That moment of inspiration – like a small spark.
Sometimes it flares immediately, with glorious quick flashes of blue and green.
Sometimes it lingers, burning slowly – a candle with a short wick, unknown whether the wax will eventually pool, consuming the fire, or if the flame will overcome its confines to blaze brightly.
We had an English project my senior year of high school: each student had to teach one of Chaucer’s “Canterbury Tales” to the class. There was no limit on how this was to be done, and so the demonstrations ranged from one-act plays to popsicle-stick renderings of scenes to critical analyses.
I, of course, decided to set “The Knight’s Tale” to music.
On the day of my presentation, I arrived to school in a 1970s floor-length pink polyester gown I had found for a dollar at a thrift store. (Surprise, no one else wanted this fashion atrocity.)
But the nervous knot in my stomach had nothing to do with my costume: I had decided to learn guitar that week in order to accompany my ballad.
I have no idea how well I sang or even if the class liked my song - all I can remember is the terror that I would screw up my chords, and the relief that I somehow made it to the end.
However, the true magic lies in what happened next.
My English teacher pulled me aside after class and told me she had a CD that she wanted to loan to me: Loreena McKennitt’s “The Visit”. As much as my own performance is forgotten, that afternoon is emblazoned in my memory, sitting in my car, hearing soaring melodies surrounded by rhythms and textures I had never before imagined. I got home and continued listening to the music in my room, where I had a print on my wall of John William Waterhouse’s painting “The Lady of Shalott”. When Loreena McKennitt started to sing her arrangement of this epic poem, it was as if the very brush-strokes came to life.
This album has continued to live with me.
It was the first step down a path that led to my discovery of Sarah McLachlan, ancient Celtic songs, the 1960s folk revival, Joni Mitchell, and on and on.
We often don’t realize the importance of a singular moment until we look backwards through our life. As the year comes to an end and I reflect upon my own journey through songwriting, I feel compelled to tell this story.
We never know how we can inspire someone with a small gesture.
And to my English teacher, Mrs. Arkfeld, I would like to say, “Thank you for igniting the spark.”