Friday, March 21, 2008

Spring is sprung?

It's Spring.

Or, so I'm told.

Although spring "officially" arrived yesterday, I am finding it extremely hard to believe. The snow still lies thick on the ground outside, the weather is dreary and dark, in spite of the dratted time-change. The Canadian Press quoted an "expert" on Wednesday morning, who hypothesized that it will be at least six more weeks before we here in Ontario even BEGIN to feel a change for the better, as far as our weather goes.

I confess it. I have been having trouble raising up my spirits this week. In SPITE of the prospect of Easter celebrations this weekend. I am having difficulty convincing myself that all of this blustery cold-ness will ever end, and that I will eventually be barefoot and back in my garden once more.

What the heck is up with Easter being so early this year, anyway?? It just doesn't FEEL right, no matter what the calendar might say. Someone told me the other night that this is the earliest that the holiday has fallen since 1913, and although I've not got the energy to actually confirm that tidbit of trivia, I'm inclined to believe it. I certainly can't remember a year like this within my own living memory.

It USED to be that the temperatures were warm, and the grass was green and lush and thick. The Easter Bunny hid chocolate eggs outside, and dotted them all around the lawn. We went egg-hunting with the girlies decked out in new spring dresses and hair ribbons... Birds were chirping in the trees, and crocuses and snow drops were peeping out of the ground. It was easily believable that it was the season of "new birth". One didn't have to make an effort, or look too far to see the hard-core evidence.

Getting worked up enough to celebrate Easter, and the Coming-of-Spring, just seems to me to be a little too much of an effort this year. I'm having to reaaaaaallly use my imagination. And the endless waiting to see some evidence... the "having faith" part of all of this... is difficult for me to muster.

At times like these, I go looking for good music to lift my spirits.

And what do you know, I found some. Guess where the inspiration came from?

My brother, of course.

Several months ago, he sent me a youtube video that he had found, of a group of highschool students performing a selection from the musical, "Godspell". I can't remember which highschool, or where they were from... I imagine, though, that it was something akin to "Anytown, USA". It wasn't a performing arts school, or anything particularly specialized.

The calibre of the performance, however was spectacular, for performers of such a tender age. Those young people literally swept me off my feet.

And it made me remember another very special performance of that musical that my family and I saw together, when I was just a kid, myself.

As you may already know, I grew up in the idyllic town of Stratford, Ontario. And we were lucky enough to be raised during some of the most magical years at Stratford: the years when many of the most wonderfully talented young performers in the world were being attracted, trained and raised-up onto the boards. Our parents, in their wisdom and generosity, enabled us to see the productions... to appreciate the talent, and to soak up all of the culture and experience that we possibly could.

The Theatre used to run from the spring until the early fall, and then the winter-time was generally an "off-season" for the actors and production staff who would be returning the following year. Most of them sought employment opportunities elsewhere during this time... And one year, a few of them were brought back together to collaborate on a production of "Godspell", which was performed at London, Ontario's beautiful Grand Theatre.

I remember the tall, lythe Dennis Simpson... whom we recognized instantly from TVOntario's "Polka Dot Door". Donna Goodhand, one of the grand dames of Stratford. David Dunbar, who could sing like an angel, and yet make you fall on the floor laughing with his comedic antics. The distinguished Barry MacGregor, who surprised us all by appearing in a leather jacket, jeans, and a "greaser" hair-do that seemed a startling polar-opposite to anything we had ever seen him in before. There was also Barbara Budd, now one of the the brilliant stars of CBC's "As It Happens"-- also marvellous actress and chanteuse, who belted out a rousing "Day by Day". The formidable presence of Susan Wright (you could NEVER go wrong if Susan was a part of your cast)... But most of all, I remember Brent Carver, who played Jesus. He was young, and luminous and newly "discovered"... and gave a performance filled with sensitivity, combined with an almost other-worldly power that left us completely spellbound.

Being taken to see this show was more than a small revelation for us, as children. We were raised in a household that embraced culture with open-arms... And yet, the culture was almost entirely classical. We were read good literature. We were taken to see productions of Shakespeare and the ballet. We were taught the piano (and any number of other instruments, whether we liked it or not), and sang in the church choirs. On the long car road-trips that we embarked upon each summer, my father delighted in playing his endless supply of cassette tapes that he had recorded especially for the occasion. Since he had us "trapped" in the car, he used it as an opportunity to educate us in music appreciation... One year, we all listened to ALL of the Beethoven Piano Concertos. By the end of the holiday, we could pick out each and every one by number-- often pin-pointing musical clips right down to the movement. It wasn't as though we, the children, had much CHOICE in the matter at the time. If we wanted to get to-the-beach-and-back, we were going to have to learn Dad's Music. And so, we did... and thanked heaven above that he hadn't chosen to teach us Mozart, instead (MOZART wrote twenty-seven of them, while Beethoven wrote "only" five).

But I digress.

The point I'm getting at here is this: "Godspell" seemed to be an unusual choice of musical for my parents to be taking us to. For "Godspell", although based on the Gospel of St Matthew, is what I would describe as a "Rock Opera". NOT what we would have considered to have been my parents' cup of tea. And yet, it was. They were every bit as mesmerised by the performance as we were. Which made the experience even more fantastic.

"Godspell" may have a small cast of only ten performers, but it packs some powerful messages. The characters of Jesus and his followers not only tell, but enact the parables found in the Book of Matthew, using fabulous music, and lyrics "poached" from the Episcopal (Anglican) hymnal. Rather than focusing mainly on the life-story of Christ, the show centres in on the most important lessons that Jesus taught: love God, and love one another.

As I listened to the soundtrack the other day, and re-visited all the familiar stories, I suddenly realized something about the show that I had forgotten.

The musical takes us through the parables, through the Last Supper and the betrayal of Jesus by Judas. Jesus is crucified, and although we see no blood-and-gore à la Mel Gibson's "Passion of Christ", the audience is able to feel every bit of the agony, just by listening to the first part of the finale.

What I had forgotten... was that THAT is the point when the musical ends. There is no spectacular finishing-scene in which Jesus is resurrected from the dead. The life ebbs out of him... and then... there is a silence.

Silence, that is, until the small voices of a few brave women begin again. "Long live God!" they chant, over and over again, as others begin to join in. The voices begin to strengthen, the volume swells, and soon they are singing, full-out. They rise up rejoicing, right in the face of death-- filled to the brim with FAITH. Faith, that, although Jesus has left them, he will rise again. That although things seem bleak, there are better things to come.

The audience of this show doesn't have to see a ton of special effects, or PROOF of what-comes-next in the Easter story. We KNOW what happens next, without a shadow of a doubt. The optimism and enthusiasm of the music are downright contagious, and it is impossible to leave this show without a lighter step, and a fuller heart.

And it got me to thinking...

This Coming-of-Spring thing?

Might not be quite so difficult to get worked up about, after all.

Wishing you and your families a joyous, blessed Easter.
xo CGF


Andria said...

Happy Easter to you, too! :)

painted maypole said...

Long Live God, Indeed.

Great post, and funny that you should bring up Godspell (I usually pull out Jesus Christ Superstar this time of year), because all week I have been singing...

So let your light so shine before men
Let your light so shine
So that they might know some kindness again
We all need help to feel fine (let's have some wine!)

You are the light of the world
You are the light of the world
But the tallest candlestick
Ain't much good without a wick
You've got to live right to be the light of the world

(you, CGF, are a light in this world. Bless you...)

Candygirlflies said...

Hah-- I KNEW there was a reason why I had been thinking about you all week, PM... We've been "connected by music".

"Let's have some wine!!"

Happy Easter! xoxo CGF

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