L a - b e a u t é - s a u v e r a - l e - m o n d e ~ D o s t o ï e v s k i

L a - b e a u t é - s a u v e r a - l e - m o n d e  ~  D o s t o ï e v s k i

Saturday, October 9, 2010

No leading 2

Knowing our limitations, being comfortable with them, also leaves us more room to admire and appreciate those people who have the qualities we don't.

A few weeks ago, on a Friday evening and the following Sunday afternoon, Gigi and I performed minor roles in a production of Ordo Virtutum, the allegorical morality play, written in the twelfth century by Hildegard of Bingen. (Read Gigi's posts on Ordo here and here.) We were part of the chorus referred to as - with perhaps more than a little hyperbole - the "Mega-Chorus" and we sang in sections near the beginning of the production and at the very end. And there were five places in between where, as a group, we declaimed Latin text; we were the voice of the devil.

Musical direction was by Ben Landsverk, stage direction by Stephen Marc Beaudoin, and movement/dance by Kaj-anne Pepper. A holy trinity, certainly. Ben Landsverk is - I'll say it again - a genius. Geniuses, like saints, don't get the credit they deserve; they make it look too easy. But I marvel at the cosmos of music and just plain - sound - that he must carry about in his amazing brain. Kaj-anne combines a beautiful playfulness with an absolute belief in what he is doing, what he is giving. And he always seems tuned in to some frequency the rest of us are missing. A celestial channel. One of my favorite parts of the production was experiencing Kaj, portraying the soul, bounding along the top rails of the pews, the whole length of the nave, turning back and glowering, like a winking demon.

The other highest points, for me: Gigi Urban, high above everyone, singing at the very top of her range, as the music crashed in around her - like lightning, like a sharp cloud-break. [she said it was really too high for her but, God, it so worked!]; Andy McQuery singing a solo, rocking in a rocking-chair, in the shadows, nearly unseen, his gorgeous, deep voice resonating - enveloping - the acoustical quality such that it was almost impossible to tell where this amazing sound was coming from; the Mega-Chorus rising mob-like out of a lull, randomly shouting "Euge! Euge!" (bravo) with shocking and unexpected bitterness; Stephen Marc Beaudoin's solo, embodying Mercy, twining around one of the pillars of the baldacchino, his aspect brimming with compassion, his beautiful voice - an amazing voice, so particular - circling and spiraling upward, almost bird-like.

Stephen is really the primary focus of this post. I don't actually know him at all that well - though he's always been charming and so sweet to G and I - but I have tremendous admiration for him and what he is able to accomplish. In all his many projects. It brings me back to what I was saying about being able to recognize those qualities we do not possess - and never will - and yet having such admiration for those who do. SMB is a fantastic leader. Which is very much a quality I would so love to have.

Almost any time I have tried to be a "leader of men" I have sadly failed. I never have the right words, I don't know how to encourage, I don't know how to get a group to "sign on" to the task that has been set. I begin to speak of the grand endeavor in which I ask them to participate, and all the happy faces begin to fold in on themselves; the atmosphere curdles. I am now grateful - most grateful - to be able to accept that leadership is not one of my talents.

As the stage director of Ordo, Stephen had just the right touch. The principals had a fair bit of rehearsal, I believe. But the chorus had only a few scant hours. And we were asked to do things that should have had more rehearsal. So we had to trust that we would be able to pull it off, and Stephen - by his charm, energy, and good-will - instilled that trust. And, maybe more importantly, he made us feel trusted. Trusted that we could hit our cues, follow direction, be a team; to do what needed to be done. He found exactly the right balance of humor and focus, working with us. And I felt, as I watched him do this, that he was constantly making adjustments in his thinking and communication, finding the right tone to take, deciding what issues he needed to push and what - to keep our enthusiasm, to nurture our self-confidence - could be let go. Always striving to balance artistic coherence and integrity and the well-being of the players; he wanted the performances to be spectacular, but he also wanted everyone to really have a great time.

Ben and Kaj-anne seemed to be working with us in completely the same way. All three of them subtly adjusting their expectations, letting go of what wasn't as important, encouragingly stressing the parts we really needed to get right. It was fascinating to watch. And all the more so for me, because I know that this kind of sensitivity and quick-witted wisdom was not a talent I was dealt. Bravo!

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