Monday, May 18, 2009

Felix culpa

Felix culpa! "O happy fault!"

Every Easter Vigil, we Catholics hear those two words juxtaposed: "happy" and "fault."

I still don't understand it. I'm supposed to feel happy because Adam and Eve decided to go apple picking? How am I supposed to feel happy about two people's guilt? And this is no normal guilt. Imagine the entire human race having to carry the burden of your one indiscretion. For thousands of years. Till the end of the world. I mean, this isn't lying on your time card. This isn't eating something you shouldn't have. Well, I guess it is eating something you shouldn't have.

So despite being a Catholic in (I hope) good standing (of course, I haven't finished this post yet), I simply do not understand the concept of "happy fault" ... a fact which makes me feel even guiltier. Now I'm feeling guilty about the guilt.

Well, now that I've clarified that, I can move on to my very first blog entry.

This weekend has been a nostalgic one for me. Yesterday I took part in a concert conducted by none other than Lorna Cooke deVaron. Yes, the Lorna Cooke deVaron, one of the choral conducting legends of the 20th century. Fortunately for Art, she has not deprived the 21st century of her gifts. She is 88 years old. In fact, she is 50 years older than me to the day. I was born on January 17th, 1971, she was born on January 17th, 1921.

When I was nine or ten years old, Lorna conducted a performance of Bach's St. Matthew Passion in Jordan Hall. The work requires a children's chorus. I was one of those children. Then I didn't see Lorna again for almost 30 years. Until November 4th, 2007. There she was ... and there was her choir, the deVaronistas ... one of whom was an alto named Jeanette. Less than a year later, I married Jeanette. Lorna conducted the deVaronistas at our wedding.

The concert yesterday featured Brahms's Liebeslieder Waltzes. As you may know, the work requires two pianists. I shared the bench with Jean Stackhouse, another pillar from those days in the New England Conservatory Preparatory School. Jean was the head of the piano department of that institution. As I rehearsed with her, my mind hopped from the present to the past. One moment we were sitting at the piano, figuring out who was going to turn which pages. The next moment I was eight years old, sitting in a room with other pianists my age, in a workshop led by Mrs. Stackhouse. Please realize: the memories of both events are equally clear in my mind. You mustn't think that one is dimmer to me than the other.

The downside of playing this concert was my inability to attend Commencement at NEC. The school was giving honorary doctorates to Ben Zander and Joe Maneri.

Ben is one of the great musicians among us. He's told me so many times. But no one can deny his passion for music and his ability to imbue that passion into his performances. In my youth (when I first saw Ben, he had brown hair!), he seemed like a towering figure. He looked less towering to me yesterday, as he stood on Appleton St. in Cambridge, waiting to be driven to the Commencement ceremony. He was smiling ear-to-ear, like the child that I was when I first met him. (Were it not for a road detour, due to a tragic fire at a historic Mormon chapel, Jeanette and I would never have driven up Appleton St. at that moment.)

About Dr. Maneri I could say much more. I think that I could fill an entire blog just on Joe and not run out of things to say. Suffice it to say that besides being the greatest overall musician that I have ever known, he is like a father to me.

I telephoned him today, to ask him how he felt about the ceremony. In the simultaneous simplicity and profundity for which he is known, he said, "At first I didn't understand it, all of the pomp. Then after it happened, I understood it."