Sunday, January 08, 2012

Widening Embrace

For the past year I was deeply and joyfully involved in Widening Embrace, the newest music project from Carolyn McDade.  The year began with rehearsals and editing of the songs to be included on the CD.  It ended with ten launch concerts stretching literally coast to coast, with one in Vancouver, BC, and another in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island.  Here’s a bit of the story of what I’ve been doing.
Our Widening Embrace on the wide, wide prairie of Saskatchewan
After having declared four years ago that My Heart Is Moved would be her final big recording project, Carolyn acceded to repeated requests for another CD which would include recently written and already beloved songs such as “Serenity,” “Stafford,” and what became the title song of the project, “Widening Embrace.”  By Christmas 2010, 256 women in twelve groups had committed to learning the music, and rehearsals were under way.  As keeper and distributor of the evolving music scores, I once again had the delightful task of working with Carolyn and Norma ~ editing arrangements, keeping track of changes, making sure that song leaders for the groups were kept up to date.  What a privilege it was to be a small part of the immense creativity surrounding Widening Embrace! 
In the early spring Carolyn asked me to take on another task in the project, that of compiling and editing the booklet which would become the CD insert.  We established an outline, listed the items that needed to be included, and requested contributions from women most knowledgeable about the various components of the project.  Beauty and deep meaning filled my in-box as items began to arrive ~ gorgeous images for the jacket and disk covers from Cherie, thoughtful descriptions of the creature sounds from Barbara, careful explanation of the Elm Dance from Ruth.  The plan was for all of the graphics and content to be sent to the production company before recording week in late August so that as soon as the audio tracks were transmitted to them, the whole CD could be completed, packaged, and shipped in time for the first launch concert on October 2.  June became crunch time, as the July 1 deadline loomed for sending final text to the graphic designer doing layout.  Somehow it all came together.  Proofs flew back and forth, fonts were selected, final corrections were made, Claire worked her magic and fit all the text into a 20-page booklet.
Then it was time for recording.  One hundred thirty women from seven provinces and six states traveled to The Banff Centre in western Alberta where for one week we sang, reflected, laughed, sang, cried, marveled at the mountains … and the food, slept a bit, and sang some more.  Norma was indefatigable in her direction.  Daniel, our young German head engineer, was patient and honest with us.  We worked very, very hard; one song required nineteen “takes.”  And at the end, after we knew that everything was completed, we stayed in the recording hall for another half hour ~ with the amazing Janet Hood at the piano ~ joyously singing favorite songs from previous projects.
Fabric arts have been a component of every project since “We Are the Land We Sing,” during which the quilt that appears on the cover of that CD was stitched and painted.  As Widening Embrace developed over the past year, the fibre arts project now known as All Beings Confluence has evolved with it.  I can say that I was in at the birthing ~ seated at the dinner table at Calling Lakes Centre in Saskatchewan last October when the conversation began.  Imagine hanging panels, each depicting a being with which we share our planet.  Imagine them as sheers, panels visible through other panels, hanging at angles, overlapping ~ every being in relationship with other beings.  Imagine being able to walk amidst the panels, to feel them on forehead and shoulder and arm, to turn around and be face-to-face with ladybug, and loon, and rhubarb.  Imagine those panels’ being with the singers as we learned and recorded the music.
Three Prairie women took the idea and ran with it.  They were soon joined by a fourth.  The call went out to circles of singers and circles of artists ~ choose a being, or discover that one has chosen you, then construct a panel.  Guidelines were published, a listserv was established, Martha ran workshops, Madeleine coordinated travel.  More than sixty panels arrived in Banff, another twenty or so were completed while we were there.  Beings accompanied singers and singers danced among beings.  At last count there were more than 120 panels completed, and others being made all the time.  Martha has pointed out that there are 1.5 million known species in the world, and many times that number of subspecies, so there are lots of opportunities left.  And there are exciting educational possibilities as panels move out into schools and galleries. 

All Beings Confluence - Banff Installation - August 2011

I went to Banff with invitations to sing in six of the ten launch concerts.  By the time I returned home, I had received invitations to sing in three of the remaining four.  At that point I decided to see if I could make a clean sweep of it and get to all ten.  The journey began in Northern Michigan on the first weekend in October.  That group had planned a retreat with Carolyn for Friday and Saturday leading into the launch concert on Sunday.  I was fortunate to be able to attend both the retreat and the launch, which proved to be an excellent way to open my odyssey.  Nothing was scheduled for the following weekend.  Then on October 12 I left for Winnipeg, sang there on the 14th, traveled overland on Saturday to Regina, and sang in their launch on Sunday afternoon.  After a few days of visiting, three of us flew with Carolyn to Halifax.  We followed a similar pattern in the Maritimes as we had on the Prairie, singing Friday night in Halifax and Sunday afternoon in Charlottetown, PEI.  Saturday and Monday provided time for visiting and exploring, including a delightful day in downtown Halifax viewing a number of photography exhibits which were part of a city-wide month-long festival titled Photopolis. 
After a 36 hour turn-around at home ~ unpack, launder contents of suitcase, repack ~ I headed west to sing with the Vancouver circle on October 29.  It was so good to see friends who had participated in “We Are the Land We Sing” at the concert!  Spending a few extra days in BC permitted me to visit in Whistler and to attend a fascinating interfaith panel discussion in Vancouver.  Then it was on to Edmonton and more singing, more visiting, more catching up with dear friends from previous projects.  Atlantic New England on November 13, and Detroit/Windsor on November 18 and 20 concluded my amazing journey.  Along the way I kept thinking how very grateful I am to be retired and able to participate in all these opportunities. 
The Beings also traveled to the launches.  Each group designated a Guardian who oversaw their hanging and display, then taking down and repacking for the next launch.  Each experience was different, much being dependent upon the space available for the installation, but all were magnificent.  Both songs and panels spoke to the deep interconnectedness of all life on our planet.
All profits from the sale of the CD will support the work of individuals, projects, or organizations engaged in education, advocacy, or action consistent with the principles of "The Earth Charter" in creating a just, peaceful, and sustainable world with particular consideration for the generations of life that continue beyond our time.  It is our intent that the fruits of our labors through this extraordinary year will nourish good work in the world for many years to come.


  1. Beautiful summary of an exceptional experience, Marian!

  2. Thank you Marian for giving us such a well-rounded picture of our year together in the midst of Widening Embrace. What an unforgettable adventure that was...! So much gratitude for your generous involvement and wide expertise... Because of you, and all of our wonderful women friends In Canada and the U.S. Widening Embrace sings a much needed and ever-deepening story.