Finding out how good you can be

Thursday, April 14, 2005

April 14, 2005

Dear Julie,

In high school I played in the orchestra for our production of "Bye Bye Birdie," a forgettable bit of fluff on no one's list of favorite musicals. Nevertheless, the rehearsals were exciting. While spring was arriving outside the auditorium doors, the cast and teachers and musicians and backstage crew spent every evening trying to bring a show to life. Opening night and the performances and applause that followed were the payoff, but being part of a large group of people working together for a purpose stayed with me more than the rest of it.

My father-in-law has this experience every spring. For the past 40 or so years he has played in the orchestra for the Notre Dame Regional High School musical, the biggest event of the school's year. This week the school is performing "42nd Street." While the students dance and sing on stage, their parents, grandparents, brothers and sisters and classmates will watch, in awe of them for getting up there.

My 82-year-old father-in-law will play music anywhere, anytime, but I suspect that same springtime excitement of collaboration is part of the attraction for him. Last weekend, he played in the orchestra for a production of "Meet Me in St. Louis" at a small high school 30 miles from here. Like the Notre Dame students, most of the performers probably will never walk on a stage again.

My second-favorite moment: The family cook clearing a plate from the dining room table accidentally brained a little girl playing one of the daughters. The audience was as stunned as the little girl for a second, but the "oooo's" of concern turned to laughter when she rubbed her head and smiled.

My favorite moment: After the curtain, the cast gave flowers to everyone who worked behind the scenes. Obviously they had bonded during those spring evenings when their lives revolved around "Meet Me in St. Louis." Some made little speeches about how much being in the show meant to them and how much they loved everyone else in the production. The parents and grandparents in the audience knew the actors and actresses couldn't have any idea how much it will mean years later.

Adulthood is sparing in such inspiring experiences. There are exceptions: astronauts preparing for a space flight, or politicians running for office, perhaps. But for most of us, one week can seem very much like the one before.

The trick is to find the sense of purpose in whatever you do that week or that day, an appreciation for your mission and for everyone's contribution to it. To make every week like the week before opening night.

Last week, the local university presented "Guys and Dolls." It's not a favorite of mine, but the production offered a taste of the delicious things to come in a few years when the college opens its new performing arts campus and performance hall. The quality of the dancing and singing was far beyond anything I'd seen the university do in the past 10 years.

No one performance stood out, but that was the show's beauty, the reason for the standing ovation. Everyone did their job superbly, played their role to the best of their ability, maybe better than they thought they were capable of. Many years from now, no matter what they're doing in life, they'll remember how it felt to find out how good they could be.

Love, Sam

Sam Blackwell is the managing editor of the Southeast Missourian.

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