Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Tuesday, February 09, 2016

Friendship, in Service and Idea

I got my alumni magazine in the mail, and lo, there was an article about women bloggers, and one of them was me. This was not a surprise, since I'd had a delightful conversation with the journalist a while back, but the timing of it all works well to provide a nice pre-Lenten jolt of mortification, since at this point I haven't written anything substantive for about two weeks. Oh, there is writing going on in the house, believe you me, but it is Darwin writing, frantically trying to finish his novel by... well, tomorrow, the day before Lent.

Unlike love, human creative energy seems to be finite, and we've found that we can only have one person at a time seriously writing. As Darwin has picked up the pace of his novel writing here at the end, my own pace of creativity has slowed and halted, because once his writing hits a certain critical mass and speed, the family energies go to maintaining that. And blogging, though not as involved a kind of writing as novel composition, does require some creative energy. At the moment, there's little to spare. It doesn't bother me, because the tables have been reversed in the past and will be in the future. When I'm in the throes of a project, he will keep the house running and provide creative support, the same role I'm playing now, and I'll be grateful to him as he's now grateful to me.

Back at the old alma mater, I studied theater, and the creative, collaborative energy that goes into putting on a show is the kind I rejoice in, which I why I think Darwin and I work well together as writers. But theater is my first love, and so it was a joy to me to make the trek with my three big girls to downtown Columbus, to see the touring production of The Sound of Music in a palatial theater with brocade panels and trompe d'oeil wallpaper and an iceberg of a chandelier dangling far above the heads of the orchestra seats. Not our heads, mind; we were up in the third balcony in row T. The view was glorious and the mountain air bracing.

And the show. Oh, the show. I have not seen a live professional production in this decade. I've directed, I've scraped together paratheatrical activities, I've led choirs, I've seen high school productions and grade school productions and community theater and innumerable hours of dance recitals. These have been fun, or madcap, or workmanlike, but all definitely amateur. There is nothing wrong with that, and much right. There must be amateur theater. There must be amateur most-things, or most people will never experience most-things. But the problem, as I've experienced it, is the cynicism that comes with constant immersion in amateurism. I hold everything up to the production in my head, and weigh it, and it falls short, and I wonder: is it that my standards are unrealistic, unobtainable? What if, in the end, I'm just a snob, demanding some level of excellence, of vision, that's just an ideal and an illusion? When I sit in the audience and watch a labor of love, and note all the ways I would have done things differently, when I'm always my own highest authority, I weary myself. And so, what happiness to sit back and watch the pros at work, to be able to relax and put myself in their hands because there is nothing to critique. To watch acting that is technically excellent yet unforced, to hear singing where technique and expression aren't constantly at war, to see a real design budget put to lovely, creative effect, and most of all, to see directing that is not just content to rest on the laurels of old Broadway standby, but instead peels back layers of schlock to find what's authentic in the most familiar scenes.

I remember mentally restaging Do A Deer after watching NBC's live broadcast in 2013, not because I think The Sound of Music is the world's best musical, or because I think Do A Deer is the be-all and end-all of songs, but because it's so often done poorly, inauthentically, and it drives me bats.

Here's the production we watched:

Maria is doing what most people do when they make up silly songs, trying to pull words out of the air as she goes along. The kids feed off her energy, and she feeds off theirs, and instead of the kids immediately lining up to belt out the song to the audience, they group up and sing it to each other, to see who's getting it right. Liesl hangs back, refusing to get involved because she's too old for this, snippily brushing past Maria to make her point, but the enthusiasm of everyone else keeps pulling her back to see what will happen next because she's not as aloof as she thinks she is. And I'm going to come out and say that I nearly cried tears of joy to see that a professional director has vindicated me in my opinion that Maria should use the Kodaly hand signs to teach solfege.

This is a thing! A real way people teach children to sing! And someone else, one of the pros, came independently to the same idea I had, because the idea itself is good. Perhaps you remember the beginning of a new friendship, the point at which you realized that someone was interested in the same things you were, not because they wanted to impress you or mimic you, but because the things, the ideas themselves, were genuinely interesting to the other person. The basis of the friendship, in fact, is that both people can say, without reference to the other, "This thing is true and good." C.S. Lewis talks about this in The Four Loves, how two people sharing an end outside themselves creates a real bond. It is one of the lesser ideas, in the universe of ideas, that The Sound of Music is improved by the use of actual techniques for teaching children to sing, but it is a good idea for all that, and to know that someone at the high end of the profession also thinks so is a boon to me, a little zap of affirmation that even though my creative energy is sluggish right now, it is real and it is good.


Dorian Speed said...

Come for the Curwen Hand Signs, stay for the Sound of Music...

(clicked on this post because my own self-taught solfege is the most amateur of amateurishness...)

Dorian Speed said...

Or Kodaly hand signs...because I completely know the difference between these two terms and do not need to Google this or anything.

Agnes said...

Being Hungarian, and having learned music with Kodaly's method (including but not limited to hand signs) I immensely enjoyed this scene! Thank you for posting it!

Jenny said...

Good ole Kodaly! I spent many an hour trying to be coordinated enough to sing and do hand signs.

MrsDarwin said...

I must be honest with you allt: I don't teach my choir using the Kodaly handsigns, because I don't have them mastered myself. But this scene from SOM is crying out for it, and I'm so happy to have seen it done.