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Thursday, July 14, 2016
Reunion with Rufus and Martha Wainwright
Neither fame nor fortune can change those born
with goodness in their hearts anda soul
full of family love.
There are some things that
happen to you that only the goddess of surprise can arrange. N.S.
Such is the stuff that fills this
anecdote. About 29 years ago, shortly after I moved to Montreal
from England, I gave a
one-hour/one-time piano lesson at a private school across the street in Westmount. I recall 10
hands of kids were at the keyboard playing at the same time; it was a group
lesson. I never did ask the names of the kids. I teach privately, so this
lesson resembled a Barnaby Circus act.
That evening, I received a call from a woman named Kate McGarrigle. I
had no idea who she was, but was taken aback when she revealed that her son,
Rufus knew my first name and kept talking about me. I was waiting for a litany
of complaints to spew out of her; as mentioned – that piano lesson was anything
but impressive. Kate McGarrigle asked me to come and live in her home while she
went on tour with her sisters. Kate told me she was a singer and often
performed in Canada
with her sister Anna. They were and still are a family of artistic genius that
Of course, I apologized for never
having heard of her, and offered some lame excuse that I was a nerdy newcomer
to Montreal – a piano teacher who was out of
touch with the Montreal
folk scene. I love children, and she seemed to be serious about this, so I
consented. I felt honoured by her trust in me.
So, I ended up living in her home
and doing all the things she instructed me to do, including giving Rufus some
piano lessons on their grand piano, and ensuring both children were fed, and
got off to school ok. I enjoyed my time with these adorable children. I recall
that the tour seemed longer than two weeks; it was in the early 80s. It was so
There was one gaff though that sticks out in my memory.
One day, a man came to the door wanting to be let in. But Kate was
adamant that I let no one in other than her sisters.
Through the door, I told the man in a loud voice that I was not given
permission to allow him entry or anyone else.
When he yelled, it’s their father, Loudon Wainright, and Rufus
immediately assured me it was ok, I did. I suspect no one ever treated Mr.
Wainwright in such a brusque manner. But I was just doing my “job.” Still, I
felt rather ashamed.
What a joy it was for me to see Rufus and Martha again,over three decades later – bothenjoying their stunning careers – both astoundingly
original artists, and both still bondedas sister and brother. (This was evident at the festival press
conference). I had the great pleasure to hear them perform in their own
concerts at this time.
Their stage presence, unique voices and compositions (Rufus presented
segments of his beautiful opera, Prima
Donna and sang as well – his piano playing is wizardly wonderful); Martha
astounded me with the various tonal textures in her voice, her confidence and
passion. I recall she was a shy little girl. Her half-sister Lucy also sang
with her. So beautiful, one realizes this is a family born into music and the
legacy continues. I feel humbled by having seen a side of these artists – short
as the time was - when they were children.
Neither fame nor fortune can change those born
with goodness in their hearts and a soul full of family love.
Whether they remembered me or not (Rufus seemed to recall it, mentioned
the street), I really do not know; nor do I care – to be frank. What generosity
they have; they were so gracious and kind when I spoke to them after their
interview. Fame had not changed them.
Some reading this may accuse me of name dropping, trying to pluff up my
own writing career even my sporadic singing performances. Not so! We often forget that artists are human
beings who are not averse to speaking to those of us who plod along, living
normal humdrum lives, seeing again people you haven’t seen in ages brings a
distinctly unique feeling of both joy and nostalgia. I felt humbled and happy
to see how successful they had become without losing their home-spun gentleness
and generosity – surely inherited from their late mother who had shown me her
gentle trusting way those many, many years ago in more ways than one: upon
returning from the tour, she insisted on giving me front row tickets to their
concert, and she invited me to one of their rehearsals at another home. I felt
so awkward and shy.
And to think that this all came about because of a single piano lesson
with five kids playing at the same time!