Thursday, April 30, 2009

Culture

In the weeks leading up to my venture here in Kansas City (I was a KC virgin up until my arrival yesterday afternoon), I've had numerous people give me their impressions of this city, which have been unanimously positive. I didn't know much about it beforehand, except that I had some very good family friends and a couple of wonderful colleagues who hailed from here. In recent weeks, as tomorrow's concert loomed closer and closer, people have described it as one of their favorite cities, and they've ordered me to go to a variety of places to eat barbequed flesh of various sorts. One random preview that made me smile was when a friend showed me this video from the local news over drinks at another friend's house. I would be so overjoyed if this woman came to our concert tomorrow.


Anyway, in my less than 24 hours here so far, I am totally charmed by the place. Upon my arrival at the airport, my driver even offered to give me a short tour of downtown before he dropped me off at my hotel – something I've never experienced from someone who works for a car service before. I've been impressed by the happy, easygoing, and welcoming atmosphere every moment since.

Last night, after a drink and quick dinner with the conductor and horn player, I ran to see some friends perform in the Lyric Opera of Kansas City's fun production of Pirates of Penzance. As I took my seat up in the top of the balcony of the almost sold-out theater, the person in the seat next to me started up a conversation. He asked me where I was from, and I told him that I flew in from New York City that morning. A little while into our conversation, he rolled his eyes and said for some not-so-evident, self-conscious reason, "Well, I mean, Kansas City isn't quite as cultural as New York." Taken aback, I looked around me at the multitudes of audience around us and pointed out that the crowd indicated that Kansas City was doing just fine on the culture front. About an hour into the performance, hearing the audience's uproarious and uncontrollable laughter and applause after each number, I wondered when the last time any classical music venue in New York was sold-out with an audience so clearly and naturally enjoying themselves on a Wednesday night. People here quite obviously genuinely enjoy their culture just fine. I'm quite impressed, Kansas City, quite impressed.



Saturday, April 18, 2009

Doors and Maps

"When one door of happiness closes, another opens; but often we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one which has opened for us."

-Helen Keller


I came across that quote on a longtime colleague's blog while catching up on my blog-reading this morning, and I marveled at how little tidbits of wisdom seem to drop unbidden into our lives whenever we need them.

Right around the turn of the New Year, the door that was my relationship with Jeremy unexpectedly, abruptly and jarringly closed, leaving me bewildered, sad and wading through seemingly endless waves of grief. It made our marriage one of the shorter ones on record, I am embarrassed and sad to admit, and it has changed, to steal a turn of phrase said to me the other day, the map of my life in fundamental ways that have left me feeling, at times, lost, dazed, and utterly confused.

There have been innumerable awkward moments over the past months since that door shut, and almost everything – like bad break-up songs that suddenly take on a new and somewhat irritating poignancy at times like these – has the potential to remind me of this incredible change in my life. Nonetheless, I have found that I have really wanted to remain somewhat private up until now about it all. A student asked me at a question and answer session a little over a month ago whether all the travel and time away required of me was hard to deal with in my personal life. A journalist remarked to me during an interview that it must be difficult maintaining a relationship over such great distances. The answers I found that I could muster were simply – yes, it can be difficult and it is hard. And it has been.

Despite the sadness, remorse, and guilt that I have felt about that one, significant door being shut, I find that Helen is wise. There are multitudes of possibilities for happiness and fulfillment before me. Taking stock of my life in those moments when I am firmly locked in the present, I am able see new adventures both musical and personal that await and promise to bring much happiness, growth, and fulfillment, and I regard them with excitement and anticipation, reveling in the new-ness and exhilarating unpredictability of it all. The challenge has been keeping my focus pointed both forward and in the present, and not looking backward at what was and is, ultimately, no more. Reading tidbits of wisdom like the one above, it's frustrating to know that such things are easier said than done, and that while there is much to look forward to and enjoy in terms of the incredible possibilities that are in front of me, there is no shortcut around the pathway of grief.

In the meantime, as I am home to celebrate Greek Easter with my family for the first time in almost a decade, I am trying to focus on the parts of the "map of my life" that remain constant and unchanging, grateful for the stability and comfort that they provide.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Handel

250 years ago, my favorite composer both to sing and to listen to died on this day.

Here's one of my favorite pieces that he wrote:




Tributes and news stories here, here, here, and here.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

The Key of Joy

"For a moment, death let herself go, expanding out as far as the walls, filling that whole room and flowing into the room next door, where a part of her stopped to look at the sheet music open on a chair, it was suite number six opus one thousand and twelve in d major by johann sebastian bach, composed in k├Âthen, and she didn't need to read music to be able to know that it had been written, like beethoven's ninth symphony, in the key of joy, of unity between men, of friendship and of love. Then something extraordinary happened, something unimaginable, death fell to her knees, for she had a body now, which is why she had knees and legs and feet and arms and hands, and a face which she covered with her hands, and shoulders, which, for some reason, were shaking, she can't be crying, you can't expect that from someone who, wherever she goes, has always left a trail of tears behind her, without one of those tears shed being hers."

- Death with Interruptions, Jose Saramago


I've always loved D major (so clean, simple, and bright with its two sharps), but reading this last night made me feel like I've been taking it for granted all these years.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Rat Race

On my way to my lesson today, I descended down into the bowels of the 96th street subway station hoping that a downtown train would come quickly and whisk me away to where I needed to be. I stepped to the edge of the platform and looked down the tunnel to see if a train was nearby, when, through the sound-shield of my ipod, I heard the piercing sound of rats squealing. I looked down into the dirty cesspool of the tracks and saw two rats fighting viciously over a paper cup from McDonald's. They squealed at each other, teeth snapping ferociously, jumping to surprising heights to get out the way of their opponent's biting jaws, all while trying to make off with the used, dirty piece of litter. I puzzled over why they would battle so intensely over what, from my perspective, seemed to be a meaningless scrap of trash. Then I thought, if some other, larger being looked at my life – the battles that I choose to fight, the things that I think are important to me that I choose to worry and fret about – would they be just as baffled?

Friday, April 03, 2009

Spring Cheer

Yesterday, I woke, as I usually do, swimming out of a dream. In this particular dream, I was accidentally mooning the Queen of England on a state visit to Chicago, because I was lost running around with my pants falling down in the hotel where she was staying. One minute I was struggling to pull up my britches in a red-carpeted hallway in some Magritte-esque version of Chicago, the next I was conscious, lying in a foreign bed, my eyes taking in the grey light of the morning that streamed between the slats of the blinds in the bedroom where I was staying in the reality of Washington, DC. The slapstick cheer of my dream melted away into the dreariness of reality.

A short while later, while I was on a damp and muddy run through Glover Park, I noticed the dead-brown leaves covering the forest floor giving way to the multitude of tiny bright-green plants that were springing back to life and creating a new carpet on the ground. Looking up, I saw the wintry, skeletons of the trees slowly being taken over by white and pink flowers and yellow-green buds. All signs that spring is awakening. Letting go of my sense of dread at the prospect of yet another grey day, I splashed happily through the mud and puddles of what were April's first showers.

Handel's L'Allegro ed il Penseroso – the reason I am here in DC this week – abruptly begins with the tenor standing up and singing, "Hence, loathed Melancholy!" Being from Michigan, and having grown up with countless, sunless, cloud-ceilinged, dreary winters, I tend to associate grey days and Winter with doldrums and, well, melancholy. Seeing all of the new or resurrected life bursting forth brought me new subtext for my opening lines tonight – Hence, loathed winter and in with spring!