This photo by Shane Taylor of a man watching the forest burn around his home got me to thinking. As beautiful as that forest was, this man’s perspective must have changed dramatically when the magnificent trees that surrounded his abode were destroyed. His life would never be the same after that day. As he struggled to make sense of this ravaging destruction, ultimately, this may have created something amazing for him. It did, after all, provide us with this dynamic image, if nothing else.
It is the same for those of us who aspire to artistic endeavors. As often as we’d love to be certain of our subject matter that is to go on the canvas, manuscript paper, or writing tablet, it just isn’t that way for some of us. We await our inspiration. We struggle to find the theme, color, texture, movement, or sound, that will reflect what we are feeling inside. The challenge is we sometimes don’t know what we’re truly feeling inside.
It is in the vulnerability of ourselves that we find an open archway to our creativity.
I have often taught my students a variation of Marianne Williamson’s phrase, “Fear and love cannot co-exist.” My offered mantra is, “Fear and creativity cannot co-exist.”
Although fear can clearly show us where we need to focus our attention, like the pain of a wound, it isn’t until we are beyond that fear that we find depth in our artistry. Each word, each brush stroke, each jeté, is a testament to our willingness to go to another level of intimacy with our creative heart.
Personal relationships operate very similarly to artistic endeavors. The more available we are with our raw heart open to the object of our affection, the more likelihood there is to a true union. One can have the structure of marriage without intimacy, but it is often brittle and unsatisfying. In the same way, one can write a paragraph without spiritual openness, but the words are simply strung together without much more purpose than popcorn tinsel at Christmastime. Without vulnerability and intimacy, nothing is really offered and nothing is really gained.
I struggle with these issues as I attempt to grow my art. My paintings are sometimes functional, but not dynamic. My words can be pedestrian when I so want them to change another’s cells. My music is a wet match when all I want is a roaring fire. There are days when my mediocrity feels like knives in my heart and I want to give up.
Of course, when one is aware that it is only when one’s heart is naked and exposed that art flourishes, one… I… am obligated to look at that honestly and go past my fear of “average,” to keep my face pointed toward the brightest part of the sunlight to attain, if not excellence, then truth.
I daily commit to putting words on paper, even if it represents rudimentary language and thought, because I know it eventually speaks to my tenacity of purpose and my desire for deep intimacy. I commit to keeping my face to the brightest part of the sunlight in my art and in my life.
This evening, I went to see some of my former students graduate from the school where I used to teach vocal music. There were some definite surprises for me there.
When I began teaching in 2001, it was a fluke. A friend of mine called me on the phone in the middle of my retirement and said, “James, we really need a singing teacher here.”
I had sworn many years ago never to teach in a classroom setting. Of course, I never thought I could since I hadn’t completed my degree, much less acquire a teaching credential. This was, however, a charter school that specialized in the arts, so I didn’t need a credential. I did have plenty of experience, having had my first student in 1977. I had directed vocal music regularly since the early 1990’s. I was as prepared as someone could be without the credential, I thought.
The day I began, the co-founders asked me why I wanted to teach there since I was so over-qualified? Ah, how things were to change.
As the years progressed, I realized I had a lot to learn, but as I had often been told, teaching came naturally to me. As my supervisor at the time told me, I was an intuitive teacher. While that was a plus at that point, this same person eventually decided that pedagogy was much more important.
I resigned my position in 2008 when I realized that the school had changed so dramatically that these adjustments were sucking the life out of what was once a dynamic and formidible educational institution. The spirit of our organization was barely flickering any more. I had to get out. I had lost my voice with the administration and for someone like me who spent his life helping others find their voices, this was untenable to me.
As I was having my final meeting with the Executive Director, he offered me two beginning vocal classes. He wanted some “new blood” for the other vocal music classes. His words, not mine. It was of no interest to me at all. This school was breaking my heart. Teachers expressed they felt the same way, but were afraid to leave in this economy. Parents said they wanted to change schools, but knew that most other schools were more dangerous for their students. The children themselves said there was something missing that was there in the past. Everyone got the same message except the administration.
Other than a couple of brief visits to the campus, I really haven’t been back since I left. I attended several performances. I couldn’t help but think, “This is why they wanted me gone, so they could have this level of quality at their school?” Again, I was not alone in this assessment.
As I arrived at the school this evening, teachers, students, and parents greeted me with the most genuine happiness I remember in a long, long time. If I had to call it anything, it was almost relief that I felt as they hugged me.
“Nothing is the same since you left, Mr. Hernandez.”
“There’s been a spark missing since you left, James.”
These are actual quotes I heard tonight. Even the Executive Director did not seem as joyful as he had been in years past as he sat on the dais.
Everything from the singing of the National Anthem to the keynote address was vanilla pudding. It was Wonder Bread. It was white rice. It was beige.
This was no longer a performing and fine arts academy. It was a traditional, plain school.
Yet, the one thing that amazed me was that with all the changes notwithstanding, the children have grown up to be creative, motivated people. I attribute that to the tenacity of the amazing teachers on campus.
They have fought valiantly against the brutal criticism and desperate neglect offered by the Program Coordinator and Co-Founder of the school. Both of these administrators have their priorities firmly established although they have not considered the needs of the people involved. It is all about the awards and recognition and scores. The people, with spirits and minds and hearts, seem to have become functionaries to the administrators involved.
The Program Coordinator, in all her ingenuous behaviors, is not above being obviously phony in public when everyone knows how she really feels. I was embarrassed for her.
Yet, the children advance. What is it in them that allows them to grow in this way? They are like roses growing in the desert. They are like albino shrimp living in the deepest sulphuric recesses of the ocean. They are strong and resilient and protected by really great parents and phenomenal teachers.
I have held my tongue for a year, and now, at long last, I am speaking my mind in an open forum. It feels great!
God bless the children for their success. May their journey be full of joy and wisdom enough to learn from their challenges and celebrate their accomplishments.
I won’t be back for another graduation without a specific invitation. My time there is over. They do grow up. What’s surprising is so do I.
Billy Crystal’s character tells Danny Devito’s character in “Throw Momma From the Train,” that “a writer writes, always.” It’s true. Just like a painter paints and a sitter sits. Where my quandry emerges is, not unlike a tree falling in a forest, if one is not published, are the words still more than simple emotive and physical scribbles on a page?
I saw on Craigslist a call for poets to submit their poetry about losing one’s mother. I happened to have lost two mothers, one by birth and my “real” mom by adoption. I have poetry about their deaths.
There is no pay involved and if one or more of the selections are chosen, one receives a copy of the book. I’m certain it is self-published and will come, if at all, with flimsy plastic pages and smeared print. So, why, you may ask, am I submitting my precious gifts at all? Because, my friends, a writer writes always and then they get published.
Am I cynical in believing that what shows up on my resume counts, even if it is a small self-published document like this? Is it important for me to know that perhaps thirty people will own a book with my poetry in it, even if most of those people are the publisher’s family members?
I think it is important. It is valuable at a few levels. One, it states that one believes in his or her work enough to submit it to another person, a stranger, for consideration. Two, if it is published, it is a legitimate entry on one’s work history. Three, someone is there to hear the tree fall in the forest. Someone, outside of the few intimates around one can share in this artistic rendering. With all that going on, one should be very pleased.
Art is about choice making. Every word, brush stroke or note is a message from the author/artist/ composer about who he or she is and what is in their heart. Sharing those choices adds to the pool of veracity and beauty available for the greater consumption.
Yes, it is about self-discipline. Yes, it is about the work. Ultimately, however, it is about the willingness to open ourselves up to others joining the party in our spirits. It is about joining together, artist and patron, to share a common experience.
My door is opening and this is my journey over the treshhold. It is exciting and unnerving and about time.
So, write writers! Paint painters! Compose composers! Always! Just remember to celebrate your art by sending it out to just one stranger if you get the chance. But, finally, it’s your choice.
A Composite Life
By James C. Glica-Hernandez
May 31, 2009
Pieces of lives vie / Budding from one plant / To view the new sky / Each at altered slant.
Every florid bloom / A different shape / Yet all stemming from / One seed held agape.
Each bud, skewered view / Each stem, strong, alive /Each leaf, light renew / Each bush, longs to thrive.
Buds now deadly spent / From its weary limbs, / Dried and cruelly rent / Color finally dims.
Memories linger / As new buds grow. / Changing hues finger / New petals to show.
A few months ago, a group of us decided to produce a film called, “Two Tears in a Bucket.” The script was written by a new friend of mine, Dave Garcia. He asked me to take one of the roles and line produce the picture. I was not terribly busy, so I agreed.
I’ve never had anything whatsoever to do with film in my life before this. Nothing. Not one tiny thing.
It was going to be a lark. Sure, I’ve produced many theatrical stage productions before, but this was a new adventure and I’m always up for a new adventure.
We cast the film, worked out the logistics and began rehearsals, which I think are important. I did the acting coaching, some of the directing, location management, scheduling, budgeting, and many of the other activities a line producer does. The more I got into the process, the more enjoyable it became. I realized that I was actually pretty good at this. Although I had no formal training, after thirty years involved in theatre, I understood the concepts.
Our cinematographer/editor came along and we were ready.
In the middle of this process, we were fortunate to do a tiny little six minute film, “Out of the Frying Pan,” which, incidentally, can be seen on YouTube.
This film was a great training ground for us. We learned what we could do and what we couldn’t do given our limited resources, limited time, and limited experience. We were fortunate to have amazing people around us to get it done at all.
Once we were ready to begin filming, “Two Tears…” we felt as though we had a head start.
Tonight, a few of us gathered to see the first cut of our film. I was prepared for the worst. We’d done our best, but with few exceptions, we were neophytes.
What I saw tonight was a surprise and a pleasure. The first cut of our film was a testament to all the dedication, love, and effort everyone had pulled together for this project.
The film is now going to the composer for the score. Rick Dean Sumners has the responsibility to reflect the heartbeat of the piece. Yet, another joyful connection in my life because I’ve know Rick a long, long time and know that he’s going to do a superlative job.
We have a real film developing here, ladies and gentlemen; a film of which I am so deeply proud. I can hardly wait for you to see it.
This is what comes from true collaboration and focus. At this point in my life, I suppose an old dog can learn some new tricks.
The process, quite honestly, has been a rollercoaster of emotions for me, but worth every moment. I suppose that’s what comes from being willing to take the risk to make yet another dream come true.
Tonight is the last nighttime performance of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat at the Woodland Opera House. We still have one more performance tomorrow in the afternoon, after which we will strike the set, the pit, the costumes and props and ourselves from the venue.
This has been a special show for me because it is the first show I’ve done, start to finish, since Mom died.
In the fall of 2005, I was in rehearsals for “She Loves Me” at WOH. When I found out my mother had pancreatic cancer and that she was dying, I left the show to spend the last two months there with her. It’s the best choice I’ve ever made.
Since that time, however, my vital vibrancy has been less than radiant. My heart has been so very heavy with grief since November 23, 2005 when Mom died. I haven’t had the energy to truly commit to anything much at all, including the shows I’ve done. I’ve done concerts, shows at the Performing and Fine Arts Academy where I worked, and the latter part of “Damn Yankees” at WOH, but there has been something missing in those processes for me.
I’ve been dreaming of finding my joie de’vivre again. At last, three-and-a-half years later, I’ve found it. This is been an engaging show, a phenomenal cast, including our precious young ones, and I have been so thrilled to be a part of this group. Our orchestra is small but mighty simply because we have some of the best musicians in our pit in the area. That helps. Our crew, designers, and staff are incredible.
Angela Shellhammer, our director is superlative. Her sensitivity and strength, wisdom and creativity have all impacted this show, and me, in the best way possible.
Our Executive Director, Jeff Kean, has been, as always, the foundation upon which our excellence is based.
I say this only to acknowledge the spectacular contribution these magnificent people have made to me personally. They aren’t likely to see this blog; however, I know that this is the way I feel. I’ve said so to them, too, but I wanted it down on “paper,” if you will.
They have participated in my healing in a very real way. For that, I will be forever grateful.
This last show is for you, Mom, to say another phase of good-bye to my grief. I may have another thirty or more years on this planet and I have to find real happiness along the way. As much as I love all of my departed family, I must learn to live in the land of the living.
So, I shed my mourningwear and don my own dreamcoat for the future. And, what pretty colors it is!
Every time an audience member comes up to me after a show to say how much they enjoyed our production or that the drums were too loud, I always wonder if they truly know what a music director does?
There is no way to fully describe everything we do; however, in a more esoteric way, I can say that we breathe for the production. From the first rehearsal, we train the singers and instrumentalists how we want them to create the aural portraits of the characters and scenes they are portraying. Every attack is a message. Every dynamic change draws us into or sweeps us up to a landmark moment.
If we, as music directors are very good at what we do, we become invisible. It is only the character and feel of the moment that you see and hear. The stage director creates the pictures and overarching structure of the piece; however, once the piece is in production, the music director has to make sure it stays on track like a train conductor.
The smart music directors trust their performers to, first, bring their expertise in musical theatre performance to the table, adding their own takes on phrasing, dynamic and storytelling. Then, they ensure that the performers have a consistent and stable foundation on which to build their nightly creations. The more readily the music director does this, the more invisible he becomes, so that on opening night, he truly is simply a back and a stick to the audience.
I’ve been so very lucky in my years as a music director to be surrounded by outstanding musicians, both in the pit and on the stage. They are creative and joyful in the preparation for their performances. They are intelligent, sensitive and vibrant in their artistry.
I often describe myself more as a jeweler who simply sets the beautiful stones in a creative setting. The gems themselves are perfect the way they are. The jeweler just polishes them a little bit.
When one gazes upon an exquisite ring, one doesn’t think of the designer who made it; one simply sees the beauty of the piece. That’s as it should be. That will continue to be my goal for each production I music direct.
After years of working on my genealogy, you know, if you’re following my posts, that I have finally found the gravesite for my great-grandmother, Gertrude, the last one of her brothers and sisters to be located.
This evening, while playing piano and conducting, “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” at the Woodland Opera House, my great-great-grandmother, Beatrice, and her mother, Medarda, visited me.
As I stood backstage, waiting to go on before the first act, the evening felt different somehow. I felt secure and peaceful in a way that I haven’t felt in a very long time. I couldn’t explain it, really. I felt a new confidence. I didn’t connect the feeling with anything specific. It was just there, like a fragrance that lingers in the air from something you hadn’t seen come or go.
Halfway through the first act, I had a clairvoyant and intuitive experience in which I saw Beatrice standing in front of me smiling. Her mother, Medarda, stood behind her, also smiling. At first, I was confused why they chose this moment to visit me. Then, it hit me.
Both Medarda and Beatrice were outstanding musicians and music teachers. Everyone who experienced their music said that they played dynamically and could move people to tears with their music. They expressed their power through music.
While I may not be a musician at that level, I have followed in their footsteps as I, too, am a music educator and professional music director. As part of my skills, I play the piano, as did my ancestors.
Gertrude was Beatrice’s daughter and Medarda’s granddaughter. I had stayed focused on finding Gertrude for many years until, at last, I found her.
It was Beatrice and Medarda who came to say, “Thank you for loving my daughter enough to find her and, in effect, bring her home from anonymity.” They did so by making my hands, slightly crippled with arthritis and the aftereffects of two strokes and five decades of life, glide across the keys in a way they hadn’t flown for well over a decade. I played beautifully.
I smiled humbly at my female ancestors and my musical progenitors. In a way, I suppose, I, too, found a new home within the Herrera-Lopez clan. Perhaps for the first time, at this level, I felt as though I was contributing to the family in a dynamic and profound way.
Not unlike a musical theatre production, one does not find an ancestor in a vaccuum. There are family members and strangers alike who participate. I know, though, that in this particular effort, it was my focus that kept things moving and, for that, I am so very proud.
Thank you to my genetic and musical family line, Bette, Lorraine, Gertrude, Beatrice and Medarda, for bringing my music in the first place and elevating it to a new level tonight.
I, too, am home.
Yesterday, we shot the first four scenes of our movie, “Two Tears and a Bucket.” Good fortune rained down upon us, not unlike the rain today rained out our second day of shooting… torrentially.
Our locations were perfect. Our cast was on the money. Our Director of Photography was better than one could have ever imagined.
Everything fell into place and, quite honestly, I’m both surprised and satisfied with the consistency of our process. It seems, as my mother would always say, like a cat, I always land on my feet. Day after day, year after year, no matter what the challenges, things routinely work out well. I haven’t any explanation for this; however, I am grateful. Perhaps it is my faith. Perhaps I was born under a lucky star. Whatever the reason, I sit in humble gratitude for my good fortune and the beneficent stars that surround this project.
As artistic endeavors are undertaken, no matter who is involved, there seems to be an unheard engine of motivation and inspiration to action by those involved. Artists are compelled by our desire to communicate, no matter through which medium.
There are times when it seems as though we are screaming silently from within our cages, just in case one person might hear us. At other times, we are raising our jubilant tones in celebration and thanksgiving on the top of a mountain in the resounding dings and bongs of our joy.
Each of us, however, is calling to at least one other person to hear us.
It is in that primal urge toward being heard that we find our intentions manifested, I suppose.
And, so it was yesterday. Our scenes are now digitally embedded into a computer chip, and more importantly, our voices are preparing to be heard by others as we begin the editing and release process.
Release. A great word, really, for what happens to our picture when it is completed. A great word, too, for what happens to our message within the film.
Our life scenes are once again reflected in our artistic processes – imagined, manifested, created and released. Suddenly, we no longer own our small civilization. We must offer it to others so that they, too, will understand what is within us and maybe, in some small way, be more fully connected to their own message and inspired to share it with others, as well.