My friend keeps me posted on her niece’s activities. Not only is Ashley a genuinely wonderful teenager, but she and I share a struggle with the oboe – that wonderfully wacky woodwind instrument that takes oxygen deprivation to new heights.
When I was Ashley’s age, I was pretty passionate about the oboe, and then I stumbled pretty badly at a state contest. I bombed. I don’t even think the judges rated my performance.
You see, I wasn’t very good oboist.
At Ashley’s state-contest bid a few weeks ago, she was at least rated. But, I’m sure she wishes she weren’t. She’s currently putting up a brave front for her parents’ sake. I’m confident she’ll bounce back and reclaim her bubbly personality and maybe grow as a musician, too.
I gave up the oboe in college, but music never left my soul. I studied voice instead, and found it was a better choice for me. Though I never earned a living as a professional musician, I have found that music has always been an important part of my life. I have quietly sung hymns as a personal meditation or cleared the angst of a day with the controlled yell of an opera aria.
I believe that the arts make it possible to live a life that’s richer and more beautiful. I’m lucky enough to live near Seattle where I get to enjoy world-class ballet, opera, the symphony, theater and scores of galleries and museums. Just the other night, I introduced William, my 15-year-old neighbor, to Verdi’s opera Macbeth. I have no doubt that his brush with Seattle Opera – and all the grandeur of the opera house – will leave him open to enjoy another opera someday.
Why are the arts so important? Because our humanity demands an expression that transcends the cold realities of a balance sheet, or a city council struggling with building heights, or never-ending freeway congestion. It’s moments like these that I whisper Stella Adler’s pithy observation: “Life beats down and crushes the soul, and art reminds you that you have one.”
To me, the arts are the backbone of our civility. Only then can we build a civilization.
I rest better knowing that the Ashleys and Williams of the world will craft tomorrow’s civilization.
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