Saturday, November 24, 2007

The Unfamiliar Familiar

Yesterday I went to see The Merry Widow as performed by the National Ballet of Canada. It was lovely. But, as I sat and listened to the beautiful music, and watched the very familiar costumes on dancers I can identify from the back of the auditorium (and that's the corps members), I kept feeling like something was wrong. But what could it be? And then it occurred to me. I have seen this production an indeterminately large number of times. I love this ballet. And I have for years. Because I had a VHS of the company performing this exact choreography, in these exact costumes, back in the 1980s. It was wrong because rather than the magisterially stately presence of the tall and powerful Karen Kain, we had the youthful Heather Ogden. Wonderful in her own right. But just not what I was used to. And it was the same for all the other main characters. They were superb. But they weren't what I was, subconsciously, expecting. They weren't performing my version of the ballet. Once I realized and acknowledged that this was the problem I was able to sit back and enjoy the show. In the end, I had a great time.

I find that this is a common phenomenon in life. If you have a favourite dish prepared by someone else, according to a different recipe, it is never quite right. If you sleep in an unfamiliar bed it is never quite as good a sleep as you have in your own bed.

Or, as I experienced this week, if you hear an old favourite song performed by a different singer, it takes a little while to come to grips with the new version. The song in question this week was Gordon Lightfoot's Song for a Winter's Night. When he sings it, or, for that matter, when my father sings it, this is a beautiful in its simplicity, accoustic guitar, piece of musical poesis. But then this week I was listening to Sarah McLachlan's dressed up, background singers, extra instruments, slightly different tempo version. It was off-putting. At first it made me cringe. It hurt like breaking styrofoam hurts. It was painful. But I've heard it a couple times since then, and it is growing on me. I think I might actually come to quite like it. It isn't the same. It will likely never live up to the original (or to my version of the original). But it is quite nice.



Canadian Economist said...

Amazing. This song ranks as one of my favorite songs of all time. Crazy.

I may be bias. As a child growing-up in Orillia ON, I had friends that talked about going tick or treating at the Lightfoot's house, seeing all the gold records on the wall from the door way. Sadly, I never saw them for myself.

MadJenny said...

Interestingly, my aunt and uncle are living in Orillia now. And, my uncle is clergy at the United church Lightfoot attended as a child. A year or so he came to town and did an intimate concert and discussion at the church. How cool would that be?

I think my favourite Lightfoot song is likely the Canadian Railway Trilogy. But Song for a Winter's Night is right up there.