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Every once in awhile my old life, AKA "the life I thought I'd have" comes crashing down on me and I get melancholy. Not sad, not "I've wasted my life," just...melancholy.

Back when I was in high school, if I wasn't reading, or studying, or in class, I was in the band room, in chorus rehearsal, at community theatre, heading to my voice lesson, practicing...or listening to music. I played clarinet in marching band, oboe in concert band, piano (badly), guitar, glockenspiel (really--for one whole summer, every single parade, and there were a lot of them [and lots of trophies, too--we were good]). And it continued through college. I've played everying from 10 year old Greta Schlegal in Carnival (a neat trick with my build, believe me--binding cloths, they're not just for feet) to Jane Adams, with a bunch of major and minor roles in between. Straight-up plays, too. And sometimes it was my summer job--non-Equity, but, then, that's really just a matter of how much you get paid, not really a quality thing. Crappy dressing rooms, strange lodgings--Summer Stock: not as glamorous as you might think.

I graduated from high school with no clear plan. I wanted to go to college for history. My mother wanted me to go for music. She even dressed down one of my history teachers, blaming him for my desire to study history because she thought it would be a "waste of talent." So he took my high school yearbook home over night to copy into it Frost's "The Road Not Taken." After, I auditioned at Fredonia, and got in. Wanted musical theatre, but didn't really read the application instructions right, so ended up in straight vocal music. Never really found "my place" there. Loved the school work, loved rehearsals, never really "got" the whole performance thing. It wasn't an anxiety thing--it was that I just didn't really care about the performance. I loved the work. For what it's worth, that isn't really a good mindset for that profession. Ultimately, it showed, and I stopped getting call-backs. Singing gigs, yes, but not much else. I even stopped getting chorus parts. But I dealt with it. Worked crew (stage manager, usually).

But the big and medium choruses were still places I was welcome, and I loved it. I love choral work. My best friend, Shelley, did chorus because she had to, but really loved being a soloist or star. Once we figured out that I got the same rush when the soprano section nailed a passage as she did when she popped her solo line in Suor Angelica, we understood each other, and understood how we were fundamentally different kinds of artists. And we were okay with that.

I loved being part of a community of artists--brass players and dancers, singers and pianists. Mason Hall's recital hall was my favorite place to be. I'd sit during recitals and small group concerts and write poems for my Creative Writing classes, my script for playwriting, my paper for American Literature (the only AmLit class I ever took, and I HATED it). And my friends were soaking in music--pop music, classical, avant garde. Dancers, singers, music therapists, sound engineering....

And that is what I miss. The egos and diva moments not withstanding, it was a joy. There is a kind of energy even to the despair of musicians and stage performers.

So the Tony's this week pushed some of my buttons. And then my friend Paul offered to send me the scrapbook his folks had put together for one of the shows we did, which happened to be my first show ever. Of course I said, yes. And he posted a 1984 video clip of his partner, conducting the Milwaukee Orchestra; he was a famous conductor, and a good man, and suddenly I was back in a theatre, watching him conduct, waiting for our cue. More buttons pushed.

I don't really enjoy the company of writing and literature people. They're too wrapped up in their own heads, too "precious." I'd rather hang around with philosophers, who usually at least are somewhat concerned with action and ethical implication of thoughts. But, as I said, they aren't the company I love, either.

When Frank Pullano handed back my major paper in Vocal Seminar class, he said to me, "This was _very_ good." Then, with added intensity, "You should _write_ about music. We need good writers who are musicians and singers." Dr. Pullano, I think, meant "You could focus on performance, but you're a gifted writer and that's more rare in our field than a seamless range," but what I heard was, "You'll never make it as a performer, so why don't you go be a writer." Except I didn't like the people in the one field, and didn't want to be identified as "one of them."

In retrospect, I should have listened to Frank. I should have kept singing, but started to care more about writing about music, for musicians and non-musicians, than about making a living making the music. Or maybe not. I realize now that even in college my hearing was starting to go. If music was my life, how frustrated would I be now? Can you write about a symphony if you can't hear it precisely? I don't know.

So, I teach writing. And movies. I'm surrounded by Literature academics slumming in composition classes (their attitude, whether or not it's what they really believe). My philosopher friends scattered to the winds, my musician friends scattered even further.

A friend once asked why I don't sing much anymore, why I don't audition when casting calls come up locally if I miss it so much. Partly there are genuine logistical problems. If we move, some of those will go away. But then it becomes another question. For me, every time I go to a play, or sing in a chorus or solo, or attend a concert, there is an element of the 20 year AA member sitting in a bar with his friends, because that's where the celebration is. His hand is in his pocket, and he is rubbing, and turning over and over, his little coin. I guess for me, that life is like booze for an alcoholic. There is no such thing as "just one drink."

In the movie Fame(1980), Lydia Grant tells the freshmen that if there is anything else they can do with their lives and be happy, they should do it, because a life in the arts will break their hearts, and it's only worth it if it's the only life they can live and be happy. When I saw the movie, I was just out of college, one recital short of my music degree because I'd run out of money (and my voice teacher had forgotten that I'd told him I needed to do my recital in the Fall, but that's a totally different issue). I had my English degree, was working as a secretary at Syracuse University, and was trying to decide "what's next." And I "heard" her. So, I closed the bottle, and walked away. Oh, I've fallen off the wagon from time to time, but for the most part, I've stayed out of bars and liquor stores.

But I miss it. I miss the rush, I miss the sweat, and frustration. I miss the divas and drama queens. I miss marked-up scores, and hours in the costume shop. I miss the smell of opening night, when backstage is a mix of sweat, Max Factor, new paint, and wood shavings. The little cuts on my hands from putting the color sheets over the lights before they're hung, the little notes on the light board, the dropped cues and perfect notes.

Most of all I miss rehearsals. The day the tenors got the passage perfectly, when the woodwinds finally got all the tones to blend into a gorgeous wash of sound that soared and wept.

Sometimes, sometimes, I just want to "crawl back into the bottle" and stay there.

So, a little melancholy. I didn't take a conventional path, so I didn't actually take the road "most" travelled by. More than two roads diverged in that yellow wood. I catch glimpses, from time to time, of the one I didn't choose. And I wonder.


( 5 comments — Leave a comment )
Jun. 11th, 2013 12:22 pm (UTC)
Why don't you find a chorus and just sing? Seriously. Your soul cries out for this and you should simply DO IT.

Much love, Hon. Truly.
Jun. 11th, 2013 03:03 pm (UTC)
Note comment about logistical issues. When I could still drive at night I was in a small local chorus and did operetta, but that's no longer an option. When I relocate I might be able to share rides with someone.
Jun. 11th, 2013 03:32 pm (UTC)
I do understand.

When I wasn't in NYC I saw communityNY -5810 theater and couldn't trick myself "its just as good" it wasnt and I didnt want to play in the minors

but survival matters. And I adore you but you are one of the few English proffs I can stand. A few writers are amazing to be around most are Asses but can filter that out when they write.
Jun. 11th, 2013 04:56 pm (UTC)
The line from "Fame" was used in real life by Jerome Eskow, the Chairman of the Drama Department at Performing Arts. He would tell each incoming class to do anything but pursue life in the theatre. Yes, this was before the movie.
Jun. 11th, 2013 08:02 pm (UTC)
Funny, what I miss besides the camaraderie, is the smell of Albolene. AS for the rest, sometimes memories pop up, prompted by the weirdest things but I think it's the olfactory memories that are the most intense and, at times, the most surprising. But I'm with you when it comes to the moments you review with that trace of melancholy. You're still my favorite professor. I love reading about your classes, your thoughts on your topics, the students, the job itself. I firmly believe you're one of those people who leave more indelible prints on the hearts and lives of more people than you'll ever realize.

I feel honored to have been given the opportunity of knowing you. And I know I'm not alone. I dearly wish I could have heard you sing.
( 5 comments — Leave a comment )