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The Gift of Time

Updated: May 4

A picture of Irene Feher looking out of a train window
On my way to Guelph

As I draft this blog, I am sitting on a train on my way to Guelph Ontario where I will be introducing the philosophy and improvisation forms of Music for People and contemporary vocal techniques at a women’s music retreat. I also get to spend time with my host, a wonderful MfP colleague and musician, Jane Lewis. 

I love the feeling of timelessness that travel brings. I am in a suspended state of transition making my way to a new place, to meet new people and have new experiences. I’m filled with anticipation. I feel temporarily lighter with only one suitcase and my guitar to take care of. 

Through the window I watch how I am propelled by the train through the landscape. I am grateful to be out of the city, and I savour the sights of spring. 

I am then struck by the relative speed of the images moving in front of my eyes. These images in motion inspire a symphonic movement. The stillness of a big blue sky with sun and clouds evokes the sound of a rich drone played on open 5ths by the cello section. The fields in the distance bring forth sweet pastoral melodies played by the violas and violins, the clumps of trees in the distance with buds opening in transparent spring green appear as phrases from the flutes and piccolos. A freight train suddenly overtakes the scene. It’s moving in the opposite direction as it flies past my window, I hear timpani and percussion. The rumble disappears as suddenly as it appears. The objects in the foreground, trees and bushes flutter past like fast running lines in the woodwind section. The power lines and paths flow like lyrical melodies from the brass section. I look down at the tracks flying by in a frantic sequence of notes and I hear a low pitched rumble or tremolo. As the tracks disappear, so does the rumble. 

Like my train ride, I am propelled through time. It seems to move quickly and slowly at the same time, like the layers of rhythms played by the instruments in a song or symphonic movement. 

Letting go of my overly scheduled life for an extended period of time is a gift. It makes me appreciate my life, my creativity, my work, and my music. 

We all have time, and we have the power to choose how we want to use it. Sometimes it’s easier to choose how than at other times. As I age, I value my time more and more as a precious gift to be used with care. 

When I improvise, it feels similar to taking a trip. I can choose to completely immerse myself in the trip or I can choose to plan and control everything. Improvisation has taught me to release, let go of expectations, be present, and allow time to unfold. Sometimes I am propelled to play/sing loud and fast, soft and fast, or slow and gentle. Sometimes I might be moving at a completely different pace than my fellow players. In those instances, I can choose to be the big sky hovering above the rush or the flowing paths and power lines adding a broad melodic line of sustained notes amidst the rush of sounds. In that way, I’m choosing how I want to be in time, adapting to, and enjoying the experience. In travel, it’s the unplanned excursions, encounters or detours that are often the most memorable. 

Being present in the moment lets me experience all the layered nuances of our perception of time. Sometimes time just flies by and sometimes it stands still. Sometimes I want to fill every single moment with activity and sometimes, I just need to pull back and allow time to unfold. The magic happens when I can let myself dance with time. 

Playing in time

When I drum, or do vocal percussion, I can tell if I am tired, preoccupied or tense. When I am ahead of the beat, or behind it. When I am in the beat, Jazz players refer to it as “in the pocket”, I am in time. I love that expression of being in time. Sometimes I feel grounded and other times I feel propelled. It’s ever changing. 

Try this:

Look at a photograph or movie, and play what you see in the photograph. Even better, stand or sit in nature and play or sing a duet with the sights and sounds around you. 

Notes for the video: This free improvisation was recorded on Ile Saint-Bernard in August of 2020. It was during the pandemic and the number of COVID cases had dramatically dropped offering us a chance to leave confinement. I was lucky enough to travel with a dear friend, Dominique, to Ile Saint-Bernard, an island with a nature park that is part of the Hochelaga Archipelago, also known as the Montreal Islands, at the confluence of the Saint Lawrence and Ottawa Rivers in the southwestern part of the Province of Quebec. It is of note that Montreal is the largest island of this group of islands. 

We were sitting on a mat in a wooded area, the wind was blowing through the trees and birds and insects were singing. We felt so at peace. I could sometimes hear the water. We played a duet on two RAV VAST steel tongue drums. It was a beautiful sunny afternoon, we were cooled by the shade of the trees. 

We did not feel the time pass. We allowed time to unfold. Immersed in our song. Enjoy the ambiance. 

The images include some taken during our visit to the island, and some from today’s train trip! 


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