Grateful gracefully

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The setting: the education building of a local church. The actors: choir members from the various churches in the area. The opera: "Amahl and the Night Visitors." Wonderful rapport, much joy, Menotti's open fifths, sounds grasped from the Universe. Dress rehearsal.m

The director called the cast together. "There will be no curtain calls," she announced. "We want this to be for the glory of God alone.Katherine, when the lights go out, go backstage, and then the audience will exit in silence."

"But Christy," I protested, "they will not exit in silence. They will applaud." The story and the music of the opera, so beautiful in themselves, demanded it. In addition this would be the first live performance of the work in our area.

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"We want this to be for the glory of God alone," Christy said again, and who was I to argue? She had offered me the role of the mother, one of my favorite scores for soprano. Yet I found her premise absurd. Would accepting the applause make it notm for the glory of God?

When, after the first performance, there was a standing ovation, I felt angry at our being forced to stay backstage. I did not doubt the director's humility, which sprang from a profound religious faith and a musical talent rarely found in little towns. But the whole thing strcuk me as rude and not well thought out. What did "the glory of God" have to do with applause?

The next night as we dressed I suggested that we rethink our attitude. But there was no time for a philosophical discussion, and that's what I really wanted. "Let's define what we mean by the glory of God." But nobody would take me up on it. So I turned to the young director.

"This is an opera, Christy, not an oratorio like Messiah.m the ending is such that the people have to applaud; when you try to prevent it they get confused. They needm to applaud."

Suddenly I laughed. Of course. That was it. They needed to applaud. The rest did not matter.

Later, unwinding after the performance, I lay in bed and thought out all the questions that had risen in my mind.

Was there a connection between what Christy called the glory of God and applause? What did it mean to an audience? What was it to me?

Pavarotti, one of the joys of my listening life, calls applause the performer's oxygen. I thought back on my experiences as a performer. What were my memories?Very little of the ending came to my mind, none of the applause rang in my ears. What I could feel and see again, vivid and moving as at first, was the rapport between me and the listeners. In church, on the stage, in concert, the sweet communion of me as the giver and the audience as the receiver came to me. The smile on some lips, tears in others' eyes, the joy on some faces. That was what I remembered, not the applause. It was so easy to be the performer, the gift-giver. At my best, I have always been aware that I was simply sharing a gift.

That was a point I found valid. I pinned it there on the bulletin board of my mind and went on to the next image. I switched the memory around. What of the times I had been the audience, the recipient? In the quiet of the night special echoes came back to me. . . . Marilyn Horne's voice, artistry, and awesome control causing in me an emotion akin to reverence, the kind that brought me to my feet and made me clap to thank her. The need was mine, not hers. . . . Rubinstein, at 90, playing Chopin, touching me beyond words; Joan Sutherland pouring those exquisite trills of hers; Maria Callas and her Greek passion on the stage -- the less than perfect voice becoming the perfect transmitter of the character's emotions. . . . Above all, the nights on the marble seats of the theater of Herod the Atticus under the splendor of the moonlit Acropolis, watching our precious heritage, the ancient tragedies reenacted. All the memories of the race through ages past rushing through me, leading, me to the souce of all beauty and all art.

I looked at this need for applause in the recipient and put it alongside the joy of the giver. how interesting. Applause is more important to the audience than to the performer. It is the old lesson in humility. It is more blessed to give, but it is so difficult to receive. Applause makes the reception of the gift easier to take -- otherwise we would burst from the sheer joy of it. What a beautiful release.

It all really goes back to the source, I concluded as I lay in the night. The Giver of all good gifts gives us not only the talent but the means of receiving it gracefully. Ultimately, it is all for the glory of God -- the giving and the receiving.

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