Thursday, January 26, 2012

To Teach, to Join, to Go to the Festival

Wednesday. I love Wednesdays. It’s now 5:25. I cleaned the sunporch. Dinner is in the oven. (Lemon thyme chicken…reference ever post I have every made about how much I hate to cook. Still do. But I made it, ‘cause on Wednesdays, I can.) I have already dealt with Abby’s “I HATE chicken! What can I have instead? Whaaa whaaa whaaaaaaa…” It all sounds like Charlie Brown’s teacher. Now, as I wait to take it out of the oven, I am watching things I have saved on the DVR…Betty White’s 90th birthday, sitcoms that Patrick (who's working late) won’t care about (Two Broke Girls, Up All Night, Hot in Cleveland.) Soon it will be homework done, shower done, knots brushed out of gnarly curly hair. Aaah, Wednesday night at home, being Mom. Both jangly and relaxing as the dryer whirls.

Hmm… Actually, it’s a funny thing. Usually, by this point in my “winter play” process, I am already tired, and Wednesdays home are such a relief. I actually don’t feel that way this time. I am excited to go to rehearsals. That’s saying something, I guess. I don’t know if it’s saying something about my enjoyment of my job, or the current level of annoyance with my pre-teens. Not sure. Maybe both.

I went to the choral concert at my Fancy High School last night, and it made me feel all nostalgic. Concert Choir was really one of the formative aspects of my high school life. First, there was my teacher, Mr. Leavitt, still one of the greatest, most loving men I have ever known. Mr. Leavitt was near retirement by the time we had him, crippled by bone spurs in his toes, and, we thought, possibly drunk a lot of the time. Still…he was one of the first people I had ever met who spoke music like a language. I met him when he was the traveling music teacher for our elementary and middle school, while still running the high school choir. He smelled like Old Spice, wore a giant class ring with a bright blue jewel, always had a laughing twinkle in his eye, and a booming laugh that seemed to originate from this soul-level I didn’t yet have words for. Looking back on it now, I can see him as troubled, conflicted, someone whose life took him in directions he didn’t plan, but he bloomed where he was planted, here with us, and was still so full of genuine love and joy. Mr. Leavitt liked me, a nervous little mousy welfare kid, because he used to play Name That Tune, whistling songs from musicals and the American Song Book - he had the most perfect, fetching whistle - and I was the only one who knew those songs… (Thanks, Nana’s player piano.) Alexander’s Ragtime Band and Birth of the Blues and the theme from the Love Boat. He was a gentle, sophisticated, merry, accomplished gentleman, and always seemed larger than life to me.

When we got to high school…(Sidebar…whenever I think about high school, I think about what “we” experienced, and the we is always Lisa, Chris, and me. Funny.) Anyhow, we knew how awesome it was to have him for our choir director because he was so fundamental to the town, part of the twenty-something year legacy that he had led at our high school. We knew that the songs we would sing in the Christmas concert were the same ones our aunts and uncles had sung decades ago, and that when he was our pianist in the musical, no matter what happened, he had our backs.

I remember when he tried to teach me music theory in high school, I was such a little jerk. I remember saying, “I don’t need to learn to play the notes. I just learn by listening and singing them.” He looked me in the eye and said, “That won’t always work. And no one else is going to take the time to teach you this, so pay attention.” And so I did. I remember he made me write out the transposition for “I’d Rather Be Blue” for Funny Girl as an exercise to prove I had learned what I was supposed to, and if I didn’t do it right, he said he wouldn’t play it for me, and he would cut the number from the show. But he said it with a smile, and I worked really hard to do it right. He had a way of making everyone love him, and work for him, even on the cusp of retirement, even in chronic pain. We loved him just because he was ours, devoted to all of us, and we knew it. We used to sing various concerts at Christmastime…nursing homes, malls, that sort of thing, and there would always be a party after one of those at his house, where his long-suffering wife would feed all of us (“Mum’s lasagna,” he used to call it.) There would always be a sing-along beside his giant grand piano, and whatever in-bred drama was happening in our little choir at the time would always seems to somehow play out in the backdrop of those parties. A fight. A kiss. A reconciliation. Maybe it was just me…but I doubt it.

He set the tone for our choir, and made sure we all knew our roles. As freshmen, we knew the seniors were the leaders, and we worshipped them. As seniors, we knew the freshmen looked up to us, and that it was our responsibility to be good people to set an example. We all were committed, though, every year. I lived for my 45 minutes of chorus class every other day. Being in the Concert Choir felt like being a part of a very long, old, in-bred, extended family, and as corny as it sounds, music was our tie. Our vocal lines in “Do You Hear What I Hear” and “Hava Nagila” were the ribbons that connected us, one graduating class to the next.

I went to the concert last night expecting to see something like that…some sort of a community, tied and affectionate and cohesive. I didn’t see that. I saw some stand-out performances by talented kids (the best of whom are in my “Into the Woods” cast…but I digress.) I saw some moments of connection and fun and light pass through the kids, but mostly…I did not see that sense of delight in singing. And it made me feel sad. It made me feel like there is a golden opportunity here that’s yet to be ignited. The feeling of singing in a chorus, of blending your voice as the third alto from the left, indistinguishable from the one beside you, or the soprano on the other end of the riser, is such a sensation of camaraderie and belonging and togetherness, and I want that for these kids. Maybe I just missed it. Maybe it’s there, but being on the outside, I can’t see. I hope that’s the case.

For now, I am not a part of fixing that, or giving that, but…I want them to have that in this show. That I can help facilitate. I really hope I can encourage that kind of mindfulness for them now. I want to help them truly feel that joy of singing, moving, story-telling as one, and recognizing the power they have to move people when they share that with an audience. I want to be Leavitt-Like, providing a world, a backdrop, a soundtrack, for them to have their own personal discoveries and growth experiences and above all, the very pure joy of finding their way to another person through music.

Ack. That sounded corny, even for me. But it’s really how I feel.

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