Sunday, October 18, 2009

A sermon in action

My ward choir sang in sacrament meeting today. I am the director, and we are by no means a spectacular ensemble. In fact, we are a little bit less spectacular than the average ward choir, and frankly, this is a calling that I dread for that very reason. Its a pride issue. But sacrament meeting today took on a different sort of meaning.

There were 3 speakers: Youth, regular, and high council rep. The youth speaker would normally go first, but the bishop switched it, because the next speaker is a private in the army, just returned from basic training. Our meeting schedule is pretty late in the day, sometimes making it difficult to attend family functions, and the Private needed to spend time with his family before his impending deployment. It's one of those situations where everyone knows, the political climate being what it is, the elections in Afghanistan being as precarious as they are, the president being faced with decisions about troop increases, we can't be sure that Private J will be here next week. There is that unspoken fear that makes it so that when a Private says "I need to spend time with my family" everyone understands and backs off.

This soldier stood up and you could tell he was a soldier. It's not just the haircut or the stance. It's something about the way he carries himself and responds to those around him. He gave a beautiful talk on adversity. He spoke about basic training, and about how our afflictions are but for a small moment. He bore a beautiful testimony of that verse and of the prophet Joseph Smith and the adversity that he faced. But the primary focus of his talk was not on how life was hard, but how his friends, fellow privates and others around him had helped him through adversity with a kind word and an encouraging moment. He gave a specific example of a particularly grueling exercise, when he didn't think he would make it through, a friend came from behind and pushed him just enough to get him through to the end of the exercise. He spoke about how he learned to give such encouragement, and he spoke about that in the context of the prophet Joseph Smith as well. He mentioned how opportunities to both teach the gospel and learn better ways to live it came through moments of adversity, and while he was speaking I just kept thinking how proud his mom must be. It was a really good talk. And when he finished, he quietly left the stand and slipped out of the chapel while the youth speaker stood to speak.

The youth speaker is a 13 year old boy who I do not know very well. When this boy began to speak, we could hear that he was terrified. His voice shook for the first few words and then it was gone completely. There was silence, from him and the congregation. As the silence grew, the microphone began to pick up his choked sobs, and I began praying for someone to intervene.

But for a 13 year old boy to save face, it can't be just anyone who intervenes. His mom can't come tearing up out of the congregation, that would destroy him more than the sobs. And I certainly couldn't, as the stranger and music director sitting behind him. I was looking at the bishopric, wondering what they could do, when the soldier came striding up the aisle and back to the stand. He put his arm around the boy and whispered a few words in his ear, and the boy began again to speak. His voice was still just as shaky, but this time with a soldier by his side he gained momentum instead of losing it. As he got farther into his talk, the soldier took his seat behind him and stayed until amen's were said. He slipped away again just as I was standing up to direct the choir: "Come Follow Me" and "I'm Trying to be Like Jesus".

I don't know what those whispered words were, but he certainly preached one of the most powerful sermons I have seen or heard in my entire life. And I don't know how much of the family dinner he missed, but I do know that the one person in the congregation who could give a 13 year old boy the strength to finish a tearful talk was a soldier, coming up from behind, offering just the right words of encouragement. And I don't know how proud his mom was of the talk, but I know another mom whose gratitude is running over for the soldier that saved the boy on the stand.

And I'm not much for tears and emotion, particularly in public, but I didn't miss the significance of the text when the choir sang "For these are the things Jesus taught; 'Come follow me'"

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Opening Night

I am backstage right now. Don't worry, its a 20 minute intermission and then I have half an act before I go on again, but there are a few things that I am absolutely loving about this. I of course couldn't write about it during the rehearsal process, because I was beyond exhausted and resenting the show just a little and trying desperately to remember notes every night and incorporate them into the next night. This is intense. I'm not surprised at how intense it is, after all there has to be a reason they pay. I'm just ehxhausted by how intense it is. But there are a few things that I absolutely love about this. I've always loved the backstage feeling, and the intensity has increased with the show. Here are a few of my favorite things:
  • I love hearing calls over the intercom system, "makeup to down stage left" and "full chorus to stage".
  • It's sort of thrilling to be a part of a cast so huge there are 3 stage managers and 8 pages.
  • I love that the cast is called by "Mr." and "Miss". There is a fabulous formality about it that makes me feel warm and fuzzy.
  • I have always enjoyed watching a show from the wings, but this just tops all of them. The soprano is incredible, and I get to sit and listen to her perform these amazing arias every night.
  • Speaking of the soprano, she can go these glissandos where she falls from the heighth of her range all the way to the bottom and just taps every note on the way down and you never hear the shift in her voice. It's like vocal chocolate cake, with fudge frosting every time she taps the notes. Sigh. I don't have to be able to do it myself if I can just sit and listen to someone else do it every night.
  • The costuming is INCREDIBLE. I don't even mind the fact that I can't see out of the mask and hood and can't use my hands the entire time the gloves are on, the costuming is incredible. Even when I see other people backstage, I am amazed at the costumes.
  • Cast party: Exspensive restaurant, catered, opening night, fancy dress required!
  • We sound good. Not just to boast, but seriously, we sound good. I love singing when I know its going to be good. I love knowing its worth it to invite people to come.
  • I get to sing full voice on stage. When does that ever happen to me? Never!
  • I love going in the "Stage Entrance" while audience members are wandering around the lobby of the theatre. It makes me feel special.
  • I love coming back out of the stage entrance at the end of the night while audience members are still standing around. They never know who I am because the makeup and wig and costume are gone, and I can hear them talking about the show without having to be gracious in taking a compliment.
  • I have my own little seat in the chorus dressing room with my name on it, and sometimes people leave little presents there that have been sent to me, and it has a mirror with lights all around it. Total pride kick.
  • I leave my costumes in a bag at the end of the night and someone else does my laundry for me. Every night. I am tempted to bring things from home.
  • The guy playing Banquo is someone that I find extremely attractive. Just sayin'.
  • I can make jokes about the form of the overture, and the people around me laugh.
You see, I love this experience. And at this point, it may be the only time I ever do it, and I am so ok with that, because it certainly has cost in energy and time.

Whoops! There's my call for ACT II finale...

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Learning tons, just what is still in question.

For example, I have learned that I can't quite do "Hell Week" (the final week of production before performances) like I used to. It's not just the late night thing, either. I have stayed up late studying several times, and have still managed to survive the next day with some fatigue but mostly functional. This is different. I get up in the morning and not only is the fatigue there, but my whole body aches and hurts, from running and standing on the rake and fast costume changes and shifting between crouched over witch to standing tall noblewoman all the while holding my torso properly for opera singing...

My poli sci paper on health care reform came back to me with a perfect score and a note from the professor to "run for office". While I have no desire to ever do such a thing, it was a moment of pride and a nice assurance that I'm not going to fail at least one class. (Well, 2, since its a near impossibility to fail choir). I guess you could say that I've learned to trust my study skills a little more.

On the other hand, my Stats test came back with a lower grade than I have ever received for something I actually studied. Seriously friends, I have never spent that many hours on a subject and then faced a test in which 1- I didn't recognize several of the terms and 2- I didn't even complete the last two questions. What the heck? I am always the first one done with a test, never the one that has to be told that time is up! This just feels like an epic fail to me, even if it is technically a "C". I guess I learned that some things just won't come easily, and maybe they won't even come at all. ( I might add, however, that the grade was saved by my ability to calculate or "guess" the right answers using my own methods, which according to a math teacher is still mostly wrong because I can't show my work, even it the answer itself is right. Frankly, I still think that's just a stupid policy.)

Most of all, though, I've learned from the two BIG tests this weekend that I actually have a shot at my two big goals for the next year. I don't have any final grades yet, but I left them feeling much better than I felt about the stats test.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Not a minute to spare.

  • Macbeth rehearsals move to the Capital theatre tomorrow, and go from 6-11. We open in 10 days. And I honestly can't remember my blocking for Act I scene 3.
  • Exam for Grad school evaluation tomorrow night. Yikes! My whole future could depend on that.
  • Poli Sci paper due Monday. Discuss the philosophy of John Locke and how it impacted the framing of the constitution. Luckily, sometimes I read social contract for fun. Unfortunately, I tend to agree more with Rousseau's commentary on it. Will that bbe even remptely acceptable for an American Political Science class?
  • Stats Exam 1 on Friday morning. What exactly is "x-sub-i", how do I plug it into an equation, and while I get that the standard deviation is the square root of the variance, I can't quite remember how to calculate the variance. I remember what a linear correlation coefficient is, but I can't remember how it relates to the coefficient of determination. Does it? More importantly, does it matter?
  • Along with the stats exam, there is a review sheet with 27 questions on it that could be worth 5% extra credit on the test. I need the extra credit, but I'm not sure when I will have time to do 27 questions worth of extra homework.
  • Paper due Tuesday on the evolution of the family shape and whether or not it has affected the levels of function and dysfunction in society. Please include a multi-disciplined approach and reference micro through macro perspectives.
  • Finish the arrangement for the ward choir. It's arranged, I just need to tweak the accompaniment in a few places.
  • Request transcripts from all universities attended.
  • Re-write 4 page Liberal Arts statement for grad school app, I wrote it and hated it, need to start over.
  • Current events article and opinion for class friday.
  • Plan and execute sectional for choir, including face off with diva girl and learning the alto lines for "Cloudburst". That piece is nasty.
  • Work is requesting that I put in 32 hours a week. They won't guarantee me the hours so they won't have to offer me health insurance, but they want me to show up and help out anyways. This is where I put my foot down and say no.
You know, if you consider the whole list, break it down into the bullet points, and think about each project, I am actually counting my blessings. I want to do all of it, I want to do all of it well, I am just frustrated that there isn't enough time in the day to accomplish everything with the refinement I would like it to have. In fact, the only real problem in all of this is that I have one test on Saturday morning that is more important to me emotionally than anything else. Plus its stuff I love to study. Everything else takes second place, even though half of this is due before then. Focus, Nancy, Focus.