You now behold (in the photo above) a group of Beverly Hills High School alumni (parents, bankers, singers, and friends) returning to the alma mater as they do each December to sing "Still, Still, Still" with their old high school singing group, The Beverly Hills High School Madrigals.
I had been a parent for oh about a minute when I realized that I would never again stumble upon a group of carolers singing on floor 3 of the mall, children chiming off-key in a red velvet auditorium, middle school brass sections bugling themselves bug-eyed at Disneyland without instantly bursting into happy tears.
Every face, every trying-hard face is so shiny and focused. And then there are always a few faces, bored and daydreaming...the child in the navy satin poof skirt inaccurately mouthing the words. The boy with the monkey-face dramatics who couldn't quite pull the requisite colored outfit together, and would fit in better at the local Chuckie Cheese. And the social dynamics. Gee, they just slap one in the face until the stomach remembers the old flip-flops. Nodding to the parents with a "hip" Queen medley mostly from Bohemian Rhapsody, "mamma, I killed a man...my life had only just begun..now I've gone and thrown it all away" as we audience members howl with laughter, the joke on us for getting old, humming along. A high school diva in a black slinky dress, draped over a piano as if she were a lounge act, supported by four guys her own age in hats and bow ties, two of whom she'd never date, and one who would never date her (wrong gender), and the one who just maybe...and that isn't even storying up to the accompanist. The girl-on-girl duet, part love, part catfight. The sounds of the audience, the live net of high school affections and antagonisms, providing the soundtrack to the series of festive, frought events. I love them. I love every single one of them.
There we sit, we parents, grandparents, and other partisans, holding our tinier-each-year camcorders and recording our bigger-each-year children. I am purged over and over by the beautiful imperfection of the music, from the tiny beauty pageant kindersingers, to the high school minnesingers or maestros, tuning with purpose, and following the conductor with more verb and verse. Sometimes it seems as if you can feel layers under the singing or strumming--the hours of practice, all the different ears assaulted by scales, the "have you practiced enough" arguing behind every household door, and then later the "stop practicing till you have done your homework" or the "that dress is black but it's too short" "too fancy" "too casual". The parents, the children and their dreams. Like raising peacocks or grooming unicorns part of what's so touching is knowing that this is it, this is childhood, the most "adult" form this art will ever have for many of our children.
It seems so grown-up really, to believe in this effort and practice and excellence. To work hard. And then to come together to live it all out. What's wrong with us adults--so quickly bored and scattered, our energy dissipated by not wanting to disappoint our own hopes. How big we were, small like that!
Last week on NPR, Barbra Streisand (now in a new movie) was interviewed by Terry Gross. She talks about singing "People who need people," a song whose lyrics might be exactly opposite of what she believes, but they felt right. She talks about the moment when she was thirteen, and a bridge in the music, a bridge she swore was too long, suddenly got filled by a new idea for her, and when she came back in, the sound that came out of her--it was new. It was something she didn't know she had inside her.
And so this is what art is like. What life is like. Near as I can tell it.
We stop worrying about perfection. We pause for not knowing. We let effort happen, for its own mysterious reasons in its own mysterious state.
And sometimes, if we're very lucky, both Heaven and Nature sing!
Thanks, Joel Pressman. Happy Holidays to One and All...j.f.