Sunday, March 29, 2009

Patron of the Arts

Friday night, I was scurrying around the house, throwing some things away, tidying others up, and hoping I was matching the right action to the right stuff, all because b&c was due home from the airport around 9. B&c is a person who appreciates tidiness, and I, well, I am a person who figures that if something gets lost, there will be that much more cause for rejoicing when it is found.1 Anyway, I took a break to sit down for a bit, and Bravo was showing The Forty-Year-Old Virgin, which I had not seen. And I didn't see most of it Friday, but I watched intermittently while I cleaned and again after b&c had gotten home and gone to bed. Long flight, I reckon.

I was waiting for the Tylenol PM to kick in when I got to the end of the movie. It made me sad because the ending sequence of "Aquarius" and "Let the Sun Shine in" reminded me that my copy of the splendid film version of Hair is still stuck inside a small DVD player that died while I was watching Hair while falling asleep one night. My favorite part of the movie is the ending. It's one of those things touches me in a way that defies both logic and words:

But maybe that's partly because the music, or the sound, is better than the words. Regardless, I think it's a great piece, and I'd love to do it as part of a choir at dawn during a solstice celebration, maybe with the "Manchester England England" sequence excised. Or, since I don't know any group (religious or musical) that has sunrise solstice celebrations, just on a Sunday morning in spring sometime. I'm not sure I can get the choir director to go for that, but maybe I can bring it up sometime when she owes me a favor.

A long-ago roommate of mine once noted that the problem with Hair is its unevenness. You have something great like "Easy To Be Hard" followed by something regrettable like "Good Morning Starshine." I don't know the history of the musical, but it's not much of a leap to suppose that a lot of drugs were ingested during its composition. It's too bad that the person who came up with "Wearing smells from laboratories/Facing a dying nation/Of moving paper fantasy" didn't take the time to come up with something a little stronger than "With supreme visions of lonely tunes." But it takes only a few moments of transcendence to make up for a great deal of tedium. I'm pretty sure that's why people get married. Also: shotguns.

I had to attend one of YFU's ballet performances yesterday (Saturday) evening, and just before I left the office, I was reading the lyrics of "The Flesh Failures/Let the Sunshine in," but the flow of my mind is difficult to control, and it's especially difficult to understand, let alone control, the musical tangents that make up so much of my thought, so I have not even the smallest clue why, as I was walking from the parking lot to the theater, I started chanting, under my breath, "Love, the kind you clean up with a mop and bucket, like the lost catacombs of Egypt only God knows where we stuck it. Hieroglyphics, let me be specific, I wanna get lost in your south seas, but I got this notion that the motion in your ocean means small craft advisory...." I did finish the verse, but just barely. I was getting close to the entrance, and even though I was being very quiet, I couldn't help but think that watching an unshaven man in a long black overcoat singing "The Bad Touch" at twilight is probably not on anybody's bucket list. Or at least not anybody attending a suburban ballet performance.

When you have a child who's involved in any sort of artistic endeavor, you have to be supportive, and you have to be cheerful about it. I'm afraid that I find this somewhat more difficult than other parents. I don't know how one goes about convincing oneself that one's child is a brilliant performer, but hundreds of other parents seem to manage it quite easily, with little apparent basis in logic. Kind of like religion, I reckon. I remember a performance that I went to perhaps eleven or twelve years ago when EFU was in elementary school. She was in the chorus. Elementary school choruses are usually bearable, but they're invariably preceded or followed by an elementary school orchestra or band that is, well, a good demonstration of why almost everyone sings yet so few people play instruments. At this particular performance, the orchestra was playing, and YFU, who was one or two at the time, was getting -- understandably -- cranky. And she really wasn't being all that disruptive, but one of the parents sitting in the same row stopped staring at her little Mozart just long enough to turn to me and say, "You should really take that baby somewhere else. You're spoiling the performance for the rest of us." And, truly, it took every ounce of available restraint not to explain to this unfortunate woman that her son had already taken care of that. Many times over.

Ballet performances aren't nearly as bad, largely because the company dances to pre-recorded music, and you can always just listen to that or perhaps catch a nap if you've been working long hours. And I will admit that the very first time I saw YFU on stage in costume and make-up, I thought that she looked like a very young Audrey Hepburn. But then she started dancing.

She's much better these days, of course, but ballet is an extremely demanding discipline, and it takes many years to develop even a base level of competence in the techniques that make it worth watching. It's difficult for me to understand why anyone bothers. I suppose that if you're a young suburban girl, the idea of being a ballerina is seductive enough to get you through the first few years so that by the time you're ready to go on pointe, you don't want to toss out all the work you've already put in. Or maybe they just love to dance, but it seems to me that if you love to dance you'd have more fun doing hip hop.

I love the idea of dancing even though I'm utterly hopeless at it. I have an excellent sense of rhythm, but it doesn't seem to extend below my knees. But I like to watch it. In fact, I will watch otherwise execrable movies about dancing just to see good dance sequences. It doesn't really matter if the film's about ballet, hip hop, drumlines, ballroom, or something else entirely.2 I will sit through any number of ridiculous romances or unbelievable plot developments for good dancing. Or music: I even watched the otherwise horrid My Best Friends Wedding twice (on video) solely on the strength of the best opening credit sequence ever (embedding disabled: boo!) and this scene featuring the always dreamy Rupert Everett3:

Yet another instance where a few moments of delightful make up for two hours of dull.

I'm afraid there wasn't any transcendence to be found at tonight's ballet performance, but YFU was only in the first two acts, so we weren't there for too long. I hope she enjoys it while she can. I have, gently I hope, explained to her that ballet is not an endeavor where one can succeed by hard work alone, and that the balletic prospects of a young woman who is likely to end up no taller than 5'5 and no less stacked than a D-cup are somewhat limited. But she seems to understand the limitations and not to be especially troubled by them.

I was sad again this morning because EFU was headed back to Vermont for the remainder of the spring semester. She had planned to leave around 9, and I had to be at church by 9, so at 8:30, YFU and I were standing outside her bedroom door saying goodbye. She said she was too tired to get up and hug me goodbye, which made me sadder still, but then I remembered that she lacks most outward signs of sentimentality largely because of that thing where the apple falls not far from the tree. And I knew that if I'd told her that my feelings were bruised because she wouldn't get out of bed to give me a hug, she'd have laughed at me, and that made me feel better.

I had to be at church at 9 because the choir was performing two especially fine pieces that are somewhat demanding and that we weren't quite fully prepared for. Choral participation often frustrates me. I love to sing, of course, but there's so much time where we're not singing. About thirty percent of the choir members aren't listening at any given moment, so instructions always have to be repeated. And then our choral director, who is otherwise a lovely person and a talented musician, used to work as a consultant and trainer, so she is very fond of lecturing us, at some length, about how we should be thinking, and usually how I'm thinking is, "Can we just sing, already?" This morning we were singing Brahms' "How Lovely Is Thy Dwelling Place" and the Byrd Ave Verum Corpus:

You will note, if you bother to watch, that the choir in that video is standing still, as choirs are wont to do when they sing, especially when they sing old church music. But our director, Cthulhu devour bless her, had decided that we needed to be scattered around the sanctuary, to begin the song seated, and then to rise -- but not in unison, please -- and to begin walking about the sanctuary, with no set plan, eventually arriving at the front and getting into our usual formation. It worked out all right in the end, but we didn't sound any better than we'd have sounded if we'd started in our usual formation, and it took nearly half an hour of rehearsal for her to figure out exactly what she wanted. And while I always find the idea of walking while singing very attractive in theory, in practice, it just makes me feel clunky. Rhythm not going below the knees, you know. Fortunately, I'd had two consecutive nights of good sleep, so I was in reasonable temper, and I didn't let it bother me. The actual singing brought much joy, a few moments of which make up for many hours of inefficient rehearsals. There is a much higher ratio of joy to woe in solo singing, but that, too, is something that is purchased by hours of inefficient choral rehearsals.

The sermon topic was "How the Arts Sustain Us," and after some discussion of right brain and left brain and a reading or two, the minister invited us to take the blank tan card stock out of our order of service and to draw on it while listening to our accompanist play an extended, and lovely, piece by Beethoven. We were meant to have been given pencils as we entered the sanctuary, but the choir had entered the sanctuary long before the ushers. As instructed, I raised my hand to indicate that I had no pencil, but none was forthcoming, and I didn't pursue a pencil because the last thing I want to do when I'm listening to beautiful music is draw. I'm really cool with the notion that one half of my brain (I can never remember which) is so much more developed than the other that it's a wonder I can walk without falling over. (Or at least I can most of the time.) If I'd had a pencil, I would only have ended up scrawling down words, anyway. Being told what to do when I'm listening to music -- in addition to saving the minister from having to write five minutes' worth of sermon -- seems a bit coercive, anyway. Even a religion as theologically undemanding as Unitarian Universalism has its fair share of communitarian coercion. I can count, for example, on having to grasp hands with my neighbors while singing "We Shall Overcome" on the Sunday nearest to Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. The horror. Still, a liberal church is one of the more likely places for someone like me to find moments of ineffability and transcendence, and, well, you know.

Few of the other congregants seem to share my reluctance to join in activities of forced communion, but then, almost every one of the other ballet parents seems convinced that his or her daughter or son can be the next Makarova or Baryshnikov. But they're all such kind and decent people, and many of them (especially at church) are highly accomplished and educated as well. Then again, they all seem to enjoy, or at least abide, committee work, and while I recognize that much of the world ceases to operate without the sort of people who join committees, I'm afraid that I shall never be one of them.

Anyway, I have wasted too much time on this entry, without even getting to the point I had in mind, and it's now Sunday afternoon, and I'm back in the office for another six or seven hours. The weather was dreary Friday and yesterday, and it was dreary this morning, then about two hours ago, the clouds vanished, and with them the small consolation of knowing that even if I'd had time to go into DC and walk among the cherry blossoms, there wouldn't have been any point in this weather. Burying myself in tax returns won't bring any transcendence, but it does bring a period of escape from the mocking exuberance of cherry blossoms and forsythia. And that'll do for now. It's only another couple of weeks.

1(I thought that reminded me of a Bible passage, but when I Googled, what I found was a passage from Ezekiel -- I will seek that which was lost, and bring again that which was driven away, and will bind up that which was broken, and will strengthen that which was sick: but I will destroy the fat and the strong; I will feed them with judgment -- which is really not what I was after, but which seems like a good set of guidelines for tax policy.)

2When I was a Freshman in college, on four separate occasions I took the T all the way to Brookline to see Flashdance. I defy anyone to come up with a more embarrassing admission from his misspent youth.

3Apparently, Rupert Everett is another way to keep my attention. The absolute highlight of the mostly forgettable 1999 film version of A Midsummer Night's Dream was Mr. Everett's half-naked Oberon rolling around on the forest floor. I think I need to open a window now.


  1. randy in brooklynMarch 29, 2009 at 6:12 PM

    I am glad your daughter was untroubled by you trying to give her a reality check. Let her do the things that give her joy, whether or not she has the ability to be a star. It is so important to have your dreams and pursue them. They sustain us in ways that the mundane necessities of everyday life. Is it any worse than someone who gets joy from singing in a church choir?

  2. Luke 15:1-7 (New International Version)

    The Parable of the Lost Sheep

    Now the tax collectors and "sinners" were all gathering around to hear him. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, "This man welcomes sinners and eats with them."

    Then Jesus told them this parable: "Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Does he not leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, 'Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.' I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.

  3. Sheepy, I believe what you meant to write was

    Then drew near unto him all the publicans and sinners for to hear him.
    And the Pharisees and scribes murmured, saying, This man receiveth sinners, and eateth with them.
    And he spake this parable unto them, saying,
    What man of you, having an hundred sheep, if he lose one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after that which is lost, until he find it?
    And when he hath found it, he layeth it on his shoulders, rejoicing.
    And when he cometh home, he calleth together his friends and neighbours, saying unto them, Rejoice with me; for I have found my sheep which was lost.
    I say unto you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance.

    I saw that quote (which I know very well), too, when I was Googling, but it also was not what I was thinking of. But I do think that "Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep" (I would go with a colon instead of a semi-colon there, but let's pretend like I'm not going to lose sleep over it) would be a fabulous theme for your next party.

    I cannot accept any translation of the Bible that includes scare quotes. That the publishers have not been devoured by locusts is surely evidence against the existence of the Christian god.