Sunday, March 23, 2008

The Passion

An exact quarter of my mom’s homemade lemon meringue pie.

That’s what I had for breakfast this morning. I haven’t eaten sweets since Tuesday, Feb. 5, and I had to make up for lost time.

Veteran readers and close friends all know that for the 40 days leading up to Easter, I observe Lent by abstaining from sweets. I’ve been doing this for years. I love the challenge, and feel detoxified from the Christmas gorging. Plus… there is just something about Lent.

No, I don’t really practice my Catholic upbringing any more. But I am certainly grateful for it, particularly the Lenten season.

It was during Lent that I experienced one of the most profound and influential musical experiences of my childhood which fueled and ignited my passion for music, and had a direct impact on the direction I would take music in my life.

When my father was stationed at Quantico, VA for the second time, I was in grades 3-7. This was the time in my life when we were most active in the church; my mom played guitar for the Saturday night masses, and I sang in the children’s choir which sang in the Children’s Masses (once a month I think). I’ve mentioned this before, but the director of the children’s choir and the Saturday night Folk Masses was named Carol Hayes. She had the most beautiful singing voice I had ever heard and in many ways I idolized her almost as much as Wonder Woman. Listening to her and my mom play every week definitely showed me how meaningful and fun music could be.

One year, the CYO (Catholic Youth Organization) staged a Living Stations of the Cross. Mrs. Hayes and my mom were involved in producing the music for this presentation which used only narration, silent acting, and music to tell the story behind each station. I remember sitting up in the choir loft with my mom, peering over the railing, and watching the tragic story unfold to the mournful melodies of the choir. I remember how eerie and shocking it was when the music cut out, heightening the drama as a boy portraying Jesus was nailed to the cross- the silence interrupted by the sounds of the hammer hitting the wood and the boy crying out sent bolts down my spine and still cause my stomach to flip when I think of it now. I had never at that point in my life been so moved or felt such passion as a result of music and drama. I was brought to tears, which I innocently let fall.

In the following years, I became more involved in the Living Stations, singing and later (after a move to Camp Lejeune, NC) directing the music. I remember searching for instrumental incidental music (as I now know it’s called) and settling on the soundtracks from Somewhere In Time and Bram Stoker’s Dracula (still two of my favorite scores). I remember cutting and cuing the tapes (yes, cassette tapes- this was the early 90s folks!) and fading the music in and out as I watched the action below with a hawk’s eye so that I could perfectly time the music for ultimate dramatic effect.

My 9th grade year was my last involvement in the Living Stations as a bad experience involving a youth retreat, the beach, and Zima severed our relations with that church. In the years since, my distance from the Catholic Church has grown considerably. But I am always brought back just a little at Lent. I have never forgotten the passion felt first as an observer and later as a participant in the Living Stations.

More importantly, I attribute those Living Stations experiences to my drive to tell stories and portray dramatic empathy through my compositions. It’s practically impossible for me to write anything if there is not a story, real or fictional inspiring it. I understand now that it is that same emotional reaction that I had to the Living Stations that I hope to create for my listeners and players.

Today on Easter Sunday, as I type away on the Amtrak heading back to NY, eating my mom’s homemade tea cookies to the envy of my seat partner, I marvel at the realization that my life’s goals may not have been cosmically predetermined, but rather a result of an isolated experience. And I can’t help but smile as I am again reminded that children do not always learn the lesson you are trying to impress upon them. I remember the Living Stations like I do my dreams- by the emotion felt during the telling. I do not remember what each of the stations is about, or even how many there are, but I will not forget the lesson of how music (or lack of) can be used to tell a story. And because of that experience, no matter how distant I find myself from the spiritual meaning of Easter, I will always be brought back, just a little, by the music.

1 comment:

K. D. Bryan said...

That was beautiful.

On a rambling side-note, I hope my little Easter post didn't offend you. I used to be Catholic myself and it didn't end well, so I tend to approach it all with a pretty snarky tone. I tend to joke that I gave up Organized Religion for Lent, for instance. Still, I try not to disrespect anyone who keeps to the faith. If I could find a copy, I'd have one of those bumpers stickers that says "Coexist" with each letter being a symbol from a different faith.

I think it's wonderful that you learned to affect people musically from your time with the Stations of the Cross. I have to admit that without Lent, I wouldn't have had the self-discipline I needed to give up caffeine two years ago. It's great that we can still take away positive lessons, even if the experience itself may have been tarnished in the end.

Thanks again for sharing this and best of luck at staying sweets-free.