Last night, I had the privilege of going to the opera for the first time. As the opening bars of Mozart’s famous opera, Don Giovanni, began, I resisted the urge to hum along, and found myself tearing up before the curtain was drawn. I have long wanted to go to the opera, but for a variety of logistical reasons had, up until last night, not been; gratefully, I had the opportunity to attend with students and Zoe Sheehan-Saldana, one of the professors I’m working with at Baruch College this semester. After the performance, I told Zoe that despite having gone into my freshman fall wanting to emerge four years later ready for astronaut training, I ended up taking a bunch of art, theater, and philosophy classes that first semester, including “The History of Opera,” and never looked back. I’ve always been a classical music buff — I remember being just as happy rocking out to Mozart’s famous clarinet concerto as I was to the latest New Kids on the Block album, and at some point in high school acquired my first opera music on CD from Santa.
The summer before my senior year in high school, I attended Interlochen Arts Camp, an eight-week intensive camp that I’d heard about from neighbors who went every summer. I drooled over the idea of spending eight weeks in the woods of Michigan’s upper peninsula, playing my clarinet three times a day and taking fiber art classes. Speaking of fiber art, it would be the first and last time I took an art class that put a name on what I did with yarn and string in my free time — fiber art. But I digress. I mention Interlochen because it laid the groundwork for my artistic and creative interests that would follow, albeit unconventionally.
I admit I wasn’t the best college student. There were a variety of reasons for this at the time, and if I could do it over again I probably would, but looking back, I recall attending every class meeting for “The History of Opera” and spending hours in the listening lab, taking in (through my ears anyway) opera after opera. My relationship to music is much like my relationship to books — with books, I remember the appearance, not the title or author; with music, I remember the sound, not the title or composer. Last night was no exception: unable to name the arias or ensembles, the memory of those unmistakable runs, chords, and melodies jumped to the surface of my mind, and I was right back in that old, gothic lecture hall, learning about Don Giovanni and his wily ways. My learning chord had been struck, for lack of a better analogy…
Sitting through the three-and-a-half-hour performance felt like a dream. While the music was familiar in my ears, the experience was not. Seated way up in the nosebleeds, I regretted not thinking to bring my grandfather’s binoculars. Granted, they’re enormous and not appropriate for opera viewing, but still, the thought made me think about how out-0f-the-loop I am with fully understanding this genre of music I’ve been carrying around in my ears and head for years.
I wondered through the second half (as the action heightened and I found myself wishing I could be closer) if there was an iPhone app for binoculars. Indeed, there is. There are a few, but the one I tried out is called “Awesome Binoculars,” costs $0.99, and sadly, is less than impressive (the image to the right isn’t the best illustration of just how not-that-useful this app is, but you get the idea — it’s a lot like the mirror app, which is not at all like a mirror). As in love with my iPhone as I am, sometimes, little discoveries like this make me smile: it comforts me to think we haven’t gotten it all figured out yet! And what if this app did work?? Would it then be kosher to pull out your iPhone throughout an opera performance? I can’t quite imagine. And then again, I couldn’t imagine in 2001, when cell phones were forbidden to be used in classrooms (by teachers or students) that they would someday be used pedagogically as extensively as they are today.
Unrelated (but as you are starting to see, with me everything’s related!): I spent most of last Sunday knitting warm things for Occupy Wall Street protesters, and will be returning for a few hours this Sunday. If you’re interested, please visit the Blankets for Zuccotti Park protesters group on Facebook for more information.