Monday, October 17, 2011

Some thoughts from Siobhan

I’ve always been an observer but particular events in the last year have given me the capacity to learn from observing and to perceive what is good and real and true. 

Last October, fifteen other students and I traveled to Cambridge Bay, Nunavut, a hamlet made up of fewer than 2000 people located above the tree line and well within the Arctic Circle.  Not many people, young or old can say they’ve been this far north so we looked at it as an adventure.  An experience.

On October 27th my class put on layer after layer of clothing.  Long underwear, socks, wool socks, long sleeved T-shirts, sweaters, jackets, coats, snow pants, boots, balaclavas, gloves, mitts, hats, scarves and ski masks.  We thought we were prepared for the cold.  We weren’t.  The group trudged across the snow through the town until we were past the buildings, at the snowmobiles.  Suddenly there was nothing.  As far as I could see and farther was flat, white limitlessness.  Vast, overwhelming land that I couldn’t imagine had an end.  There was no movement.  It seemed barren, empty and bleak.  Nothing.

These were my first thoughts. 

The longer I stood there, the more I saw.  Different colours in the snow.  The line between sky and earth.  As we rushed along in small wooden sleds behind the snowmobiles, colder than we could have imagined, small, white birds appeared before our eyes.  Almost immediately the feeling in everybody’s feet and hands started to leave and it felt like there would never be such a thing as warmth again.  After what seemed like hours of sitting in a cold, rectangular box-sleds we, the aliens on the land, were being shown something by one of the elders.  It was a herd of musk ox, a group of sturdy animals that live and survive in the deadliest of climates.  Here were these creatures that couldn’t give up.  They stop, they freeze, they die. 

This tundra was not nothing.  It held as much life and possibility as any other place but in order to see that one would have to be an observer, a perceiver, someone who can look at a situation and not only see what everyone sees but can see more, what makes a place special, unique, beautiful. 

Arriving back at the school was a relief.  I think I speak for my peers when I say that the first thing we wanted to do was shed all our outerwear, sit down and drink a hot chocolate.  My intentions were put on hold though when a chaperone called me into an office.  I thought I was in trouble. 

As soon as the door was closed and I was told to sit down I knew.  Before the words were out.  I knew but she told me anyway.  My brother, the person I had taken for granted the most, was gone.  He was 18, he wasn’t sick.  To the contrary, when I left, just three days earlier, he was on the mend.  He was different, more solid and more with it than he had ever been before.  Then he was gone.

I, on my first day of being 16 had never really experienced loss, let alone the loss of someone so close to me.  Those first moments were terrible.  If those moments went on forever life would not exist.  So much pain and emptiness is not life.  In that first hour in the office all was bleak.

I feel a connection between the tundra and the death of my brother.  Being on the land is not so much a metaphor for death as it is for processing such a huge event.  In both situations one is struck by overwhelming feelings but in time they fade and through pain or cold it is possible to stop, stand still, stare off into the distance and see what is good or just think about how life has led you in this direction.

The experience of losing my brother widened my understanding of life.  It helped me to begin the conscious search for adulthood that includes the embodiment of emotional maturity, confidence and sensibility.  When I look back over the last year I realize that my ability to observe has evolved into the ability to perceive.  Now I not only observe but also understand or at least try my best to do so.  To me perceiving is about looking at others and learning to accept and appreciate people and their differences. More and more I attempt to judge less and more fairly.  Truth, love and support is important in my life and that which is false, hateful and unhelpful is not welcome.

Loss of a loved one is a universal experience because everyone will experience death.  As stated earlier, not many people get the chance to visit locations so northerly and remote.  Similarly loss of a sibling at a young age is a less universal experience.  Even those who have had similar losses are not always open to taking that experience and using it to be led to growth and life-shaping opportunities. 

Each small aspect of every life affects when we grow and the level of growth to be achieved.  No matter who we are there is the opportunity to observe, to perceive, and to grow.

Friday, October 14, 2011

October 14

A year ago today was Kieran's surgery.

Interesting that although that day was in the top-2-worst-days-of-my-life, I didn't actually think of that anniversary for the first couple of hours that I was awake this morning.  It really just hit me now.  That was an intensely unbearable day of incredible fear and tension, as we waited for nine and a half hours to hear that it went well and that he was doing fine.

In the weeks leading up to the operation, I was seized by a mammoth-sized dread.  Kieran and I have always been wondrously connected; in retrospect it seems that my dread was based on some sort of deep knowing where this surgery would lead him.

That same deep connection that we had is perhaps also the reason that I could so clearly feel his spirit's expansion on the day that he died, and that on the next day I was miraculously blessed to so inexplicably yet clearly receive these words from him as if his spirit was loudly and joyously exclaiming: "The only thing that is real is love; all the rest is made up".

These words have been the guiding principle of my movement through the last twelve months, and I will share more around that process in future posts.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

While we're on the topic of poetry... another one of the voice students I work with brought a song in with some poetry that hit home. I just looked it up online and found it at a website that features "Popular Funeral Poetry", a category that for some reason I find amusing. (I do have an affinity for "black humour" at times, so please forgive me).
Anyway, it is indeed a lovely lyric, so I share it with you here:

If I should die and leave you here awhile,
be not like others, sore undone, who keep
long vigils by the silent dust, and weep.
For my sake, turn again to life and smile,
nerving thy heart and trembling hand to do
something to comfort weaker hearts than thine.
Complete those dear unfinished tasks of mine,
and I perchance may therein comfort you.
- Mary Lee Hall

This puts me in mind of another poem along the same lines, and again written by a Mary-three-names:

Do not stand at my grave and weep,
I am not there, I do not sleep,
I am a thousand winds that blow
I am the Diamond glints on snow
I am the sunlight on ripened grain
I am the gentle Autumn rain
When you awaken in the morning's hush
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quite birds in circled flight
I am the soft stars that shine at night
Do not stand at my grave and cry
I am not there, I did not die
- Mary Elizabeth Frye
This second poem was set by Canadian composer, Eleanor Daley as part of her Requiem...a beautiful choral piece:

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The wisdom of the poets

I did a lot of writing in the months following Kieran's death, and a lot of poetry-reading as well.  Somehow thoughts and feelings needed the rigour of being forced into words, while comfort was found in the poets who could express the expansiveness possible in the transition from life in the body to life of the spirit.  October brings the one-year mark since Kieran's surgery last year on the 14th, and his passing on the 27th, and so I find myself returning to those poets as the memories of a year ago rise to the surface.  Here are a few choice lines:


"We have circled and circled till
we have arrived home again - we two have,
we have voided all but freedom,
and all but our own joy."

"Do you see O my brothers and sisters?
It is not chaos or death -
it is form, union, plan -
it is eternal life.

It is happiness."

"How can the prisoner reach outside except by thrusting through the wall?"

"Oh, thou clear spirit, of thy fire thou madest me, and like a true child of fire, I breathe it back to thee."

"Never the spirit was born;
the spirit shall cease to be never;
Never was time it was not;
End and Beginning are dreams!"

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Touching Tribute

Kieran during NMC 2010 MT performance
As preparations for the November 19 premiere of Kieran's Song continue to ramp up, I just wanted to share my gratitude for the touching tribute that was paid to Kieran by his colleagues in the Musical Theatre program at National Music Camp.  It's a little over a month ago now, but it's not too late to publicly thank all of those who were involved.

To describe it for those of you who were not in attendance, the tribute took place after the final dress rehearsal of the Musical Theatre show put on by the high school students of Senior Week at camp.  Apparently they had completely rehearsed and prepared the number on their own.  There were probably at least 20 or two dozen participants spread out across the entire width of "Big Barney", the large performance space at NMC. The song chosen was "Borrowed Angel" by Kristen Chenoweth, and the lyrics were very appropriate and moving. The kids sang acapella and even had some choreography.
It was incredibly moving to see how connected they felt to Kieran, even still.

Thanks, you guys & gals!

Here are the lyrics:

They shine a little brighter, they feel a little more
They touch your life in ways no one has ever done before
They love a little stronger, they live to give their best
They make our lives so blest, so why do they go so soon?
The ones with souls so beautiful
I heard someone say--

There must be Borrowed Angels, here in this life 
They come along, into this world, and make this world bright
But they can't stay forever
Cause they're heaven sent
And sometimes, heaven needs them back again

They reach a little deeper, they see what's in your soul
And even when they leave you know, you'll never let them go
The world's a little richer, just cause they came along
Their love goes on and on, so why do they go so soon?
The ones with souls so beautiful. I heard someone say--

How else can you explain why they're here and not here to stay?
I believe there must be, must be...Borrowed Angels,...

Monday, October 10, 2011

Event Details for the World Premiere

St. Marys Children’s Choir presents the world premiere performance of
celebrating the life and legacy of Kieran Stroobandt

by Grammy nominee Roger Treece,
composer & producer of Bobby McFerrin’s 2010 release “VOCAbuLarieS”

Saturday, November 19 7:30 pm
Stratford Northwestern Secondary School Gymnasium, 428 Forman Ave
Admission by donation

Festival Youth Singers & FYS Vocal Jazz  - Rich Sumstad, conductor
Central Singers & Vocal Chords - Paula Ortelli, conductor
Lawrence Academy of Music Girl Choir (Appleton WI, USA) - Karen Bruno, conductor
Windsor-Essex Youth Choir - Susan Belleperche, conductor
& friends
conducted by Roger Treece

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Composer Roger Treece

Even though by now I have had several conversations with Roger and have the music in hand and have been with the Festival Youth Singers in rehearsal for the piece, I still find it hard to fathom that such an illustrious musician as Roger Treece is the composer of Kieran's Song and that he will be here to conduct the 130+ singers assembling for the world premiere on November 19.

As the excitement and planning for this once-in-a-lifetime event really begin to build, I encourage you to take a look at Roger's bio below and take a look at this video to see him in action:  Despite the crazy "camera-work" it gives you a great sense of the exciting vibe in performance.

Roger's Bio: Roger Treece designs musical experience: composing, arranging, producing, engineering, singing, and teaching. His work spans genres – classical, pop, jazz, commercial, world – and bridges mediums, equally comfortable in the studio or concert stage, integrating the perspective of the performer with the behind-the-scenes view of the producer.
His most ambitious project to date is the 2010 album VOCAbuLarieS, for which he was the lead architect, composing, orchestrating, recording, and editing seven extended compositions for voices, percussion, acoustic and virtual orchestra. Inspired by the improvisations of Bobby McFerrin, conceived by McFerrin’s manager, Linda Goldstien, and performed by Roger, McFerrin and 50 musicians from around the world, VOCAbuLarieS has been recognized as “a masterpiece”, “a glimpse of the future of choral music”, “a new standard for choral recording,” and has been nominated for three Grammy awards this year, including Best Instrumental Arrangement Accompanying Vocals and Best Engineered Album, Classical.
Treece has conducted and performed VOCAbuLarieS with Bobby McFerrin and select musicians at the Vienna Opera House, Jazz At Lincoln Center, the Oregon Bach Festival, Montreal Jazz Festival, Schleswig-Holstein, Stimmen, and Ravinia festivals and in Munich, Prague, San Francisco and London.
As a composer, Treece has been commissioned by musical organizations worldwide, including the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, The United Arab Emirates Ministry of Culture, the Danish Radio Symphony and Choir, the Los Angeles Master Chorale, the Chicago Children’s Choir.
His film and television credits include music for the Discovery Channel, Disneyworld, Microsoft, McDonalds, ABC, and The United Way, and he is author and singer of hundreds of jingles.
His arranging, production, and engineering for such artists as the Manhattan Transfer, American Idol’s Katherine McPhee, Barry Manilow, the New York Voices, the King’s Singers, and jazz legend Mark Murphy have earned him five Grammy nominations and 14 Downbeat awards.
Treece has also written hundreds of works for high school and college-level choir, orchestra, jazz band and chamber ensemble, many of which are published through the UNC JAZZ PRESS, Lindalamama, and Edition Ferrimontana.
An impassioned educator and clinician, he has taught extensively in both the US and in every country in Europe, helping thousands of musicians of all age groups toward virtuosic musicianship and stylistic flexibility in all aspects of composing and arranging, as well as vocal performance skills, integrating improvisation and world music techniques with traditional vocal pedagogy.
His Circlesongs curriculum, a program of study in composition, arranging, rhythm, conducting for singers, has been adopted for integration into the curriculum of the Royal Danish Academy of Music.
Roger is a member of ASCAP and NARAS.

Saturday, October 8, 2011


Continuing grace: the other day a young singer brought a song to her voice lesson, a song which was new to me. My mind was blown by the aptness of the text, three short stanzas taken from a poem by Rabindranath Tagore. Simply and beautifully these words capture exactly the essence of Kieran's Song and will form a type of invocation and intention for the November 19th event:

This song of mine will wind its music around you,
my child, like the fond arms of love.

The song of mine will touch your forehead
like a kiss of blessing.

And when my voice is silenced in death,
my song will speak in your living heart.

The full text is found here:
(Grateful to RB for bringing this to me.)

Friday, October 7, 2011

Thoughts on life and death

I urge you to read this blog post by Jennifer Johannesen.

I met Jennifer a few months ago and we shared stories. Jennifer's eldest child, her son Owen died three days before Kieran's death. Jennifer is a deeply intelligent and articulate writer and has recently released her book "No Ordinary Boy". Jennifer's blog "Yes or No" is so thoughtful and articulate, and I find her observations and experiences following Owen's death reflect my own experiences. Today's post is a beautiful piece on the idea of universal morality.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Thursday, September 1, 2011

More thoughts from Roger Treece I work on this music I find myself affected and touched by Kieran's life and legacy,
which appears to me to be no less than a call for us to love in his stead.

 What One can do,
 Another can do
 What he has begun
 We continue

If one of us can learn to love better because of his life,
Then this is not just a celebration,
but a graduation.
Anyone touched by Kieran has now the chance to turn a corner
in their own lives and love beyond themselves.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Words from the composer

Many thanks to Roger Treece for sharing these thoughts:

"I have no doubt that it is Kieran who has led me to this realization that I can simply choose gratitude today."

Hey Everyone: I thought this quote by Kieran's mother, Sandra, is very important to highlight, because it touches on something that I've been thinking about and asking as I write this piece: what does a life mean? What does any life bring to all other lives?

What Sandra wrote expressed that so eloquently: that Kieran's life has taught her, among other other things, gratitude; that she can be thankful for whatever this day brings. (May be a title in there somewhere!)

I want this piece to have meaning not only for those of us who knew Kieran, but also for those who will never have the privilege of knowing him.
As I write this music I keep asking myself "What is the most important thing to say in this piece?"

So I ask you now: what three things did Kieran's life bring to you? mean to you? teach you?

The answers to these questions enrich our celebration of his life and, therefore, enrich our experience of our everyday lives and every day of our lives to come.

Roger Treece

Friday, August 19, 2011

Kieran's birthday

As August 19th was nearing, I found myself both dreading the day and wondering how to mark the occasion.  It would have been Kieran's "champagne birthday", 19 on the 19th and it would have been the day he could legally order his own champagne here in Ontario.

I found myself dreading the emptiness and fearing the emotions that I would have to wrestle with. I couldn't figure out what would be the most fitting way to mark this day. But this morning I woke up with a realization that I have a choice in how I experience this day. It need not be heavy.  It can be an opportunity to really focus on gratitude for and celebration of Kieran's birth into this world, and a time to notice how his huge, gregarious and gentle spirit genuinely continues to be expressed in so many ways.  He is very, very present, tangibly so.

For 18 years, 2 months, and 8 days, I took care of my son in the best ways I knew how, and now... he clearly is taking care of me, and of all of those he loves.  I have no doubt that it is Kieran who has led me to this realization that I can simply choose gratitude today.

Please mark November 19 on your calendar and join us at the premiere performance of "Kieran's Song"; it will indeed be a joyous celebration.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Save the date!

A very important detail has been settled with respect to this project: the world premiere performance of "Kieran's Song" will be Saturday, November 19, 2011!   Please put this in your calendar, as it promises to be quite an exciting and meaningful event.

The location is still to be confirmed, but will likely be in Stratford.   The St. Marys Children's Choir and Festival Youth Singers will be joined by visiting choirs for this concert, and the composer Roger Treece will be here conducting!

Stay tuned.  Lots more details to come.
Roger Treece 

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Grace (II) (be sure to read Grace (I) first) I was listening to this song, originally written by Danish singer-songwriter Mads Langer, the expansiveness of the phrases as they climbed to the climax felt to me exactly like the energy of expansion that I feel from Kieran's spirit after his passing. As I was driving through the beautiful hills of New York state this sounded to me like an exact sonic expression of the limitlessness that Kieran was striving for.  At this moment, I got a sudden, deep knowing that somehow there was a connection between this music, this "coincidental" stumbling upon the Bobby McFerrin concert with Roger Treece and Vocal Line and the commission of the song to celebrate Kieran.  I didn't know exactly what this all meant, but it all felt very grace-filled and perfect.  Somehow, something, someone in this would lead us to the composer of the piece.

As we drove homeward we listened to the Vocal Line CD five times through in a row; we loved it so much. We were more than half-way home before finally taking a break from that recording!

The following Friday, Roger Treece came to St. Marys, Ontario to give some workshops.  His first workshop was with local high school students. I only attended the tail end of that session, but I was so impressed to hear Roger speak to these students very sincerely of matters of the heart and of the soul.  I doubt these kids hear things expressed at this level very often.

Following the workshop, I was introduced to Roger and unashamedly began to gush and spew forth my story of how I had stumbled upon the Bobby McFerrin concert in NYC the week before, about listening to the Vocal Line CD, and about Kieran and the project to celebrate his life.  We spent an hour or so over a beer, and I am sure I was a little much for a first meeting, but Roger was super gracious and apparently interested in my stories.  I was so moved by his response when at one point he clicked on his iPhone recording app and asked me to tell him what kind of person Kieran was.

The following day was a joy-filled workshop for the Festival Youth Singers with Roger.  I joined in, as did Siobhan. He worked with us in the process he calls "circle singing", which involves living in the moment, improvising, and singing communally...all of which fit very well with my state of BEing.

Over the course of our first conversation and a couple of further conversations that weekend, things unfolded toward the point where it seemed clear that indeed it was to be Roger Treece himself who would compose this song celebrating Kieran.  I dared not ask, yet it seemed that this was indeed of interest to Roger. Right from the start of our conversations, I strongly felt that Roger really got it: he intuitively understands who Kieran was and the effect that he had on so many people, and he is very tuned into how important it is to express this musically for the community.

If someone had suggested to me that I should ask Bobby McFerrin's record producer and musical director to do this project, I doubt whether I would have taken them seriously. But, as I keep saying, this is absolutely a grace-filled and perfect fit. Kieran deserves nothing less.

Grace (I)

Last November, three days after the service celebrating Kieran's life, Siobhan & I left Stratford for a road trip to New York City. We really needed a change of scenery BIGTIME and NYC felt like it would be the right vibe for us at that moment.  I drove the very familiar ten-hour route, starting the trip with a couple of days in our old stomping grounds of Princeton, NJ before getting to the big city.

Recently I had reconnected with a childhood friend (through facebook, what else?) who now lived in NYC in the Upper West Side.  She and her husband had graciously and generously offered that we could stay at their apartment for the week.  We spent those days very much living in the mode of "going with the flow", only doing what we felt like doing at the moment, and never planning ahead by more than a few hours. BEing.

BEing involved mainly eating, sleeping, walking, and a bit of shopping.  By the end of the week, Friday, I felt it was time to take in some sort of major New York cultural event: perhaps an opera or a concert of some sort.  I called various box offices for tickets repeatedly throughout the day, hoping to be able to attend something cool that evening.  I tried the Metropolitan Opera, New York City Opera, Lincoln Centre, Carnegie Hall; all of which were sold out. Repeated suggestions to call back in a while to see if any tickets had been returned: I called, and called, and called, to no avail.

As I took a break from phoning, I spotted a "what's on" type of magazine on my friend's coffee table, and in it there was an ad for a Bobby McFerrin concert that night at the Rose Theatre. Perfect, I thought. Siobhan had recently been introduced to some of his recordings through her work with jazz singer Melissa Stylianou, so it would be right up her alley to see Bobby McFerrin in concert.  Except that...of course when I called the box office I was told once again that this too was sold out.

Giving up hope of getting to any snazzy concert that night, we decided to just get out and go for another walk.  As we walked down Columbus Ave, Siobhan suggested that since we hadn't been to Times Square since the days when we lived in New Jersey, maybe we should walk there. Fine, why not?

We came to Columbus Circle, where Columbus and Broadway meet, and I noticed the Rose Theatre with its big "Jazz at Lincoln Center" sign, and realized that was the venue of the Bobby McFerrin concert. I suggested we just look in and check once more at the box office for tickets.  Joy of joys, four tickets had just been returned - so needless to say, I purchased two of them!

As there were still a few hours 'til showtime, we continued our walk down to Times Square, grabbed a fancy gelato, and then back up to the Rose Theatre well in time.  We settled into our seats and started to look through the program.  The first thing I noticed was that as there was going to be some sort of back-up group in this show, there was also a musical director.  The name of the musical director JUMPed out at me: Roger Treece - Roger Treece?! The same Roger Treece who was going to be coming to St. Marys, Ontario the following week to work with OUR choir, the Festival Youth Singers?! ("OUR" meaning that I accompany that choir this year, Kieran had been singing in it, and the piece we were having commissioned to celebrate Kieran would be written for this choir)  I had personally never encountered Roger before this but our illustrious FYS conductor, Rich Sumstad had spoken very highly of him, saying that he was the real deal.  Yeah, you're not kidding he's the REAL deal, on Broadway, with Bobby McFerrin!

The next thing I noticed on the program was the list of names of people in the back-up choir: nearly all the names were Danish names! I found this quite surprising as Denmark (my father's homeland) is such a small country...and what are the chances? Sure enough, they all belonged to a vocal jazz group known as "Vocal Line", based in Aarhus, Denmark.

The concert was wonderful and joyous and was followed by a Q&A given by Bobby on stage. We purchased "Vocal Line"'s new CD release on the way out and I even had an opportunity to speak some Danish while doing so.  Two days later, we left New York to return home. We opened the CD & began listening to it in the car as soon as we finally found our way onto the right highway. We were very drawn in by this sound, this music...a really captivating and excellent recording.  As we were listening to the final track, a tune called Fact/Fiction, at around 3 minutes 50 seconds into the tune in fact...I started to get a very strong epiphany-like feeling...

(please see "Grace II" for the continuing story)