He who sings, prays twice: Cancer and faith

The last hour before you start a theater show looks crazy.  Everyone is getting into costume and doing their makeup in front of too few mirrors. People are making sure their props are in the right place.  Actors with mikes sing for the mike check.   The run crew makes sure the lighting, curtains, etc. are correct.  The orchestra and the singers warm up. Everyone is excited and rushing around.  The house opens and the audience starts to arrive.  Everything gets quieter backstage, but the excitement still simmers.  

Finally, the lights go down.  The orchestra starts the overture.  Everything quiets down backstage.  The actors get into place onstage and in the wings.  You focus on what you're about to do.  It's like you're suspended and waiting to move.

In that beautiful moment of suspension, focus, and anticipation, I often (okay, almost always) have some of my most focused prayers - that the show will go well for everyone, that the audience will enjoy it, that cast members who are sick or sad will be able to enjoy the show...

...and thanksgiving.  Those are some of my most thankful prayers - particularly during this summer's show since I wasn't even sure I'd be able to sing again last fall after my surgery.

I don't know that I've written about this before because... well, your best prayers are supposed to be at church, right?

After not being able to go to church for months after my partial thyroidectomy last year (post here), I embrace any way that I can worship.  I've always thought that one can encounter God all over, not just in church.  But after months of being too dizzy and exhausted to make it through a formal service, I now enthusiastically advocate meeting God anywhere and everywhere.

Otherwise, only the healthy can encounter God in a significant way!  If you can only meet God in a long church service after a drive which exhausts you, that leaves those with health problems out in the cold.  If you look at the stories about Jesus, leaving the sick out is not following Jesus! 

I've always liked physical expressions of faith - making the sign of the cross, kneeling for prayer (before I had knee surgery), genuflecting, etc.

During my long recovery from surgery, I started feeling like genuflecting at places other than in the Nave at church. 

At Ayr Mount in the spring...


...at family dinners, at choir rehearsals (I could go to rehearsals long before I could last through a formal service), while doing short hikes in the mountains, out in the gardens, etc. - anyplace I felt thankful and closer to God.

 At various churches, we've heard all sorts of things about how and why to pray to God:  To remind God of His promises (evangelical); adoration, petition, thanksgiving, confession, and intercession (Catholic), because the Bible tells you to, etc.

Since my surgery, pat answers about prayer seem even further away.  Petition?  Walk around the Duke Cancer Center and see the small,tired children with bald heads and large stuffed animals being wheeled around in strollers or wagons by their parents.  Why was my cancer solved by surgery, and their treatment goes on and on?  I don't know.  There are few prayers that are more fervent than the prayers of those parents.  

I still pray.  Mostly for other people, a bit for me, lots of thanksgiving.  I pray because... God.  

There's really nothing else to add.

Praying in a church at a service is nice - it's pretty and inspirational.  I no longer believe that it's essential - because anything that leaves out the sick can't be the only way to God.

I still believe the Eucharist is important, but - and here's the difficult part for me - I no longer believe that it's essential because anything that leaves out the sick can't be the most important way to God.

My faith at this point is expressed in two ways.  

First, by taking care of people.  After not being able to do much of that for months, it's so wonderful to be able to do.  Those of you who were in this year's musical saw that on overdrive this summer.  I recorded music to help people learn it, had the altos over to my house to work on music, hosted set painting work evenings in our garage, sewed, and I'm now going through the over 1,000 photos that my husband took at a dress rehearsal to edit the best ones for the cast.

Taking care of people - and almost all of that could be done at home because my energy isn't back to lots of running around yet.

Second, by singing to God.  That's where the title quote from St. Augustine comes in.  After the post-surgery possibility of totally losing my voice, singing is even more important that it was before.  Whenever I sing, and whatever I sing, I'm always singing to God.  It doesn't matter if it's an Alleluia, a choir anthem, a musical theater audition, blending my voice with others in the chorus of a show, or singing along with a song by P!nk.  I'm always singing to God.


[Note:  I wrote this a year ago, after I was in a local production of Li'l Abner.  After not being able to sing for four months the previous fall/winter because of my partial thyroidectomy, I actually got my first solo singing role in a theater production!  Being with my theater family that summer and being able to help out so much, was very healing for me after a long year of a slow recovery (and choir helped immensely over the spring, even though I wasn't well enough at that point to make it through a long Sunday morning).  A year later, after two more wonderful musical theater experiences (Ragtime and Annie), I've come back to this post, and it's still pretty much what I believe.  I'll be looking for a church closer to home (hopefully) in the next year or two.*  What I'm looking for in a church hasn't really changed from what I've always wanted, but I'm finally being really open about what I feel is what I should do with this time I have been given.  More on that in future posts, but, it's really all here in this one.  Singing and helping people.]

 * Younger son has one more year of homeschooling left so I'm not splitting my focus at this point.  Also, we've always rushed into joining churches, and I'd like to do things differently this time.  

It's okay to cry at the theater

There would be tissues left on the floor of the theater after performances of Les Misérables.  Members of the production crew would have to clean them up afterwards, but that was actually a happy thing because it meant that the performances were really reaching the audience - causing them to cry.  Some of us were teary backstage - watching Eponine die or "Empty Chairs at Empty Tables" from the wings - even though we'd seen those scenes over and over at rehearsals and performances.  

I've been going to Good Friday and Palm/Passion Sunday Masses/Services for about thirty years.  We listen to the events of the torture and death of Jesus - and we're stone-faced.  It's part of the central story of our faith, but we don't express emotion about it.  I'm not saying that people don't feel emotion (I'm assuming they feel a lot), but it's not part of our tradition to express that.  

Our choir often sings "When I Survey the Wondrous Cross" for either Palm Sunday or Good Friday.  I have to work very hard to sing it at services without having tears running down my face.*

Many of the wonderful cast members of Les Misérables were also excellent in this winter's production of Jesus Christ Superstar.  While watching, I was finally able to cry freely while watching the events of the Passion vividly acted onstage - and I wasn't the only one with tissues out.**

I've had various health problems for the last few months, and I had a few weeks where I felt too weak to leave the house at all (I was in the Predni Zone - like the Twilight Zone, but not as interesting).  I had planned on singing in choir for the winter and spring.  Instead, I only sang one Sunday between New Year's and Easter.  I'm still slowly regaining my energy (my adrenal glands apparently decided to reappear last Monday, which means that I no longer have to eat every ninety minutes to keep my blood sugar from plummeting), but I'm not back to normal yet.  Even though it exhausted me (and I had to keep swigging blood-sugar-enhancing orange juice throughout), I went to choir rehearsals the last two weeks because the music they were singing was so wonderful.  

I finally sang again for the Easter service today!  Again, I had to take two naps this afternoon because I was so exhausted, but I had a wonderful time.  I was so happy to be singing at a service again that I had tears of happiness running down my cheeks for the first half of the Eucharistic prayer.

After being stuck at home for a large part of the last three months, my priorities seem to have changed. I accepted the tears as a heartfelt response to the blessing of being in choir and let them go their way.  


* Okay, I don't always succeed.

**  I threw mine out.

"Windows are Rolled Down" - Amos Lee

I finish 2014_07_25_6549aspediting the last photo today.  I've spent lots of my free time the last month selecting the best 200+ photos (out of the almost 4,000 dear husband took) of our community theater's production of Seussical.  Tomorrow, I'll send them out to the cast & crew (dh refers to this as my "love letter to everyone involved," which I guess it is)(they're a wonderful group of people!).  

Today, I've been feeling emotionally flat after finishing.  I spent a lot of time this afternoon playing computer games.  It was too hot & humid (or rainy) to do much outside.  This evening, I finally checked in with some of the blogs I read regularly - most of which I haven't read since rehearsals got busy back in early July.  

Don't Eat Alone had a music post, summersong, in early August, which included some favorites of mine (Nanci Griffith and the Indigo Girls) and some wonderful songs I haven't heard before.  My favorite of those is Windows are Rolled Down by Amos Lee:


New music woke up the rest of my mind again!

[I'm not posting any of the other 200+ photos, but here's my current Facebook photo.  I was a bird girl - such a fun costume, and I had fun acting with the other bird girls!]

Rehearsals (written a month ago)

I am having a fantastic time at the rehearsals for Les Mis.  Everyone there has been very friendly, and I'm working hard at trying to learn people's names - which is difficult for me because I'm usually paying so much attention to people's personalities when I meet them that the names go in one ear and out the other.  The Facebook group for the musical has been good because then I can look at the photos and the names every day.  

It's funny - I usually am starting to feel really gloomy at this point of the year because of the short days, but I don't feel that way this year (for the most part - there are some bad days).  Rehearsals make everything seem sunnier even if the sun went down two hours before.  Even though I'm much busier, and have spent all my free time some days learning music, I feel like I have more energy and enthusiasm for everything.  I used to wonder about some of the people I know who seem to go from one performance to another.  How did they have the energy?!  I think I'm beginning to understand.  

I'm amazed at the rate at which we're learning the music.  Most of the people in it seem to be able to read music so we don't spend a lot of time on the notes.  We spend lots of time on the rhythms and the enunciation - you need to be very precise when over 60 people are singing a fast song together.

We drive back and forth to the rehearsals in Burlington by driving through Graham, which is decorated for Christmas and is very pretty.

 [I wrote this on Dec 5, but then got so busy with rehearsals and Christmas shopping that I never got back to it.  We started the staging in the theater this week - it's so much fun!]

Some of the best weeks of the year

Happy time.  Exhausted time.  We've had daily rehearsals since Sunday a week ago (except for last Friday).  Performances are Thursday through Sunday, then we clean everything up and put it away.  We'll be done until next year.*

There the most intense days of the year, and I love them.  Sunday, after the 7 1/2 hour rehearsal, we walked outside, and I was surprised that there was still any light in the sky.  After rehearsals Saturday and Sunday, it felt strange to listen to non-show music on Monday morning.  Life seems more real when I'm at rehearsals - but I also feel like I appreciate things more outside of rehearsals too. 

Another thing I love about these days is that, for the most part, I can be totally myself.  If there's something that needs to be done - volunteer, or, better yet, just do it!  I'm not constantly tiptoeing or second-guessing myself.  There's so much to be done that it's kind of hard to step on toes. 

There's so much to be done that you can do all sorts of things.  A few years ago, when the musical director was working with the teen chorus, I got to teach the music to the adult chorus.  Last year, I painted scenery (I'd never done anything like that before).  Last year I also danced, which was a blast! 

This year, I'm not dancing (I don't tap dance, and it's a tap musical), but I am singing in a little bit as the soprano in an Andrews Sister-type trio.  Since flute was my major activity in high school, and my major in college, I've played solos.  However, though it's not a solo, I've never sung anything like this trio.  I'm always safely anonymous in the second soprano section or the chorus.  I'm excited and nervous!

I also learn things faster as time goes on.  It took a while to learn the first music we got in June even though I worked on it at the piano at home.  I learned the music we got last week in a few days. 

Every year, I realize that I'm my most self-confident during the musical time.  I'm more likely to strike up conversations with strangers and more likely to talk to anyone - I think my posture is even better because I walk taller.  Fortunately, this lasts until sometime in the fall.  Unfortunately, it takes a while to come back so I'm overly cautious for the first week or two of rehearsals. 

Older son says that starting rehearsals again each summer is like going to a family reunion.  I've had a wonderful summer working on the musical with everyone and meeting new people.

Opening night is tonight.  I have all sorts of emotions.  I'm excited but also sad because it means that we're close to the end.  Even though I'd never have the energy to keep up this pace, I don't want it to be over. 

* Well, the average cast member is.  The board members are busy year-round.

"Raining in My Heart" by Bernadette Peters (and also what's been happening here)

I haven't really taken my netbook out of the house much - in fact, it's mostly taken up residence in younger son's room, because Minecraft, even slow-running on the netbook, is better than no Minecraft.  I brought it along this evening because I haven't blogged much lately - for a few different reasons.

Rehearsals for this summer's community theater production, Dames at Sea started four weeks ago, and we open two weeks from tonight.  They're rehearsing Raining in My Heart, which is one of my favorite songs in the entire, extremely fun, musical. 

Dames at Sea is a late 1960's homage to the big musicals of the 30's and 40's.  It has an ingenue, a wise-cracking chorus girl, a diva, romance, misunderstandings, reconciliations, a Nelson-Eddy/Jeanette MacDonald-style waltz, and, of course...

A wistful rain number. 

Although she started acting professionally at a young age, Bernadette Peter's performance as Ruby, the ingenue, made her a critically acclaimed star.  Here she is singing Raining in My Heart in concert:

Along with the musical, lots more has been going on here.  That's why I'm actually writing during a part of the rehearsal that I'm not involved in.  I don't blog in the evening because by the time I've got time, I'm too tired. 

Because photoblogging and the internet have gotten so slow on my six-year-old computer, we ordered a new computer for me in late May.  It's a computer specifically designed to handle Photoshop easily (apparently it's a memory hog of a program).   Dear husband has spent lots of time getting it set up for me!

Not this week, though - for such a happy reason!

Dear husband started his new job this week.  He started out working for a local company, which was eventually bought by a company in South Carolina, which was eventually bought by a company in Atlanta.  He's been going out-of-state to the company headquarters for over nine years now.  They closed the local office a few years ago so he's been working from home when he's not traveling.  His new company is headquartered in California, but he'll be spending most of his time at the local office. 

I'm so happy he'll be actually working with others at the office rather than always talking on the phone.  [Although, I already really miss having him home to talk to at lunch.]  Great company, great benefits, and he's got so much to learn.


We've been trying to get lots of stuff done around the house in the last two weeks because we knew we wouldn't have much time once rehearsals get into high gear and while he's trying to get up to speed at work. 

[They're still working on the harmonies so I'll go on to a book review of a book that has captivated me lately.]

Bits and Pieces: April 11, 2012

April is a third of the way over already?!  How did that happen?!!!

Oh, it started with Holy Week, which kind of races by because it's so intense.

A few random thoughts, some of which could be posts on their own, but I'll never get around to it:

  • I think I enjoyed Holy Week more this year than any other year.  Part of it was that my voice has been doing pretty well lately.  I could really enjoy the music without having to worry so much about whether my voice could handle it.  
  • I feel joy in choir. 
  • I tried an introductory modern/jazz class last week, and I really enjoyed it (third use of the syllable "joy" in the post).  However, since it was really all modern, we did the whole class barefooted, and my arches were killing me when I was done.  I've been going to physical therapy for Achilles tendonitis/plantar fasciitis for the last month so, yesterday, I asked my physical therapist what she thought.  She thought that it would be good practice for me in using my legs correctly and that I should keep going! 
  • I did the modern class last night, had a quick snack at Francesca's (they have soup along with the desserts), and then went to choir.  I was exhausted by the time I got home!
  • I've had 3 bad bouts of the Achilles tendonitis/plantar fasciitis in the last year, keeping me from doing anything beyond taking walks for anywhere from a week to a month.  Physical therapy has been so helpful the last month!  It turns out that this isn't that unusual for people who've had knee surgery.  After knee surgery, you spend lots of time strengthening the muscles around the knee.  Sometimes, as in my case, those muscles get so strong that they take over from the gluteal muscles, which throws everything out of alignment.  I've been doing glute exercises to combat that.  Also, my calves have been taking over from my glutes which makes the calves tigheter which pulles on the Achilles tendon, etc.  I'm supposed to focus on doing movements in modern with my glutes rather than my calves. 
  • As much as I love Zumba, I've really missed doing a regular dance class.  There's a focus and intensity in doing that.  It's also been about time to try something new. 
  • It really hit me last night that daughter isn't coming home this summer.  In the last two weeks, she's found another job, along with the research job that she's staying in Asheville for, and a place to live.  I'm so happy that everything is coming together for her, but my eyes are still puffy from crying last night.
  • Okay, and this morning (back from getting a Kleenex).
  • We spent time helping older son plan for going to Prague this summer.  The house is going to seem so large and quiet with just three of us here.
  • The chorus for this year's summer musical is only half as large as the choruses the last few years.  I'm really worried that I won't get in. 
  • If I don't, I'm going to see if I can audition to play flute in the pit orchestra.  Of course, I'll still help with costumes and sets.  Younger son is really excited about helping with sets again this summer. 
  • With the studio course he's taking in Prague, and because he's taken fairly heavy course loads all along, older son will be able to graduate a semester early - next December - if he wants. 
  • With older son going to Prague, daughter staying in Asheville, possibly not being involved in the musical the same way, and other changes, such as one of my best friends moving further away, and another friend going to the night shift, my social world feels like it's shrinking.  That makes me angry. I could write a long post about this, but there are plants to plant. 
  • My creative life is expanding; my social life is shrinking.  After looking at this internet cat video, I feel that I should be able to come up with some dramatic meaning in this, but I can't:

[Hat tip to Books and Movies]

  • For equal time here's Text From My Dog (language) [Hat tip to a Facebook friend]
  • Oh, and it's not as simple as "Just go out and meet more people!"  The number of people that I can really be myself around - not continually tone down - is not that large. 
  • We're heading up to Asheville this weekend to see daughter's dance performance.  I'm excited!

Smoke on the Mountain Homecoming - Orange Community Players

Last night, we had a wonderful time at the Orange Community Players production of Smoke on the Mountain Homecoming.  It's the third play in a trilogy about the gospel-singing, Sanders family (the first two plays were Smoke on The Mountain and Sanders Family Christmas which OCP performed the last two years).  The singing and the harmonies are lovely and the hymns are woven in with the stories the characters tell and with the reality of their current lives.  Here's the setting (from the OCP website):

It's October 1945 and the gospel-singing Sanders Family is back together again. The war is over and America's years of prosperity are just beginning. But there's another kind of rite of passage at Mount Pleasant Baptist Church, where Reverend Mervin Oglethorpe is giving his last service. He's been called to preach in Texas, and he's already bought a ten-gallon hat and is preparing to ride into the sunset with his wife June, who is eight months pregnant. Tomorrow morning, young Dennis Sanders takes over as Mount Pleasant's pastor.

Join Burl and Vera Sanders, along with Dennis’s twin Denise and Uncle Stanley as they send Mervin and June off in style, with hilarious and touching stories and twenty-five toe-tapping Bluegrass Gospel favorites.

Their faith, their flaws, their successes, and their love all come out through their stories.  All three plays have been gently beautiful (though, of course there are conflicts), and I wish I could see it again next weekend!

It's being performed at churches in the Hillsborough area.  Next weekend, the performances are:

Friday, Oct 7, 8 pm at Walnut Grove UMC
Saturday, Oct 8, 8 pm at Antioch Baptist Church
Sunday, Oct 9, 3 pm at Central Orange Senior Center, Hillsborough

For tickets, see the Orange Community Players website or buy them at the church at the performance.

Introverts and acting

I never would have tried acting in high school because I was quiet, and acting must be for outgoing people. Right?*

Then, three summers ago, my son, who is one of the most introverted people I've ever known,** got involved with the community theater's production of The Music Man.  He was in the barbershop quartet.  He'd been in choir for a few years so I knew he could handle the singing.

What surprised me was that he could handle the acting.  He really throws himself into it!

I'm so used to listening to people and not being expressive (i.e. imposing my emotions on them), that I find the acting part of community theater very difficult.  Blocking and stage movement?  Fine - I can learn them.  Dance?  Fine - fun!  Singing?  Like breathing - except longer. 

Last year, someone videorecorded some of the songs during the dress rehearsal of Bye, Bye, Birdie.  I thought I was being expressive, but, when I looked at the video I looked very wooden compared to the other chorus members.  I was glad that they had posted it so that I could change.  This year, I was watching what the other chorus members were doing in scenes so that I could learn from them.  Dear husband said I was far more expressive at the closing performance. 

I still wonder at why or how introverts act onstage - when they aren't necessarily emoting the rest of the time.  I find it very interesting.  On the other hand, in everyday life, introverts have to work hard to act like everyone else because being extroverted is the norm and expected.  Stage acting is much more fun (and creative)! 

Every summer, there's one Sunday rehearsal that is very long.  We rehearse individual scenes, have dinner, and then we run through the show with the orchestra for the first time.  It's a very long day. 

By the end, you can tell the introverts in the cast because they're staring off into space when nothing's going on.  The extroverts, on the other hand, are getting even more talkative. 

There were lots of teens in the cast, and they're involved with theater in their high schools too.  I'm rather jealous - I wish I'd done that back then. 


* Well, that and the fact that I don't remember the high school I graduated from even having a drama program.  The first high school I went to did have an excellent one, and I really enjoyed their performances. The drama department seemed like a foreign country to me, however.

** If you know him in person, and you're saying,"What?", introverted means social events sap your energy,*** not that you're shy.  He's social, it just takes him a long time by himself to recharge. 

*** Unless they're musical ones, which give him energy.