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NB: as of 23 September 2008, all new artSMart articles are being published on the site news.artsmart.co.za.

MUSINGS OF A MEANDERING MIND #12 (article first published : 2006-04-6)

As a child, I was highly delighted when one of Dad’s entrepreneurial ideas for a unique garden feature proved to be more damp squibs than the conversation-stoppers he’d envisaged. This joy was not, I hasten to add, due to his disappointment, or the mischief-making of friends from the bowling club, who sent him up about how these innovative ideas gleaned from American magazines had turned out, but because one, in particular, afforded me a Secret Spot for Solitude and Sanctuary. This was the sunken barbecue pit with latticed pergola overhead, which sat plush in the middle of a pebbled garden interspersed with rose bushes – the pebble idea meant to cut down on an acre or so of lawn-mowing!

Since our Mom was never wildly enthusiastic about outdoor eating in any form, I can’t recall the barbecue pit EVER being put to the use for which it was designed in the decade or so in which we resided in said house. Instead, the rain leaked merrily through the pretty latticework and into the sunken tiled mini-swimming-pool-like spot below, and I spent a lot of my pocket-money-earning tasks sweeping it clean of fallen leaves in the autumn! However, what it DID afford me was a wonderfully tranquil (and almost hidden) area for a spot of moon-bathing after dinner, where I would spread myself out comfortably on my back, lying on Mom’s best eiderdown, and survey the stars, as I poured out my teenage heart to the moon, singing all the love songs on the pop charts of the era.

Perhaps this is why I identify so strongly with my Greek Tenor hero, Mario Frangoulis, who made a somewhat contradictory statement during his concert under the stars at Thessaloniki in Greece, which I watched on video. It went along these lines… I didn’t have a very happy childhood – but I was blessed with wonderful parents. This so intrigued me that I immediately did a spot of Web-surfing to see if I could find out what he’d meant. It appeared that at the tender age of four he was sent from the then Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) to live with extended family in Greece, as it was a time of great turmoil in that sorely politically plagued country and obviously he must have missed his own mother and father enormously. But it was his aunt on the Hellenic side of the family who set him on his musical career path, leading to him studying under Maria Callas’ tutor – the only private student the late Alfredo Kraus ever accepted.

In his concert tour to promote the release of his first (and most magnificent) album, Sometimes I Dream, he introduces one particular song, Ton Eafto Tou Paidi, as being based on his early childhood, when he wanted to escape all the trauma he’d experienced by being taken to a new home at so young an age through his imagination.(In fact, I wept when I read on the Internet that he would roam the rooftops of Athens singing to the moon as a lonely little boy.)

Well, in this song he finds his imaginary garden, where he would enter and everything would be all right, where all the elements of the earth and nature would become his friends. But he adds, I wouldn’t be the person I am if I hadn’t gone through what I did in my childhood, and today I know who I am. I’m stronger for what I’ve experienced, and I’m grateful for all the love and passion and joy in my life.

While I had no such family turmoil to haunt my own childhood, I was extremely shy, introverted and somewhat bookish with my (much more outgoing) seven-year-older sister away at boarding school for huge chunks of time. I loved to sing to the moon and the stars – and, like Mario – imagine myself in my own secluded and solitary sanctuary. I consider myself fortunate to have had just the spot to do so where, once homework was completed, I was left in peace to enjoy wonderful summer evenings out of doors, alone but safely so, where my imagination could let rip.

In adulthood, once again music has brought me this very special experience. I have recently discovered THE most fantastic musical group, who call themselves – coincidentally – Secret Garden, the brainchild of Rolf Lovland, a Norwegian composer who teamed up with an Irish violinist by the name of Fionnuala Sherry to create an exquisite semi-classical musical mixture with beautiful melodies (often with an Irish influence), lush orchestration and a soaring sweet-toned violin at the forefront.

They won the Eurovision Song Contest in Norway in 1995 with Nocturne, an entry that was more an instrumental piece than a song, and indeed on many of their albums there is a good mix of instrumental pieces in between the vocal ones which feature well-known artists such as British tenor Russell Watson as well as lesser known but equally talented singers the likes of Irish vocalist Brian Kennedy, the young New Zealand lass Hayley Westenra, Scottish singer Karen Matheson (of whom Sean Connery once remarked, Her voice is touched by God) and others. Brendan Graham is their lyricist, the man who wrote the words to You Raise Me Up which was such a hit when included by Josh Groban on his second album, Closer, and was later covered by something like 125 other artists!

These two quotes (from Fionnuala and Rolf) resonate with me, and led me to understand the reason for the name given to their group… The first goes like this… If we listen with our hearts, we can hear the earth silently singing: it’s the promise of the past, it’s the yield of new life – it’s the songs of the earth. They were always there – awakened by our heartbeats and nourished by our tears: the eternal songs that can lift our spirits to reach for something higher within us.

The second makes me think of my Mario, my favourite vocalist of all time… One of our most valued assets is our ability to dream, to give our thoughts wings to fly. By wandering in our minds, we can visit places without physical limitation, and journey to beautiful imagined landscapes. Music is our way of travelling – a free ticket to go anywhere, anytime!

For a vast portion of last year, almost bedridden by back pain, music was my solace and my escape from reality. While others around me were planning trips away – be they business or pleasure – I was confined to many hours of bed rest. This was when the voice of Mario Fragoulis soothed my soul for hours on end. And this year, now I’m so much better, I count myself extremely fortunate to have found yet another source of pleasurable escape, when life’s stresses become intrusive, and that is the magnificent music of this highly talented group, Secret Garden. Do yourself a favour: invest in as many of their albums as you’re able to get hold of. They are truly magical and, as you tune out the world around you, you’ll find yourself unconsciously slipping away to secret spaces of solitude and sanctuary. - Bev Pulé




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