Thursday, July 14, 2016

Reunion with Rufus and Martha Wainwright

Neither fame nor fortune can change those born with goodness in their hearts and  a 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 unites.

 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 long ago.

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 – both  enjoying their stunning careers – both astoundingly original artists, and both still bonded  as 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!

1 comment:

  1. What an amazing story! I really enjoyed reading it. And that family... talent at its finest!!