DIY Weddings are Easy When . . .

. . . you have a world of friendly resources at your beck and call. So, technically, it’s not DIY at all of course but rather Così fan tutte. [Ed: roughly translated, ‘Everybody’s doing it’.] It’s not, even then, for the faint of heart, because let’s face it, unless you’re having the always admirable super short, informal adventure of standing in front of a Justice of the Peace or of surprising your immediate family in the middle of dessert one weekend with a five-minute ceremony, there are a host of details that might need to be given eventual consideration. Beyond simply making sure that the two people who are getting married actually show up at the same time in the same place, there are a handful of legal elements that generally should be taken care of before the event, if it’s to have any official standing. And from there, the possibilities expand exponentially. I suppose it’s not wholly shocking that the process might lead to the development of a few dysfunctional bumps and bruises among family, friends and support staff along the way.photoBut I hate confrontation and stress, and the very idea of becoming such a parody-inspiring Marriage Monster appalls me. And when we decided to marry, I don’t doubt it occurred to me that my intended, Richard, might equally abhor the idea of a painful process and wedding day. So we were both very happy to treat the whole thing something like an elaborate concert performance, perhaps a cheery semi-staged operetta, and to act as artistic directors and performers, yes, but also to let a great slew of friends, relatives and acquaintances carry out as much of the heavy lifting as possible along the way. After all, though we intended to have a good time and hoped everyone else would too, the real point of the occasion was that at the end of the day we would be more married than we were at the beginning of it.

Being a visual artist, I had no shortage of ideas about how I wanted various things to look, from invitations and service bulletins and guest books to the floral arrangements, wedding party dress and church decor, to the tables and food at the reception. And I had pretty extravagant ideas, at that. But I didn’t have a huge quantity of money to invest in it (nor did my parents) and I deeply dislike the idea of spending ghastly sums on a single event that, while important and hopefully happily memorable, is still only one actual day of life. What, I should spend my life savings on a single party?

That’s where one’s personal fortune in community has so much more than monetary value, though I’ll readily grant you that ours, in sharing their talents and efforts with us for the occasion, saved us a ton of money. We married in the church across the street from the university where we both worked, since not only were we members there but it was so handily located for so many of our friends, students and colleagues who were also part of the university community. I had a fairly easy time imagining how to use and decorate the church, since a few years previously, I’d served on the committee that oversaw a massive renovation of the space, taking part in all elements of the design from seating arrangement to finishes, and designing the new altar, font, pulpit, rail, crosses and incidental furnishings that were built for it.photoSo I opted to fill the space with a different kind of design, making a couple dozen banners to hang on walls, fly from the light boxes in the ceilings, display on stands in the narthex and chancel, and be carried in procession by fine young friends strolling in en route (to light candles) and out (to the reception hall) along with the wedding party. Already a banner maker for church and event commissions, I had lots of material and experience, so I sewed, painted and otherwise assembled the banners myself (from the flying ones at about 36 inches in length to the main chancel banner that was about 26 feet), and I got good help with putting together the stands and hanging mechanisms and installing them all at the last minute when we could get into the nave to do the work.photo montageThat’s a constant with weddings and parties in all sorts of venues other than Home: no access for prep and installation and other setup work until the last minute. So because I am a control freak, a design nut and also someone who really wanted to just have fun and enjoy my actual wedding day, I plotted and planned and prepped everything I could, along with my Intended and a slew of family, friends and other helpful conspirators. First, of course, it was essential to get all the actors on board and ‘synchronize our watches’, since it’s a busy crew and driven by a multitude of crazy calendar iterations. Once that was established, the work of service and reception planning commenced.

The earliest necessity, since I didn’t want predictable or expensive floral arrangements but love flowers, was to plant and tend flowers in Mom’s garden and that of our good friend Claudia, next door to her. By the time our July wedding rolled around, I had gathered the ribbon and wire and other essentials and been offered by the lovely Linda, a friend who was chief florist for the university’s official events, that if I handed over the materials she would provide us with her gorgeous bouquets and boutonnieres and corsages for all and sundry, so all I needed to do at the last minute was go a-gathering in their yards with my two beloved garden-gnome ladies and then give buckets full of fresh beauty to Linda on the day.

Meanwhile, much brainstorming and list-making was underway with the able assistance of others, so that everything essential would be pre-arranged too and not worrisome. All of the print materials derived from a combination of my photos of iris leaves, text typeset by one of my sisters in fonts I’d chosen, getting printing done by the local quick printers (with whom I’d done many work projects) on their green ink printing day of the week and then doing all of the black ink stuff on copiers and folding/collating things myself while I was calligraphing the invitation envelopes, closing them with an inexpensive gold seal and a swash of purply interference paint and a rubber stamp message noting that the music would begin a full half hour before the service. We did, after all, know that there would be lots of my fiance’s fellow musicians both participating and attending.

Clergy? That was about the easiest part to decide, since as a cleric’s daughter I could just tap Dad. So the church’s lead pastor presided, Dad officiated, and a sweet retired pastor friend served as lector. Since Dad was robing up for the pastoral gig, I decided to have one of my uncles sashay down the aisle with me, and he kindly acquiesced to my request for an escort. Our organist, our great friend Jim, was also standing up for us, so he did a bit of trotting up and down the aisle, but in great Jim style. As one of four sisters, I had the easiest time choosing three attendants, but it was simple for my groom to line up the perfect support team, too, between his one brother and Jim and another of our close friends who happened to be Richard’s choral conducting partner at the university as well. Friends from various places rounded out the team, serving as greeters, acolytes, and our wonderfully hospitable reception hosts. One of our brothers in law was chief photographer, taking a batch of group wedding party photos just before the church began to fill, and all of the rest of the pictures came from a combination of photos friends sent us and the box full of disposable cameras we’d distributed on the reception tables and collected for development at the end of the day. This proved a serendipity because it both gave us some fun candids from the kids’ point of view and kept some of the younger partiers entertained during the reception as well.

photo

I designed and made stoles for Dad and the presiding minister, too.

My sisters readily agreed to help pick out simple black dresses they’d actually have a hope of wanting to wear again later, and we managed to find a great deal on them and choose a design that, happily, was made of a very stretchy fabric, since it turned out that one sister was curvaceously pregnant by the time our wedding day rolled around (no pun intended). I sewed a violet voile shawl edged in emerald green for each of them, and a scarf of the same to tie back my hair rather than having a veil, something that would anyway have looked a bit odd since I didn’t want to wear a white gown. Besides that I tend to look a little too much like a corpse when wearing white, I too wanted to have a dress with reuse potential, especially if I was investing a couple hundred dollars in all of the fabrics, so I made my shawl from iridescent emerald voile, the same fabric that I lined with dark emerald taffeta for the body of my skirt and bodice. The bodice, made in a sort of weskit shape, I stitched with self-colored silk soutache. While I cut and serged all of the pieces of my layered fabric for the dress and made my underskirt, my mother generously did all of the finish sewing on the top and skirt. Designing and sewing just the soutache provided enough adventure for this semi-skilled seamstress. I did, however, go dress shopping with both of our moms, and we found one a perfect-condition consignment dress for a great price and the other, a clearance two piece dress/jacket combination for $10. The guys wore rented tuxes, mainly because the groom owned a white tie and tails conducting getup and nothing like a plain black suit, and I figured if I was going to have a wedding more formal than a zippy elopement, I still did want to get all spiffed up. Not averse to having fun, and all that jazz.

photo

photo

[Ed: No, we weren’t all pretending to be The Dread Pirate Roberts–I’m just providing a dash of privacy for family and friends.]

The fabrics and ribbons left over from manufacturing banners and dresses and shawls got trimmed and saved up for dressing the reception tables, along with a multitude of candlesticks from home that I loaded up and lit. To keep reception food fuss to a relative minimum, we opted to have the party in the fellowship hall at the church. That way, also, there was no monkeying around with additional travel, hall-finding and parking issues, party setup in a separate venue, or the time required for all of those add-ons. And we figured the social aspect was the primary reason for having a reception at all, not fussy edibles meant mostly to impress people, so we went to our favorite farmers’ market and bought a bunch of lovely fresh fruits to complement the array of nuts, chocolates and home-baked cookies that were the main bites. Friends and relatives gifted us with many of the cookies, and the baked centerpiece was a traditional Norwegian kransekake (more a stack of crisp-chewy almond meringue biscuit rings than cake) made by our Norwegian brother-in-law and my mother. As it turned out, yet another set of friends surprised us with a second lovely kransekake, so we were all in cookie heaven. A very fine place, indeed, and not only on a wedding day.photo

In Dreamland

I live in my imagination. And I’m an artist. And further, I want to invite others into my imaginings, at least some of the time. I haven’t got endless resources when it comes to the skills and tools and knowledge it might require to make images that other people can indwell in the same way I experience them. When I ‘go to my happy place’, so to speak, I’d like to be able to take others along with me. It’s always so magical there that I want to share the delirious sweetness of the experience with anyone else who might like to try it.photoMuch to my surprise, I discovered recently that one of the characteristic things I do, and have done for as long as I can remember, is a technique that is now embodied in a photographic format so tremendously popular that it’s taken even to the point of software being developed to help accomplish the trick for you and dramatically called HDR (High Dynamic Range) imaging.  I am less dramatic myself, apparently, as I’ve always simply thought of my little tweak as good old-fashioned exaggeration. What this discovery (at this late date) says the most is that I’m slow to catch a clue. But it’s also somewhat heartening to me to think that despite my lingering ignorance of HDR–among innumerable things of which I am miraculously ignorant–I have actually been practicing techniques aimed at accomplishing what is newly center stage again in the visual art world.  Who knew. Me, being fashion-forward. Ha.photoI’ve long since striven to bring out the contrast and depth and the separation between different components of my visual compositions by intensifying various parts of the art a bit beyond plain statement of fact. I suspect that most of us at least feel that we see (never mind experience) the things we see with greater intensity than we could hope to fully convey to those around us. A little push might be required to help others to enter into our worlds fully. More saturated color. Wider contrast between the lights and darks. Sharper definition of edges, even to the degree of incorporating bits of ‘outline’ to imitate the separation our eyes naturally make in transitions between unlike values and textures and colors in the real world. And, in photography, since I can manipulate my pictures readily now that I’m a digital shooter, exaggerating those qualities in various parts of the photos by changing the pixels.photoThe joke’s on me, of course, because lacking either a camera that has HDR bracketing and stitching capabilities or the know-how or software to use any sophisticated quick-click methods to accomplish this look, I still plod through it by selecting the tones and textures, the areas of emphasis and low-contrast, and saturating or desaturating different parts of my pictures all by laborious hand-tooled means. My true artistry may be my unique ability to be both forward-thinking and backward-doing at one and the same time. But I’m okay with that, if it makes it easier for other people to find their way into my images. You’re all welcome in here too, you know.

Lily of the Valley

photoOne of the rituals of fending off the dregs of winter’s chill is to linger in the hothouses and aisles of flower shops and every place that stocks us up with ideas and plants as we rejuvenate the landscape for the year. A splash of heated color draws the eye; the flash and gleam of leaves caught in each little draft pulls us in, from some pale-margined broad-leafed plant off to some lacy other. The faint sound of their fluttering evokes both sylvan breeze and birdsong and reminds us, beyond those, of springs and fountains drawn to life as winter thaws.

Perhaps the most evocative and pleasing sense that spring and summer lie in wait somewhere not far at all: perfume–the heady redolence that wafts from hyacinths and jasmine blooms, from sweet Viola odorata, from each little honeyed heart that says that life will soon return to earth. One of my favorites for sheer intensity and unstained loveliness of scent is Lily of the Valley–those clean, brilliant bells that cloister in the moss and keep their meditative calm a little secret ’til I’m close enough to catch their drift and see their whiteness glinting in the green. It may be, too, that breathing that intensity of air when these petite white satin blooms nod in the breeze calls up an atavistic searching in my blood. I start to hear that most beloved of Swedish songs (forgive me, my Norwegian forebears–but we were still ‘run’ by our cousins the Swedes until we parted ways in the early 20th century) resonating somewhere in the distance of earth’s slow axial turn, tolling in a sweetly sorrowful voice the tale of the grieving Lily King. Spring is like that–pierced with the lingering poignancy of winter’s deadly grip, but with an insistent, gorgeous urge to let earth be reborn; no matter the loss, the sorrow and the bygone things, to carry forward with what perfumed sweetness it can find.

The Romantic Nationalism that has periodically gripped the music world and produced such pleasures as David Wikander’s exquisite melody for poet Gustav Fröding’s Kung Liljekonvalje is that way too: longing for the old, but wanting something new raised up in it, like the rebirth that comes with spring. Sorrow and joy can mingle then, glowing with possibility and pain, with hesitation and with hope.

The text is sorrowful but evocative, I think, of the intensely bittersweet beauty of the Lily of the Valley; it isn’t hard to see how this must have captured the dark imaginings of many a Northerner in a Romantic frame of mind. I’ve included a translation of my own, meant not as a literal one but rather an attempt to understand something more of the character of the tale and perhaps, indeed, how it grew out of dreaming over the bowing bells of a tiny blooming thing, searching in its ice-white blossoms for promises of better and brighter things.

Kung Liljekonvalje                                  King Lily of the Valley

Kung Liljekonvalje av dungen                  King Lily-of-the-Valley’s in the green-wood,
Kung Liljekonvalje är vit som snö             King Lily-of-the-Valley, who is white as snow,
Nu sörjer unga kungen                            The young king now mourning his maiden,
Prinsessan liljekonvalje mö                      Princess Lily-of-the-Valley, in woe

Kung liljekonvalje han sänker                  King Lily-of-the-Valley now lowers                  
Sitt sorgsna huvud så tungt och vekt      His heavy head so burdened with grief
Och silverhjälmen blanker                       And on his silver helm gleams the sunset,
I sommerskymningen blekt                      Pale dusk that can bring no relief

Kring bårens spindelvävar                       Round her cold bier the cobwebs are woven,
Från rökelsekaren med blomsterstoft       And hang from censers flow’r-filled & spent,
En virak sakta svävar                               Their frankincense drifting down slowly,
All skogen är full av doft                          The forest all filled with the scent

Från björkens gungande krona                From birches’ swaying crowns to their bases,
Från vindens vaggande gröna hus          From winds that rock the green-wood’s home
Små sorgevisor tona                                Small tunes, songs of sadness and mourning
All skogen är uppfylld av sus                   Fill all of the woods as they roam

Det susar ett bud genom dälden             And rustle as wind through the glen; find
Om kungssorg bland viskande blad       The King all cloaked in whispering leaves
I skogens vida välden                              As full sorrow falls on the wood-world,
Från liljekonvaljernas huvudstad             The whole of the Valley still grieves . . .P&I drawing

The Very Music of the Air

My husband’s parents are longtime travelers and music lovers. In addition to being their son’s chief cheerleaders and supporters in his musical career from the beginning, they have always enjoyed listening to all sorts of other music, particularly jazz, and in that, particularly big band and swing music. They love live music and have gone many times on road trips to various jazz festivals over the years, and Mom called this afternoon with an enthusiastic review of their just-completed trip down to the Newport Jazz Festival. They don’t do any of this by halves: it’s a serious pack up the car and leave home expedition for these two, in this case a drive from east of Seattle where they live on south down the Washington corridor to Astoria (just over the Oregon border) to meet a couple of good friends at a restaurant before they trek their last couple of hours down the coast to Newport, Oregon where they stay for the festival. They attend a number of concerts and events every time, and this time opted for the additional festival closing candlelight dinner with its own live music. And of course, being Mom and Dad, they also took a couple of side trips to see an old friend (possibly younger than they are) who doesn’t get around as much, and to go a bit farther down the coast for an extra stay in a seashore place they love. And the centerpiece of the trip is, on these expeditions, certainly still the music–they take such contagious joy in the variety of performers and styles and pieces and concerts they hear each time and, I think, are fueled by them with a bit of a new lease on life each time too. Music does do that to us, as I might have mentioned once or twice in these posts . . .

digital drawing imageI think of all the lives that have been changed by music–and the music-makers who have changed the lives of us listeners who get to experience it–and am astounded yet again by the potency of this communal experience. What would it be like to [shudder!] have a world with no composers, no violinists, no Dave Grusin, no African drummers, no klezmer bands, no Ray Charles, no Elly Ameling, no Chinese opera, no Eric Clapton, no mariachi, no Baroque oboists, no ZZ Top, no reggae, ska or zydeco music, no Ella Fitzgerald, no oud or sitar, no Jussi Björling? An unimaginably dark place, that world, if you ask me!digital drawing imageI’m always immensely pleased to hear Mom and Dad have had another marvelous time out exploring and savoring the countryside. Of course there’s the simple delight in knowing they’re happy. But besides that, through these adventures of theirs they keep up with an enormous cadre of family and friends all over the country, take interest in a mind-boggling range of cultural and historical sites and sights along the way, admire the breathtaking breadth of the American landscape and its ever-changing character, meet and adopt fascinating people everywhere they go, dine at whatever local favorite watering-hole captures their imaginations, and come home to tell the tale and renew our interests in such things–either over the phone or, if we’re lucky enough to all be in the same part of the country at the same time, over dinner.

So much of this started in part as a response to their love of music and the pull it has to bring them across this sprawling land. I think of the composers, music theoreticians, and other artists and philosophers worldwide and over the years who have posited a cosmic musical scale, heard music in the ambient overtones of the atmosphere in which we exist, and built art and ideas around that in ways the speak to the inherent musicality of our existence. It’s entirely possible to conceive of the existence of something that very literally attunes us to one another and to the universe in which we exist, that urges us irresistibly to live in harmony somehow.

digital drawing imageWhether there is some quantifiable and empirical way of knowing and understanding this, I as a non-musician and madly un-scientific person can’t tell you fully. What I do know is that there is something so inherently compelling in music that almost all of us are drawn to its power in one form or another. And that there is plenty of good reason for us to attempt harmonious living of whatever kind we can, and if there is no other way to achieve such things I think that in music might very well lie the key to doing so.