Hearing Kiri Te Kanawa

by Elaine Logan

When we first met, my husband told me about a piece of music. "You have to hear this," he said. "It’s like hearing the voice of God…." Later, after we married, he bought me a tape of Kiri Te Kanawa singing Canteloube's "Chants D'Auvergne" Series 1, 2, and 3— folk songs a medieval shepherdess sings to her lover across a mountain meadow in France. I used to listen to it before going to work in the mornings. We had a one-bedroom apartment in Boulder, Colorado—a pigeon roost in a cinder-block complex on the northeast corner of North Street and Ninth, close in to the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. David always caught a bus early to roast coffee beans in a warehouse at his job across town. I took my breakfast later.

Lying back on the blue love seat in our wood-paneled living-room, I’d drink tea and eat a supposedly English muffin with cream cheese and blueberry jelly and golden drips of butter oozing out the sides while I listened to that music. I used to feel like the luckiest, happiest person in the world. Kiri Te Kanawa’s voice rang strong, rang clear. She set the tone for my day.

After this rich breakfast, I’d walk a few blocks to my job at a non-profit organization downtown. Wearing my yellow cotton dress, cinched at the waist with a wide, woven leather belt, I felt life was good. I could feel the coolness of my lemon-drop antique glass beads around my neck. I could hear my peach-colored woven leather moccasins tapping along the sidewalk. The sun touched my skin.

One thing led to another. The Earth circled the Sun a number of times. We came up in the world. We bought a second hand Silver Pontiac Phoenix. On Sundays we’d tour around the Colorado countryside telling each other which yellow-painted farmhouses we’d like to live in. We hiked up and down dusty mountain trails….

One day we came back to the car to find the Kiri Te Kanawa tape melted on the back seat. By this time we had a home CD player so we didn’t think a lot about losing a tape. We were slowly losing interest in tapes. We didn’t have the CD for this music, so we let it go.

Another couple of years passed. David and I had a son. We called him Rowan after a Scottish tree with red berries. We didn’t make it through the tough times. We separated, then divorced.

The last time we talked about Kiri Te Kanawa's Chants D'Auvergne, David told me it was out of print. You couldn't get it any more. He had tried, and found you could only get Series 4 and 5. I listened to Series 4 and 5 and wasn't too impressed. I didn't think about it again for a long time. I just turned it into one more thing my ex-husband told me I couldn’t have.

Another few years passed. Our son passed back and forth between us, his divorced parents. We attended his basketball games at separate times. Different priorities drew the lines across our relations. Distance moved us forward along new roads.

Sometime in this past year my ex-husband lent me some classical music CDs—Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, Handel’s Messiah, Bach’s St. Matthew Passion. I noticed one of them was Kiri Te Kanawa singing Chants D'Auvergne. I didn't pay it much attention. I assumed it was the Series 4 and 5 songs. I had a lot on my mind just keeping pace with my latest technical writing job, keeping pace with my growing son, keeping pace with the new yellow-painted house I had bought.

Somehow the Kiri Te Kanawa CD ended up in my desk drawer at work when I brought in some CDs to listen to when I go to the gym. It lay there unnoticed a while. Then I got the news about my Dad’s illness. Traveling to Scotland and my father dying and tending to family concerns, I pretty much ignored a lot of things in the next couple months.

I noticed it again when I cleaned up my office and my desktop. Even then, I listened to the Beatles Magical Mystery Tour first. Penny Lane, daah da-rah da-dah, da rah da, dah da rah….

After an hour or so of daah-da-rah dah-da, I hit the eject button and the CD holder slid out of the computer. With two-fingered expertise, I gripped the silver disc at the edge and the cutout center, and slid it into a cellophane envelope. I unclipped the Kiri Te Kanawa CD from its plastic case, dropped it into the vinyl holder, and hit the close button. I planned to listen to it the next day. I was still thinking it was Series 4 and 5, not expecting anything special.

Out of curiosity though, I kept the headphones on and listened to the first few notes as the disc spun up. Maybe it wasn’t as bad as I remembered it. "Colo pastoura se nom als camps..." –the crisp words of the first song from Series 1 rang in my ears.

But it wasn't words or notes I heard. I felt something reach over and touch me. It was a feeling coming back to me—of how it felt to walk to work on those mornings 15 years ago with an open heart, confident that each crisp footstep landing on the concrete American sidewalk would follow the last toward an inevitable appreciation of everything I met, confident that love roared through my arteries and that things would always be this simple, confident that later this day I would smell the pungent musk of chocolate hazelnut coffee mixed with a coffee-roaster’s sweat when David walked through the apartment door, confident that I would hear his deep, soporific voice murmuring into the skin on my neck, his beard rustling, tickling, later his brown eyes seeking mine, the black pupils widening into a larger hello that I would happily return. That feeling told me that I, too, walked along a happy mountain top, singing to my lover like the shepherdesses of the Auvergne folk songs.

Walking up the little hill on Ninth Street and then along Portland Place past lemon-painted clapboard houses with wedding-cake trim and down past the humming traffic on Broadway toward Spruce Street in 1980s Boulder on the Denver plateau—that didn’t seem like too much of a stretch.

That feeling hadn’t gone so deep perhaps in examining life, had just presented a youthful generosity and hoped for the best. But I'm glad to remember so freshly the joy of it—not because I want to go back, but because I’m ready to go on. It shows me again that the proper attitude to life, to all the things and all the people one has met, is one of respect and gentleness and even awe. It feels good to remember now. It heals the scars of disappointment that formed after divorce.

Remembering what it felt like to dream the dream of life without a second guess heals my courage.


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