Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Variations on a Theme

In my younger days, I was very involved in music and theater. In high school, I was in at least 2 choirs from 8th through 11th grade. I performed with the show and jazz choirs and was featured in many productions. Even in the seminary, I spent a fair amount of time in choir and theater productions. There is an unfortunate story concerning my involvement in 1776 which will have to wait for another post, assuming I can work up the emotional fortitude to tell it.

One of the great losses for myself as a priest has been losing that outlet. I still love the theater and set aside time to go to Shakespeare, when it's presented, and I am developing a taste for opera. My satellite radio pretty much stays pinned on the Broadway channel. One aspect of my giving up on the theater had to do with a lack of talent. I think I have a great amount of skill at music et cetera. I don't possess that effortless, almost flawless quality real talent showcases. Also, it didn't help that I wouldn't do anything or any show to get ahead. One time through Bye, Bye Birdie taught me that. To add to this, I have a funny voice, in the sense that it is neither a true tenor or a real baritone. It hovers between those two realms and so I could never find music that fit my voice. I convinced myself that it would be hard to find parts that would fit my particular vocal talents. My discovery of Bryn Terfel changed much of that.

Terfel is a Welsh-born Bass-Baritone Opera god. After listening to his rendition of various pieces by Wagner, Elijah by Mendelsohn, and Verdi's Falstaff, he epitomizes what the fusion of talent and skill sound like. It brought home to me that having a voice that is hard to categorize is a good thing. It adds diversity and depth to one's performance options. When I think back I, in part, sold myself a lie. I think now that I could have very easily gone on to do theater professionally, but that is not to be.

I reflected one afternoon, listening to the Broadway channel, how much we, speaking generically, want to know that we are doing well. In a sense, the whole of life is a drama that stars us, at least in our particular chapter and part of the stage. Perhaps, this explains why drama, theater, and storytelling are primordial instincts of man. We sense the "largeness" of what surrounds us, but lack the way to speak of it, and so we perform plays, sing songs, and tell stories. It is about expressing the hope that Someone else is writing the script that we are playing.

Part of the joy of being on stage was that sense of achievement, of skillful performance, and that skillful performance being appreciated by others who see it. I thought that was lost because I could never again create something beautiful for the stage. And then it came to me, another variation on the theme that Bl. Mother Teresa introduced through her life of heroic witness.

"Through Love, anyone can create something beautiful for God." Instead of playing to rave reviews and sold out shows, the Christian creates beautiful "art" for God and for His Church. By living what is good and moral, the Christian soul reads the lines as God has written them in our nature, clothes himself in the costume of the disciple, a costume knit together from the good deeds he performs in Faith. By learning the true, the Christian knows how to play a scene or even improvise and draws others into the scene. By the desire to see the beautiful, the Christian co-operates with Him who is true Beauty, a beauty which fades not the moment the show closes. And in the end, we hope to hear that the review of our performance was good. "Good and faithful servant, come, share your master's joy.

In high school, a girl that I was very attracted to compared me to Sir John Falstaff, a famous figure in Shakespeare. Having read the histories, I thought it was the hero she was comparing me to. When I finally saw The Merry Wives of Windsor, I realized there is another side to Falstaff. In this play, John is cast as the comic relief who in attempting to woo several women in the town, gets his come-uppance in the end.

It is only recently though that I have come to accept both sides of Falstaff. For all of our pretensions, we are a bit comic at times. We play at our great schemes and plans, only to discover that we are being played by some other person on stage with us. After the kicks and the rolling in the mud, and whatever indignities we must bear, we can only laugh and hope to see the rest of the cast laughing with us. Falstaff is a man of conversion. Yes, he starts out the hero, but every hero has a shadow cast across his face. It's that shadow we hope to put aside and let the true person, the one that hides behind the various masks we present, stand in the spotlight.

I am John Falstaff. I am a man of many and varied good things who then also has a host of things that make mock of me. I suspect that a good many of those who love me "show not their teeth, though they find the jest be laughable." Given the wide range of faces and characters in Shakespeare, I would far rather be the laughable Falstaff, than the Hamlet or Polonius.

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