Sunday in the Park with Monk

It’s a cool, calm Sunday afternoon. The urge is there. Time for a brisk walk. I head out, towards the river.

But not before downloading my musical accompaniment, Meredith Monk’s Facing North. This is no random choice. I will be attending a Meredith Monk concert this evening, part of Winnipeg’s New Music Festival. I have only a vague awareness of her work. Here is a chance to acquaint myself more.

Walking while listening to music is a touchy subject to some. They argue that music distracts from the pedestrian experience – enjoying the surroundings. I agree, up to a point.

But music can contribute to a fresh appreciation of the familiar places. It can play sonic games with the rumble of traffic or the clatter of construction equipment. The rhythm of music creates interference patterns, harmonizing or contrasting with the rhythm of my feet or the orderly progression of houses lining my route, or the trees that I weave around on a forest path.

Today’s walk is that familiar trek through familiar places. It will take me down one side of Assiniboine River as it follows Wellington Crescent, through Assiniboine Park and across the river for a return trip along quiet residential streets and riverside parks, finally arriving home about 20 kilometres later.

Monk’s Facing North album was a random choice. She has an extensive discography available on iTunes and I was certainly not sufficiently familiar with her oeuvre to make a knowledgeable selection. So I picked based on a few snippets of music canvassed from various albums. The sounds seemed promising and the album title was appropriate for a Winnipeg walk.

My path winds along the high banks of the Assiniboine River. Everything is white-on-white, punctuated by stark black tree trunks lining the river. In my ear, the soaring vocals of Monk and Robert Een weave in and out of those trees, tones that reverberate through the whiteness. Often the music vibrates sympathetically with my journey, creating a warm cathedral for the senses on this cold Sunday afternoon. At other times, crackling sounds disrupt my rhythm.

By the time I arrive at the park, the music has delicately transformed a route I have taken many, many times into a new experience. The trail opens into a vast white field of windswept snow. In better weather, it will melt into baseball diamonds. Today it a shadowless white sheet tucked under a bleached cotton quilt. Across the scene stretches lengths of fluorescent snow fence. Monk’s haunting tune, Hocket, plays in my head. It is that orange fence extending as bars of musical notes across the quiet field of white.

The evening concert was, of course, magical. The voice of Meredith Monk and her two vocal companions, a single woodwind and a grand piano were all it took to fill the vast concert hall. The program was all-Monk, spanning her forty year career (and counting). Between pieces, she would talk about her work in a charming-yet-elegant, off hand-yet-spare way, reminiscent of the music itself.

One of the works performed was Hocket. The very song playing as I drifted through that white plane in Assiniboine Park.

Monk described how the piece came to be. She was in Banff, Alberta at the time. It was winter. She remembered being so impressed, so inspired…by the snow.


Assiniboine Park, January 29, 2017, 15:25:21



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