Tuesday, December 25, 2012

On With the Show

One of the greatest perks of being a teacher of some renown is that I get invited to attend for free all manner of shows the students put on and have to pay to see. Of course all of the teachers get to attend shows for free but usually I am one of only a handful of teachers in attendance.

Last night was an exception. Everyone from the school’s owner to the Dean of the English department was on hand for the choir competition. I was but one face at the forward placed table meant for dignitaries.

The joy of attending these shows has not paled. Nor has my awe at how talented these kids are. The last show I attended, about a month ago was not a reflection of that talent necessarily – I don’t think I even wrote you about it, so dismal were it. Last night’s show, full of pomp and with all the performers in costume was not dismal at all.

From the first parting of the curtain till the final bow the concert was a feast for the eyes and a treat for the ears. The first choir, traditionally arranged on risers, with the girls clad in shimmering purple gowns that contrasted the boys’ black tuxedos drew an excited gasp. Their vocal performance was no less stunning. Unfortunately they only had the stage for two songs. But then, each group only performed a maximum of two numbers. This was a competition after all, not a concert.

Students from each of the school’s departments – electronics, industrial mechanics, Finance and Accounting, Engineering, Language, ect., took their turn onstage. One group, a traditionally male dominated field (I think it might have been Electronics) had a male only choir clad in white with a golden dragon on the breast. They sang with a female soloist in a shimmering gown of gold whose vocal prowess knocked my socks off. She was more than a match for a choir of men, no matter how soaring their melodies.

The curtain closed after each group’s rendition. While the outgoing group descended stage-right the next department’s choir took the risers from stage-left. That gave me a few minutes to look around, taking in the sights.

The entire stage front was festooned with golden and white balloons, woven into shimmering silver garland that was itself wound around flashing Christmas lights. Where the footlights would be on a professional stage were potted plants, effectively concealing the feet of the first row of choir members.

During these intervals hostesses, clad in traditionally Chinese dress of red silk with white fur stoles refilled the guests’ tea. Granted the cups were of the paper, disposable variety. That didn’t stop the gesture from being regal. The young ladies filled and refilled the cups with proper decorum during each break.

Cigarette smoke wafted over from the middle of the dignitaries’ table. The BigWigs were smoking light freight trains all during the show. I hope the camera, on a platform directly behind those VIPs did not pick up the smoke curls. That would make for an eerie video, wouldn’t it?

To my right, beyond Victor’s unoccupied seat, a tibble of toddlers assaulted the plates of snacks positioned at intervals for the muckety-mucks’ snacking pleasure. They almost stole the show. I mean that literally. After divesting the closest snack plates of their fruits and candies, leaving only the sunflower seeds they developed an interest in the golden balloons adorning the stage. The least shy ones, coincidentally older, raced to snag shimmering balloons before being hauled back to their minders. We thought they were adorable!

Wonder why Victor never comes to these shows? I know he gets invited too.

The English department’s choir was all female. I have to admit I’m not really surprised, considering how few males I have in any of my classes. They wore crimson gowns trimmed in silver and a lot of makeup. I recognized several of my students among the group and surreptitiously waved to them. I know they saw me by their attempt to not smile as they sang. After their performance was a different story… they smiled and waved back. Unfortunately neither their selections nor their performance was remarkable.

It was during this group handoff, while the curtain was closed and the little ones were subdued that the question came to me. What would be worse: to be blind or deaf? Sometimes we take such gifts for granted. Most of us are born with the ability to see and hear, but do we ever consider what our life would be like without sight? Without sound?

While still appreciative of the rest of the show but not necessarily focused on it – my department sang, who cares about the rest of the competitors? – I rationalized.

Here I am, at a show that is both visually and audibly satisfying. If I could not see I surely would have missed how the adorable babies toddled away after snagging their bounty from the VIP bowls. The shimmer of gowns, the uniform enunciations of the singers, even the smoke’s ethereal dance would have been lost to me.

Going further: if I were blind I would not be able to read the traditional way… but audio books and Braille books are available. I can already type without looking at my fingers, so writing would not be that big a deal. Ditto with navigating my house; I do that with the lights off all the time. Getting around town might prove a challenge save for the sidewalks that all have a textured lane specifically to help guide the blind. I could always ask someone at the bus stop which bus just pulled up.

As I understand it there are countless accommodations and conveniences for people who are blind. There are millions of people who are blind that competently manage their life, mostly with a minimum of help.

And there are workarounds for people who are deaf, too. Sign language, alarm clocks that strobe rather than bleat (some do both), closed captions and subtitles, just to name a few.

But if I had to live, never hearing music again. I’m not sure I could do that. What compares to a soaring melody, to the passion of an aria, the joy of a chorale, the effusiveness of a catchy tune? How could I pass on the first tentative gurglings of my grandchildren, or the first time they call for me by name?

The curtain opened again for the final number. This group was dressed in Chinese military uniform that I am familiar with, having witnessed Freshman Military graduation 3 years in a row. They brought the house down by singing not one but two patriotic numbers. After the last note rang out the house lights came up and people made to leave. Hardly anyone was on hand to see the groups be awarded their prize according to rank.

Our department dean, Tracy and I exchanged final remarks. She lives a distance away from the school and had to be back here at 7:30 tomorrow morning. And here it is, after 9PM! She said she was going to take a taxi home. I wished her a safe travel.

And then I was promptly mobbed by some of my students who ‘worked’ the show: the gofers, the cleanup crews, the performer escorts and even some that had purchased a ticket and were in the audience. It took about 45 minutes for me to disengage and head home myself. On the way home I again pondered my choice of sound over sight. For all the sensory riches, both experienced tonight and in the world in general I’m fairly certain that, if I had to lose one, I’d rather it be vision. What about you?

I do know one thing for certain: Victor is an idiot for missing all these shows.


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