Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Lost among the Stars

Actually, this post isn't about celestial beings at all; rather its a quick and dirty reiteration of one of my recurring themes: stepping out of one's normal role, gritty reality, and routine. Its OK to pretend, within limits. As a matter of fact, to stretch one's imagination may be what lifts us above the level of brute and drudge and gives life its spice, flavor, and zippity-do-dah.

I did not love the hand of music dealt me this fall musical season at first. Or at second, when Blake and I listened to the CD of songs on one of our many road trips. The music itself was off balanced, full of strange meters and frequent changes. The story was not happy, not funny, and full of the dark fantasies that define the original fairy tales as set to print by the brothers Grimm. I remember going to a movie about those brothers when I was quite young; it terrified and disturbed me without going into the stories at all. Life to the brothers Grimm was indeed nasty, brutish and short, even when one followed the rules and behaved as expected. Lord help those who deviated from correct behaviors! No time out for these characters! Immediate terrifying consequences commenced.

But while this musical was modern in some sense (feeling bad for a wolf's mother?), it hewed close to the original spirit of the most old fashioned of fairy tales. Instead of characters black of heart or white as snow, the characters shift in and out of nobility and avarice, selflessness and sacrifice, and we, in turn, grieve or sympathize or care less as the tales proceed. Is there a 'happily ever after'? Sure, briefly, at the end of the first act, at a stage when we, in the audience, know without a doubt that that the next shoe is about to fall.

But, enough about the show. You should go see it, but I don't expect you'll enjoy it much the first time out. What a shame to create a work that your listeners will only truly appreciate after a month or so of practice! Clearly, Mr. Sondheim is not hurting for fans, and I know for a fact that some of the folks working on this production have seen the show multiple times and are somewhat obsessed with the piece. I understand and sympathize with such obsessions; I clearly remember the months it took me to get back into the real world after reading (or consuming!) The Lord of the Rings years ago. This type of overwhelming immersion happens to me nearly every time I play in a show; its not necessarily a good thing, but part of my make up.

It is disconcerting to wake up in the middle of the night with someone else's music so wrapped around your brain that you can't escape. To be like Sisyphus, pushing the same phrases up the hill, watching them roll down, then repeating them endlessly if you don't wake up enough to consciously change the tune. It may be foolishness, but there are days I can't shake the lingering melancholy of sad songs and stories, even as I go about my normal and quite mundane routine. How does one combat his own imagination?

This tendency toward total immersion is not necessarily a bad thing: I like to think it serves the purpose of speed bumps, slowing us down, giving us a different view of our surroundings, making us look up and around, instead of having our noses stuck in our own circumstances or wearing the blinders that limit our wider vision. We all need a sabbatical of some type, a chance to be that other side of ourselves, the someone we aren't because we work, we serve, we need to sleep, we're too young, we're over the hill.

How marvelous to be the kids on the stage, acting the same parts, saying the same lines, singing the same songs, that the pros do on and off Broadway. What an experience to BE the same character created by Frank Loesser, Cole Porter, Stephen Sondheim. Forever and ever, you know that music in a way that someone listening to a soundtrack or a performance never can. You may never be great, but you touched something great, and it was more than a vicarious joy.

And if you're in the pit, you enjoy at a distance once more removed. But you're still part of the art, the melody, the obsession, the music, even as you orbit the stars like an asteroid in the dark.

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