Sunday, May 03, 2015

Some Enchanted Sounds and Memories

Songs from South Pacific have been running through my head all week: “Some Enchanted Evening,” “There Is Nothin’ like a Dame,” “I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair,” and perhaps most often the haunting “Bali Ha’l.” Oh yeah, “Happy Talk” ran through my brain cells once or twice too. Along with the songs in my head were memories floating in and out of my brief local secondary teaching career

Long ago and far away when the high school in Marion was still where the junior high is now and when the stage in the gym at Washington School was used for high school plays and musicals, I started working part time during the 1964-65 school year. The new high school building opened with its own theater the next year. . I had the privilege of helping Yolanda Peterson with the musicals those three years that I worked part time.

The musical that first year was South Pacific. And I still cringe because the most important duty I had was to be sure that one group of dancers got out on the stage at exactly the right time, and one night I failed at that. I was stationed directly off stage sort of wrapped in the curtain there, but hearing what was on stage was very difficult, and I did not hear the cue. Somehow the kids did get out there and did fine and the show was great. Hopefully the audience did not realize I’d failed, but I still feel bad about it and quickly brush that memory aside.

Other memories are better. One reason I feel very supportive of mothers who work outside the home is that my brief foray into that lifestyle gave our children some exposure to music and the stage that they not only enjoyed back then but have continued to enjoy as adults. They were all enthralled with the plays and musicals as they heard me talking about the evening rehearsals and then the final productions, which they were able to attend. Mary Ellen, just a toddler, imitated our older kids imitating the WACs who marched to chants of “Hup two three four”—something I did not see in this year’s presentation. We learned to turn her around when she started to do something she oughtn’t by saying, “Hup two three four.” We thought our clever discipline was a distraction, but then we observed her saying “Hup two three four” as a method of self discipline when she started to get into mischief!

Consequently, last Saturday I was really happy when a minute or two before the curtain went up, I realized that Mary Ellen and Brian were unexpectedly in the house. And I knew Mary Ellen might have hidden memories of the show which might increase her enjoyment whether they came to the conscious surface or not. Years ago I read someplace that brain surgeons might touch a certain spot while doing surgery on an adult and a long ago memory would be made available—perhaps the adult’s three-year-old birthday party, for example. Reading that made me realize that everything is forever and no experience is wasted or discarded.

When I had gone by earlier to pick up my grandson Trent—my escort for the night—Mary Ellen was sitting on her hallway floor in paint-splattered clothes painting the baseboard as she finished up yet another major paint job of their kitchen and hall way. She wanted to join Trent and me, but felt it more important to complete the near-finish of this endeavor.

Shortly after that, however, Brian was rained out of the field and came home early. Even though he had worked all night long the previous night and had only a brief sleep the next morning, he thought he and Mary Ellen ought to go and support Sam. I am so glad they did because the pit orchestra was fantastic, and that made six family members there to hear Sam. (Last year’s musical did not use the orchestra, and I am so pleased it was resumed this year.)

Because we did not have tickets, Trent and I went very early. (That was one reason Mary Ellen and Brian had time much later to dress and rush in.) The woman at the ticket table asked if we were paying cash or credit, and when I said cash, she explained someone had two great tickets right down front they wanted to sell. She called a young man over with the tickets, and I was pleasantly surprised for him to quickly say his name-Shawn Tanner. Although he still lives in our village of Crab Orchard, our paths had not crossed for several years, so I was glad to see him again and to find myself sitting in seats beside him. Since he was the father of Lane Tanner, who did a beautiful job playing Emile de Becque, that made it even more special. (Memories I had of teaching Shawn as an infant and toddler in our church nursery were heart warming as I listened to his son sing so beautifully.)

In the large lobby before and after the show, I kept seeing Pat Pulley,Lane’s grandfather, at a distance and hoping to connect with him. But the crowd separated us and it did not happen. I would have thanked Pat for what he did for me that first year in the new high school building. Suddenly we had a real theater for plays instead of a gym, and in that theater was a wonderful board making all kinds of light effects possible. My problem was I knew nothing about lighting and no experience at anything more complicated than turning a single light switch on if I entered a dark room at night. Albert Storm, our principal, said not to worry—I could just find some smart student to take over the lighting. I don’t remember how I was fortunate enough to acquire Pat Pulley, but he did an outstanding job and I did not have to worry just like Mr. Storm said. I knew how proud he must be in the beautiful Civic Center watching his grandson in the lead role.

Multiple studies have shown us that music and the arts greatly increase students’ academic abilities. We must not be foolish and cut back on the arts thinking we will save money for more academic subjects. I am sure the neurologists could explain about synapses and other reasons the arts make us more intelligent. And the sociologists could explain how the students working for a common goal give them experience our democracy will profit from. And the psychologists could explain how participation helps students recognize their importance and hone their talents to gain confidence in all areas of their lives. We grandparents, however, know one of the greatest values of the arts is the memories that will enrich lives forever after.

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