall’s work. Family, too.

There, as soloist with Norway’s beloved Big Chief Jazz Band, we did a program of American spirituals – When the Saints Go Marching In, Swing Low Sweet Chariot, All Night All Day – and then American holiday favorites – Chestnuts, Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas, I’ll Be Home For Christmas. We got the whole audience swaying and singing along.

 

The founder of Big Chief became my agent and as a means of launching what he hoped would be a concert tour of Norway and Sweden, he got us a spot on the Sunday evening talk and talent show called “Wesenstund.”  That morning at church, our congregation was patting me on the back, wishing me the best.

“Make us proud,” Stein Håvard nodded at me.

“Don’t wear pearls. No jazz in them,” advised Trond.

Lykke til!” Karin said, smiling, her thumbs up for “good luck.”

Ah, those miniscule 15 minutes of fame. I had a total blast singing my heart out with Big Chief, kept a tape of the broadcast, and have watched it exactly once with my parents, who looked both amused and proud.  My great-great grandchildren, if I’m so lucky, will one day find the whole recording an inconceivable, riotous hoot.

There was a moment that evening right before show time when I was alone waiting in my tiny dressing room at the NRK studios, after makeup and hair and tech people had done their preliminary rounds and all the members of Big Chief had patted “lykke til” on my back and gone out a side door for one last smoke.  I sat on a black naugahyde adjustable bar stool in front of one of those mirrors with white bulbs all around, sat there watching my backstage television prompter up in the corner, waiting for Gru to knock on my door with a two-minute signal, watching myself mouthing the texts for two songs we’d only decided on two hours earlier when we’d done light and mike checks.

It was there and all at once that I was oddly in another far-away dressing room. It was that other New York dressing room where there was a big band overture signaling a second act. I was in a green robe and body mike and had just gotten off an odd backstage phone call with Randall when he’d told me that the offer to move to Oslo was real, and it was imminent. I was pulling on my platinum ‘40’s wig and shoving my feet into my heels, trembling a little bit, but not for stage fright.   And though I should have been mouthing texts and mentally going through choreography, in that moment I was mouthing to myself in a low, dreading mumble, “Norway?”

“To minutter igjen,” Gru chirped, leaning into the door.  She smiled from behind her rectangular violet-rimmed glasses, giving me the two-minute signal.

And now my whole chest cramped with such a vice grip of gratitude I was out of breath when I stood up in my blue suede heels, stroking flat the wrinkled blue velvet on my thighs, shaking my shoulders under my red slik blouse to loosen things up, humming up and down the scale to warm my chords.  I walked through that shadowy, curtainy darkness every stage person knows so well, thinking the whole time of my little family, my my kind husband and our three beautiful children all  lined up in front of the television on their knees and in their jammies, watching impatiently through the first parts of this Norwegian talk show – Norwegian they now actually understood word for word. Giggling. Shuushing. Eyes wide. Chubby faces. Somehow slightly reverent. Waiting to see their Mamma sing.

**
© Melissa Dalton-Bradford and melissadaltonbradford.wordpress.com, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Melissa Dalton-Bradford and melissadaltonbradford.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Global Mom: Song of Norway, Händel

The following few posts are from our final couple of Norway years, and from the chapter in Global Mom entitled “Song of Norway.”  It took time, work, and lots of support from family and gifted musician friends, but building a musical career in Norway was getting some serious traction. Slippery traction at times. But a grip, nonetheless.

From Global Mom: A Memoir

**

“Wouldja listen to me? Whatever you do, do not do weddings.”

The brunette soprano in fishnets and a body microphone was schooling me, wagging her polished pointer finger my direction.  We were in our dressing room between the acts of the Tuesday matinée at the Westchester Broadway Theater, a bunch of the cast half in costume, half in costume change, chatting about agents, 8×10 headshots and all the details of musical theater careers.

“No fun’rals, eethah,” piped in the fiery belter with a red wig and a killer Bronx accent. “Soon’s ya go Equity, mine as well stay outta churches altagethah.”

Translated, that meant that as soon as you were a member of Actor’s Equity, the union for professional stage actors, all that kind of work – funerals, weddings, bar mitzvahs, clam bakes – was beneath you, even illegal, a breech of your Equity contract. When you got your union membership card, my theater friends agreed, you do the Big Time, nothing else but.  This was our solemn sister’s pact.

Now what could I do with this fancy schmancy Equity card of mine? The one right there, tucked in the pocket of my fleece-lined anorak? I’d left that fledgling theater trajectory to follow my husband’s career and, I’d hoped, to offer a big world to our little family. But now I was frozen in my tracks, literally and professionally.  My identity was in crisis. Last thing I’d heard, though, there weren’t any Big Times coming any time soon to my tiny island.

No funerals. No weddings. No clam bakes. No gigs underneath a hyacinth trellis with a Latvian accordion player doing Lionel Ritchie. And like the Bronx gal had said, I had to stay out of churches altogether.

So what did I do? I started singing in every last church in sight.

**

. . .What did I sing, with whom and where? Let’s just say the range was eclectic.  Among the most memorable holiday gigs was Händel’s “Messiah”, staged in a dilapidated barn hidden deep in the mountains. A glacial manger.  The small baroque choir and we the soloists stamped boots in brittle straw covering the upper loft of this barn where we crowded together, trying to generate some heat without utterly desecrating Händel.  Our vibratos were like machine guns. Our faces were tinged with smoke and our hair almost ignited by the small live torches we were given for heat as much as for light, since there was no electrical source but for the shizzing generator into which a Yamaha keyboard, our only accompaniment, was plugged.

I was so jittery, a sympathetic audience member, an older gentleman with a beard to his belt, lent me his floor-length, fur-lined World War II army coat. Then he tossed me his hat. The costume kept me from getting whiplash or chipping my incisors from all the chattering, although strangely, I did expect every one to salute me when I finished.

Talk about atmosphere. All that candle light and singed hair, that residual laryngitis and my walking pneumonia until April.  Still, I smile when I recall how the legs of the keyboard began shaking then slowly folding in on themselves, and neither the pianist, still pounding away, nor the vocalists, still singing, missed a beat. The keyboard sank to the floor, the conductor crouched following his fingers, the closest baritone scrambled to his knees to recover the conductor’s sheet music flying all over the place, our voices mounted higher as we neared the dramatic end of the chorus, until everything, keyboard, conductor, sheet music, reached the floor with a thud. And just as we landed on that last, sustained, triumphant “Ha-leeehhh-lu-jaaah”, this conductor shouted at the top of his lungs, “You’re never going to forget this!”

And I haven’t.

© Melissa Dalton-Bradford and melissadaltonbradford.wordpress.com, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Melissa Dalton-Bradford and melissadaltonbradford.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Harvard Business Review on Global Leaders

I was recently forwarded this article written in the HBR and knew instantly you’d have something to say about it.  Up to now I’ve done most of the talking here, and I’m getting the feeling you might be tired of sitting in your chair hearing me drone on.  You’ve fidgeted, I’ve seen it, and your eyelids were droopy that one time at 4:00 a.m.. And I know, I know, I haven’t even let you go to the bathroom.  Since May.

Because when Melissa’s got the floor, folks, she’s really got the floor.

Since I’m aching for more dialogue here, please speak up.  Please read. Digest. Reflect. Discuss. And then respond. Frankly. Fearlessly. And remember we are all friends.

Respond to any of these questions or make up your own question and plug it in here. Because, again, we’re friends:

1) How have you experienced cultural empathy or the lack of it?

2) What do you think author Bronwyn Fryer means by “egolessness” with regards to cultural empathy? And do you have experiences that illustrate your position? (And if you have an ego, no problem, everyone does, so you’re in great company.)

3) What has learning another language done to your empathy, brain, spirit, world view?

4) Fryer points to a specific “huge hole” in the American educational system.  What do you make of her assertion?

5) How do you react to Fryer’s quote from USA Today, describing other countries’ view of Americans as “uncouth and obnoxious”? (Whuh?)

6) Tell us all what you’re doing to be culturally empathetic and, if you have children, to raise them so that they are.

Now. . .Please, relaaaax. This is NOT A TEST. But you will get a free neon yellow smiley Emoticon if you leave a comment 🙂

**
From Harvard Business Review:

. . .For C-Level leaders in global organizations, one single characteristic — “sensitivity to culture” (so-called “cultural empathy”) — ranks at the very top of the requirement list. This rare quality can’t be “taught,” or injected simply by working in an overseas office.

Cultural empathy requires a degree of egolessness, because you have to surrender the notion that your country, or language, or point of view is best. Cultural empathy means that you have to not just see through the eyes of someone who is different, but you have to think through that person’s brain. True cultural empathy springs from personality, early nurturing, curiosity, and appreciation of diversity.


But, very importantly, it also springs from deep exposure to more than one language. And this is where American executives fall short.
Americans are seriously lagging when it comes to learning foreign languages (http://www.columbiamissourian.com/stories/2011/01/04/language/) . Only 19.7 percent of those surveyed speak a language other than English in their households. Contrast this with Europe, where 56 percent of Europeans speak a language other than their mother tongue (http://ec.europa.eu/languages/languages-of-europe/eurobarometer- survey_en.htm), and 28 percent speak two foreign languages.


As anyone who has ever learned to speak a foreign language fluently notices how each language shifts one’s consciousness. One day, you wake up and you realize you have been dreaming in the new language. Eventually you realize you are thinking in that language. And when you shift back and forth between, say, your native tongue and the acquired language, you feel like you are driving a car with a stick-shift; you are more involved and engaged in the experience. You take in more; you hear more. And you literally feel different; you are “more than yourself.”
This is because, on a physical level, your brain is processing things differently than it does when you are operating in only one language. Recent scientific research has shown that learning another language sharpens cognitive abilities and can even ward off some of the effects of dementia (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/3794479.stm) .

Babies who grow up in bilingual homes are more able to switch their attention and focus on the properties of both languages at the same time. And these babies grow into more focused adults: bilingual people are better at filtering out “background noise.” (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-17892521)
These findings, combined with those of the experts in global leadership, point to a huge hole in the American educational system — one which has been growing since the 1980s, when educational values began shifting away from the arts and humanities and emphasizing the “hard”-skill stuff — math, science, and, yes, business. Increasingly, the subjects that give students a healthy appreciation for listening (music), global complexity (the humanities) and cultural empathy (languages) have been starved, if not cut off altogether in all but the wealthiest public schools.


Meanwhile, business majors — who now account more than 20 percent of undergraduate degrees (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/17/education/edlife/edl-17business-t.html?pagewanted=all) — don’t need to study the arts, the humanities or languages. To graduate, they have to pass basic, lower-division English composition and a social science course, but that’s more or less the extent of it. And since every business professional around the world has (happily for them) been taught to communicate well in English, American business students simply — and arrogantly — assume that they don’t need to bother with learning Spanish, or French, or German, or Mandarin, or what have you. (And in a pinch, they can always lazily rely on Google Translate (http://translate.google.com/) .)


Clearly, in an increasingly globalized world, all this is a huge mistake. No wonder that it’s hard to find talented global leaders, particularly in America, a country in which only 30 percent of the population holds a passport (http://articles.cnn.com/2011-02-04/travel/americans.travel.domestically_1_western-hemisphere-travel-initiative- passports-tourism-industries?_s=PM:TRAVEL) . No wonder people in other countries perceive Americans to be “uncouth and obnoxious (http://www.usatoday.com/money/industries/travel/2007-08-23-faux-pas_N.htm) .”

No wonder that when list-makers name America’s best leaders, they consistently point to PepsiCo’s Indra Nooyi (http://www.usnews.com/news/best-leaders/articles/2008/11/19/americas-best-leaders-indra-nooyi-pepsico-ceo), a multilingual Indian woman.


The U.S. has built its economic success on being a place where people around the world come to do business — just riding the New York City subway is evidence enough of that. But in a multipolar world, America can no longer count on everyone doing business its way. If Americans want to continue to lead global companies, they will have to become better global leaders.

Why America Lacks Global Leaders – Bronwyn Fryer – Our Editors – Harvard Business R…            Page 1 of 2

http://blogs.hbr.org/hbr/hbreditors/2012/08/why_america_lacks_global_leade.html            8/27/2012

© Melissa Dalton-Bradford and melissadaltonbradford.wordpress.com, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Melissa Dalton-Bradford and melissadaltonbradford.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.