The Tale of A Lute For Christmas

“Shed the growling and grinding, scraping; peel away the snick and rattle to listen to the old sounds. Hear the leaves breathe, the water droppling in a calm pool. Feel the rare and precious quiet.”
– Susan Adams, A Lute for Christmas

There’s nothing like a good Christmas story this time of year. And while it’s hard to compete with the classics – whether the first, Biblical account of Christmas or more recent tales featuring such memorable characters as Scrooge or the Grinch – it’s wonderful to discover a new story to add to the seasonal reading list every now and then.

I was pleased to come across this simple, idyllic tale about a Christmas lute and the wood the luthier used to make it, and wanted to share it with you.

Written by West Kelowna resident Susan Adams back in the late 1990s, A Lute For Christmas was recorded at Stu Goldberg Studios in Penticton last summer and is now available on iTunes.

The story, read by Vancouver-based actress Anna Hagan, follows the life of a young Yew tree named Emily that is taken down as people start to move into her forested area.

“I actually had the colour of Anna’s voice in my head as I wrote, and I intended it specifically for her to read,” Susan told The Pear Tree. “If you’ve heard it you know what a lovely voice she has. And that’s why I chose to record it rather than publish it, so that everyone could hear Anna’s wonderful rendition.”

Susan has dubbed the genre “magical realism,” since the story was actually inspired by the real life crafting of a lute by her life and Early Music Studio partner, Clive Titmuss.

Back around the time the story was written, Clive came across a wealth of yew wood. A protected species in Europe, it can be hard to come across such luthier’s treasure. Unlike in the story, however, this yew was harvested for its bark, which was used in the production of the cancer drug Taxamine. After being chopped down and debarked in a forest in the Pacific Northwest, the good inside wood was left to rot on the ground, causing great excitement among woodworkers everywhere. Clive got his stash from a colleague in Washington, and built the lute (pictured above) in the Venetian style.

“I remember he spent many hours carefully quarter-sawing it into narrow pie slices. The colour contrast between the sapwood and the heartwood makes a very pretty stripe, and Clive cut the lute ribs to show it to advantage,” Susan said.

Clive underscores the tale with the melancholy 17th Century tune Daphne, played on the lute described in the tale.

“All of these things caught my imagination, and I was inspired to write the story. It explores the process of creation, and the joy of experiencing art. Many things came together to make this project more than the sum of its parts, and I’m very happy with the result,” Susan said.

Here is an excerpt from the story. For the full, 17-minute tale, please visit here.

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From A Lute For Christmas

As the days grew colder, Antonio’s town became busy with preparations for Christmas. People hummed as they decorated trees and houses with garlands and lights, holly and sparkling ornaments. Grownups baked cookies rich with cinnamon and fruits. Children dreamed of Christmas, and filched some of the cookies. Dogs noticed a distinct improvement in the table scraps. Grandparents sang and told stories, and wrapped parcels in bright paper.

In the workshop great progress was made. Antonio fitted and polished, concentrating, always careful. He knew this was one of his best lutes. Soon there would be a concert of Christmas music at the church nearby, and he wanted to play this lute. But he would not rush through the final steps – he knew the quality of the finished lute depended on his care and skill at this stage. He smoothed and varnished Emily’s new shape until she was dazzling. He tied frets around Ebony so that each note of music would sound clearly. He anchored the strings on a bridge on Spruce and would them around Boxwood, stretching them tightly. And finally – he plucked a string.

Emily gasped. She felt the sound all along her grain. It was wonderful! Like sunshine in summer. Antonio played another note, deep like the woods, and he smiled. Soon there were many notes. Spruce vibrated, Boxwood held true, and Ebony shone under Antonio’s fingers. Emily was so happy she couldn’t believe it. This was earth and wind and stars all together. This was music!

That night Antonio wrapped the lute and put it in a special case. He took it out of the workshop, out into the cold night. They were going to the concert.

– Words by Lori-Anne Poirier
– Story excerpt by Susan Adams
– Cover design by Kyle L. Poirier

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