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Words and Music

Review by Ivy Wigmore

When you think of amusements for a sunny summer afternoon, thoughts tend to gravitate towards pleasant ephemera: strolling the boardwalk, lolling in the sun, or reclining in one's nearest approximation of a shady bower, juicy novel and frosty gin and tonic at the ready. Should the natural world begin to pall-perhaps on the approximately three (3) days of the year when temperatures on P.E.I. ever inch above temperate-there are always the air-conditioned and atmosphere-controlled malls, bars, and cinemas. All perfectly good, fluffy summer fun, which-no question!-has its place. However, if you look around, there are events (yes, even during our short and distraction-centric summer) that supply the essential elements of escape, along with sustaining substance: food for thought and the soul.

On a recent mid-summer afternoon, the Kirk of St. James lunchtime recital series featured "Words and Music": poetry read by David Helwig, paired with music by pianist Frances McBurnie. Although the program was a short one, just forty-five minutes, there was not a second wasted. A selection of familiar sonnets by Shakespeare and others was complemented by musical selections from Schumann, Scarlatti, Bach, Mendelssohn, Brahms and Schubert. The poetry's themes reflected the eternal concerns of humanity.

Helwig's readings began with love, in Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?, and ran the gamut of reflections on mortality, nature, and spirituality with Donne, Herbert, Wordsworth, and Hopkins, returning finally to love, with Millay and then Shakespeare again to finish the readings. The sonnets and music complemented each other perfectly, each selection expanding upon its counterpart and enhancing it, so that the whole was somehow more than the sum of its parts. Helwig is a powerful and expressive reader.

McBurnie is an exquisitely lyrical pianist; her phrasings and shadings of notes reflected the tones and themes of the chosen poems beautifully, moving the listener ever deeper into a properly contemplative frame of mind.

The Kirk itself is cool and dark, the air weighted with the solemnity that seems part of the fabric of any house of worship. Leaving the church, and back into the sunshine of a July afternoon, I felt revived: my body refreshed and my spirit restored.

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