By Patrick Summers
HGO Artistic and Music Director
I have a favorite 20 minutes of my childhood, and for them I owe deep gratitude to a woman I don’t know. She was a substitute teacher for one day in southern Indiana in the late 1960s when I was in first grade, and our lives coincided only that once, for precise reasons I was then too young, and am now too old, to recall. They are sunlit memories. No gray. No haze.
First grade in those days meant one teacher for the whole day and for all subjects; we did not move from class to class until we were older. The light, according to my memory, was slanted towards late afternoon. Very warm; almost hot; must have been late spring. Windows open to birdsong. It was time for the musical part of the day. She sounded a note on a pitch pipe and started to sing. Hers wasn’t the first great voice I heard; our kindergarten teacher the year before had played records of Caruso (can you imagine?), but I’d never heard a great voice live.
Her voice didn’t simply fill the room. She completed it, as though it had been lying in wait for this sound. She walked through the desks, encouraging each of us to lift our own voices to match hers. As she approached me, my whole body became resonant with her voice. She had a jolly laugh and warm smile. She was fun, and her voice created more of it.
I’ve sought all my life to recreate the feeling of that moment, the joy of both discovery and realization. Obviously, I could never recreate her voice, but it still feels to me that the primary duty of art and artists is the turning on of a light; we do not need to know what it might eventually illuminate. I can still hear her singing.
It is now scientifically known that observation changes what is being observed. So it is with the giving of voice, with the physical act of singing. It alters us.
There are countless blogs in the world now, and a few of them have become indispensible to the big conversations demanded by the arts. This blog will be twice-monthly musings, with photos, about whatever I happen to be engaged in at that time, a little glimpse of a life in the arts. It will hopefully be both fun and informative. It will rarely attempt to solve a problem. No matter how tempting, it will not be polemic, as we have plenty of that anywhere you seek it. It will be a place to share ideas and conversations about opera, art, music, travel, education, books— all of the good stuff. I’m going to somehow honor that anonymous teacher I encountered nearly a half-century ago, and see if I can turn on a light somewhere. Maybe her contagious laugh and inspiring voice will find its way back in unexpected ways.