Once In a While, Mix Things Up

First a confession; I have never cared for opera. My first “sort of” professional job was as a student control board operator at Michigan Tech’s NPR radio station, WGGL. I spent some time in training, and when the time came to schedule solo shifts for my first semester of work, I drew the Saturday afternoon opera shift, mainly because no one else wanted it. In those days, the opera came on 3 large reel-to-reel tapes, labelled (somewhat inconspicuously) 1, 2, and 3. I queued up tape 1, started the tape exactly on time, queued up the second tape, hit start at exactly the right time, sat back and tried to listen to the incomprehensible German singing above the nagging music of Wagner’s Sigfried. When I looked up at the tape machine, I noticed that the second tape I’d just started, was, in fact, tape 3. Oh no!

I called my boss, an understanding fellow with a good ear for radio, and with a fair mental assessment of how large the audience was for the Saturday afternoon opera. He suggested I queue up tape 2 on the second tape machine, listen for some applause during the live tape 3 that was playing, and then fade down tape 3 and bring up tape 2, which I did. I then stopped tape 3, waited until tape 2 finished, and then restarted tape 3 so the opera could end. I think it was a good plan. Yes the opera was not played in the proper order, but it could be argued that every note was played. At the conclusion of the opera, I was prepared to field all the phone calls from irate opera lovers whose experience had been ruined because I’d grabbed the wrong tape. NO ONE CALLED.

Fast forward to the present. I spent most of today in my pajamas in bed with a cold/flu. To pass the time, I finished watching a very fine travel program called, “Stephen Fry in America.” When it was over, I was still not ready to get up, so I took Netflix’ advice and began watching “Wagner and Me” also by Stephen Fry. This documentary was about Mr. Fry’s love of Wagnerian Opera, and also told the complicated story of Wagner’s other famous fan, Adolph Hitler.

In one of the scene’s of the documentary, an audience was filmed during a performance of one of Wagner’s lengthy pieces. Most of the people I could see appeared to be not all that interested in what was happening on stage. But occasionally I saw some who were rapt with angelic smiles on their faces; clearly being transported into rapture by the music. Stephen Fry was among the later group. So well did he tell his story, and so intimately did he share the depth of his emotions, that I found myself thinking either he is a great actor, or this man really does love this genre. Now I’m a smart guy, so what is wrong with me? Why don’t I feel this same bliss when I hear Wagnerian opera? Is it worth it for me to study music to the point that I could understand and appreciate this form of art, or am I just defective, banned for all time from appreciating opera?

These are good thoughts. These are the kind of thoughts you have when you make a decision to move your life in another direction. And I firmly believe that we need to mix things up a bit now and then. If we don’t, we’re doomed to travel a vector through life, looking straight ahead, and missing all manner of potential jewels on the sidelines. What it took for me to experience this soul shaking experience today was getting sick, laying in bed, getting my little Chromebook on my stomach, and clicking on something in Netflix.

I think we all need to find what we like to do in life, and do that thing as much as possible. I’ve been lucky enough to find some land I like, marry an understanding woman who is content to share this rural life with me, and retire early enough that I can putter on the farm while I still have the physical capability to accomplish a few things. I tend to work my way through my days of gardening, woodworking, keeping my equipment operating, etc, with a joy that comes from doing what I truly like doing. What I forget to do sometimes is stretch myself in a different direction, a lesson I relearned today by catching a cold.

3 Responses to “Once In a While, Mix Things Up”

  1. Dina Ariel says:

    Everything has it’s purpose…

  2. Barry Pegg says:

    Opera, eh? Not for the fainthearted. I had to work up to it. I had 2 kids by the time I saw the Ingmar Bergman movie of The Magic Flute. I was 55 before I started voice lessons in the hope of becoming a better choral singer, and ended up in a “scenes” group which lasted for nearly 10 years where I sang bits of about 20 roles. I was in the PMMF chorus for nearly 20 years and proved yet again that the best way to learn to love something complicated is to experience it many times over. The best way into Wagner is Deryck Cooke’s intro to the “Leitmotifs”on CD [I can lend you that], then listening to Das Rheingold as a fable of what our species does to nature. Watching live performances is not so good because the Ring Cycle is still awaiting its Michael Jackson to bring landscape and CGI(?) to it the way he did to Lord of the Rings. It all seems pretty silly at first but gradually becomes more and more satisfying. If not, go right on listening to whatever music you like best and NEVER feel guilty about it.

  3. Randy Pettit says:

    I agree with Barry. It also helps to have the libretto handy. And starting with something simple and less complicated than Wagner (Wagner for cripes sakes!) like the above mentioned Magic Flute by Mozart. Cool story, whimsical songs and some really great arias.

    When you’re done there start again with some early Miles Davis and work your way up to some current Wayne Shorter. Great stuff.

Leave a Reply