25 September 2011

"You with the camera?"

I am an out of the closet theater snob.

I'm actually quite blunt about it. Hopefully not in a way that drives people crazy, but when I go to the theater - even the community variety - I find ways to let the people that I'm going with know that I dress for the occasion. This was something that was instilled in me both by my parents and my high school drama teacher who set the standard. When I saw my first big broadway show (Phantom of the Opera in second grade), my mom made me a new satin dress for the occasion. My high school drama teacher was the one who talked openly and frankly about respect for the arts, and how, even for auditions, you come dressed professionally. To this day, I tend to go to auditions dressed more formally than those around me who come in jeans and a clean shirt instead of the skirt and nice top I tend to wear.

This attitude leads to a healthy amount of frustration in me when those around me don't keep the same standard. To me, a night at the theater (or symphony, or other formal occasions) is something special. It costs a lot of money, it takes a huge amount of time and focus in performing no matter how professional the production, and it's an event that demands a different level of refined behavior.

Granted, I often find myself somewhat alone in this. I remember seeing The Lion King years ago with a friend who had invited me to come and see the show with her on the third row of the theater. You don't get seats much better than that. The man sitting down the row from me? Yeah, he came in a budweiser t-shirt and ripped jeans. I remember seeing a show last spring at a local high school in which a member of the audience had a camera and tripod out and took approximately 43 pictures with flash (not that I counted on my program or anything. . . ) in the second act alone without anyone telling him to stop. Clearly, the "night out to the theater" mentality is not shared by all.

(I suppose I should mention here that very horrible, dark, embarrassing part of my past in which I, as a traveler to London, found myself with tickets to Wicked and no time to take the Tube back to my flat to change before the show started. I attended the show in jeans and heard - because irony is like that - the couple behind us talking about awful tourists who attend shows in jeans. I wanted to jump up and shout "I'm not normally like this!! I'm so embarrassed!" but refrained. . . )

Really, though, I think it all stems back to the honor and love I've always had for the arts. For that time I have to turn off my phone (good luck trying to reach me - ever - if I'm rehearsing for a show) and to dress up and feed my soul. I don't understand why a person would spend upwards of $50 for a night at the theater and then spend it with their nose in a Facebook feed on their smartphone (re: girl next to me last night at the symphony.)

But if you're still reading - this is where it gets good. Last night I witnessed something truly awesome. I've heard of things like this happening (and have felt tempted to do it myself - re: the woman who came to the front of the stage when I was Wilbur in Charlotte's Web and took pictures with a disposable camera), but have never actually seen it until now. It was fantastic. It was so choice. I wish I had a video of it - but that would be somewhat counter-productive, as evidenced by the following:

I went to the symphony last night to hear one of my favorite pieces (Beethoven's Emperor Concerto). The guest artist had just started playing the first movement when I saw him turn his head toward the audience and glare bullets right at. . . something. Couldn't tell what. He mouthed something, but I couldn't tell what it was. I was just looking for the smoke from the ash remains of whoever had just burst into flame under the power of that glare. After the first movement ended, the guest artist paused, turned and looked right at the audience member again, and said quite sternly: "You with the camera? What we are doing is very difficult and takes a great deal of concentration, and you are distracting us and about two thousand other people who are here."

Oooooh yeah.

I clapped along with the rest of the hall and thought rather haughtily that I sincerely hope that said audience member (who had to have been sitting somewhere in the $50 ticket range) was embarrassed. And I hope - one student at a time - I can find a way to make a dent in the culture of theater going. "You will see people there dressed in jeans," I tell my students. "But it will never be you."

But maybe I'm just a snob.

20 September 2011

Revisiting Gatsby

I feel like all I write about lately is my experience in my classroom. It is true - much of my life right now is dedicated to what goes on at school. I spend a ridiculous amount of time thinking about and preparing for the hours I spend with my students. I love it. I remember being told that if you could get through the first three years of teaching you could do anything - and while that may be true, I've found it to be a complete joy.

Well, almost complete.

I find that - even more so than when I was in college - I spend more time reading for school than I do for myself. Case in point: I started reading Harry Potter again last spring with the intent of finishing before the last film came out in July. These wonderful books that I finished in under 24 hours each the first time through. . . yeah, I'm stuck in Prisoner of Azkaban.

Not that I haven't been reading. I read (or re-read) several books over the summer in preparation for teaching. I read The Sword in the Stone, Treasure Island, The Scarlet Pimpernel, Anthem, The Hobbit and others. The latest re-read comes in the form of The Great Gatsby.

When I was in high school, I took Early American Literature instead of Late American Literature with the sole intent of escaping Gatsby. I heard absolute horror stories about this book and put up with The Scarlet Letter instead (what was I thinking!?!) I think, though, that I'm glad I didn't read Gatsby until I got to college. I don't know that I would have appreciated the magnificence of Fitzgerald's language until later.

As it is I am absolutely devouring this book. C.S. Lewis said once that words phrased well sound like music, and he was right. Gatsby is symphony. A beautiful, chewy sort of symphony full of more description than a person would ever need, but not nearly as much as I want right now. I am loving this book.

12 September 2011

Vivaldi vs. Ives

You'll have to forgive the lack of posting recently. The start of this school year has been a particularly challenging one where time management is concerned. It's a good thing I have a closet full of time turners and an endless supply of energy, right?! (Ha.)

I've been reading Boyd K. Packer's book on teaching recently in an attempt to refine my personal teaching methods so I can more confidently inspire my students to become better, not just to remember facts. A good portion of the beginning of the book (I haven't finished yet) has been about the usefulness of metaphors and similes in teaching difficult, intangible subjects. One symbol he uses is the piano.

The gospel, he says, is like a large piano. If a person were to play only one key (say, the doctrine of faith) without the help of the other keys (works, for example), then that one key would grow out of tune with overuse and the individual playing the key would not benefit from the range of sounds offered by a piano when more keys are played in harmony.

That was the word that stopped me. Harmony.

Small change of topic: I've grown up listening to classical music in my home, and considered myself decently well versed in who composed what and when until a friend of mine started introducing me to the musicians rarely found on your average compilation CD. I went from a love of Vivaldi's soothing, harmonized seasons into the world of Mahler and Charles Ives, a man influenced by what happened when different marching bands played at the same time - a far cry from the typical use of a stringed instrument. Ives is excited by noise. He wants lots of it. He's interested in experimenting with what happens when two things that don't normally belong together are suddenly forced into the same space, and the results are often incredible and inspiring (and insane in the best sense of the word.) And my Ives education is only beginning.

Going back to the word harmony. If the gospel is like a piano, and people want things to be harmonized pleasantly, is there room in the gospel (or, perhaps more specifically, the culture surrounding the gospel) for the Ives' of the world? We are very comfortable and accepting of those who harmonize in normal ways - the Mozarts and Beethovens and Vivaldis and Strauss' of the world but are we as comfortable with the Mahler's and the Ives' who play the gospel piano, just differently? Should we be?

I know my answer.

04 September 2011

Broom Cupboards and Ballrooms

I've been thinking a lot this week about an article by Hugh Nibley called "Goods of First and Second Intent." It was from an address given to a group of retired teachers more than twenty years ago, but it is still true. The article discusses the different desires that we can have - goods of first intent that are what make life worth living and you can never get enough of, and goods of second intent that are good for you, but only if you use them to obtain goods of first intent. If they are not used properly, you can become addicted and harmed by them. (Money, for example, is a good of second intent.)

At one point in the article, Nibley points out that most people spend far too much of their time pursuing goods of second intent and neglect the things of eternity - he refers to Arthur Clarke's description of a man who had inherited a magnificent palace but instead preferred to spend all of his time in a broom cupboard.

I've been thinking about this because of an experience I had this week with a parent who, to save you all the frustrating and ridiculous details, pulled her child from my class because I was being too effective. I hold an optional mentoring/study session once a week for students in this class that her son would not be able to attend because of other commitments. After a very interesting conversation the result was pulling the child from the class entirely because she didn't want the child to miss a single breath of what went on in class. (I believe the phrase "I am having difficulty with this 'students are to be responsible' concept" was used.)

This is such a typical attitude in certain circles of my community. They imagine things they way they think it should be, and then one thing shifts or changes or moves the cheese, and the solution is not to adapt, but to throw out everything. The baby, the bathwater, the bathroom, the whole house or neighborhood if necessary - but it all goes.

It baffled me. It still baffles me. It baffles me that this woman would, presumably, have been happier of the study period was a waste of everyone's time instead of a valuable asset. It baffles me that her solution to missing part is to miss all, when her child - as far as I've been able to tell - would be perfectly capable in this class with or without the extra reminders on assignments. It reminds me of an experience I had last year when a student was pulled from my class in the first few weeks of school because the student was stressed about doing well - but mostly because the parent just wanted the kid at home more often. (The kid wanted to stay in class, and would have done well.)

These examples are of parents - who should be the greatest advocates of their children learning and growing in independence and skill - secluding their children away into broom cupboards by force. That makes me feel sick enough as it is. But how often do the rest of us voluntarily turn away from new opportunities or places for growth and stay in symbolic broom cupboards for the rest of our lives? Seems downright claustrophobic to me. There is a world of truth and light out there just waiting to be explored, and I, for one, look better and feel better in a ball gown than I do in rags.