A Letter to the Father

Many of you know the story of how I went to seminary and intended to be a professor; how I felt deeply I was in the wrong place but didn’t know where the right place was. One of my dorm mates was an opera buff who had every opera record under the sun and listened to them morning, noon, and night. I listened with him for the year and a half I was there. Something about those great voices grabbed me down deep somewhere in my psyche and I bought some and began listening to opera while I was studying. Then one evening, a strange thing (for me then) happened. I clearly heard an inner voice say to me “your characters could be your sermons; the stage could be your pulpit; the theatre could be your church; the audience could be your congregation.” Now go put feet to your faith.” This shocked me! Baptists do not hear voices! Maybe Pentecostals do but not us Baptists. You have to understand that I had never had any serious voice lessons. I sang in choirs and sounded no better than anyone else. But just before I heard the voice, I remember praying almost through tears, “Father please tell me what to do. I don’t feel like I belong here.” Maybe that is why I believed it. I took a little step by faith. This was a new kind of ministry. I left seminary and got a job. When I wasn’t working I was listening to opera. This went on about six months until finally one day I opened my mouth to see if I could make a sound like those guys on the records, and out came the operatic voice I have had since! A friend came by and said “Hey, you’ve got quite a voice. You ought to enter the Met Auditions.” I didn’t know what they were but I said sure. I filled out the application, got some music for some hard bass arias and set to learning them by listening to records. I went down to sing the first level of the Met Auditions in Tulsa and had no expectations. I just sang and was named one of the winners. I was even given an apprenticeship with the Santa Fe Opera and the Tulsa Opera sponsored me and gave me grants. I thought to myself, “Gee, this opera business is a snap.” I had absolutely no social preparation to help me deal with this new profession. And I found out that not everybody would like me. I would have real enemies to fight. But I did my best, sang big roles in big houses. I made some mistakes and after singing in this world 11 years I made a personal mistake that took me off the stage. I kept thinking I would find a way to get back on, but I never did. I became a university teacher instead. But all through this era my heart was aching that I had failed in this new ministry that I had been divinely given. Friends were well meaning when they said, “It’s all in the past. Just move on!” But they didn’t understand the miracle I had been given and how deeply it had hurt me to feel I had not fulfilled what I had been given. I was still a minister at heart even when I was an opera singer.

Today, I wrote a letter to God and made a little boat with my recordings in it and my reviews, and I set it on the ocean when the tide was going out. I am going to share with you that letter.

Dearest Father,
I know that you know my thoughts and that you are here now as I type these words, but it is good for me to write to you this way. I love you with all my heart Father even though I scarcely know how to love, even scarcely know what it is. But you know me and knew me since before all time when I was and still am a part of you. I am a thought in your mind. It feels like I have been away from you a long time, but I know that is not true. I have just been dreaming a dream which to me seems long, but it really was over a long time ago. I am not making very much sense am I? I feel your heart in mine, dear Father. I have almost come for the time to leave this body and set sail again within the world of spirit. It is all a part of the dream which you can’t know because you know that I am safely inside your Mind. Thoughts leave not their thinker. But the Holy Spirit came with me into my dream. He witnessed my birth into this imaginary world. He saw how I so often thought of you. He saw as I viewed my part in my dream as a hero who would help people to remember you. He saw our Song awaken in my heart and formalize itself into a singer in this dream world. My career as an opera singer was the most important thing in my life because you gave me the gift to sing. Your Holy Spirit told me in Seminary that “my characters could be my sermons; the stage could be my pulpit; the theatre could be my church; the audience could be my congregation.” Then your Holy Spirit said to me, “Now go put feet to your faith.” I believed it Father. I knew it was True and that it came from you. I went into this strange, cruel, but wonderful world of opera and I sang with all my heart. I was surprised when some people didn’t like me, because my voice was from you. Along the way I sang as best as I could and I thought of you every time before I went on stage. I made some personal mistakes which I know you have forgiven me for. But I had a hard time forgiving myself for them. They took me out of the world of opera and took away my stage where I had my church. I felt like such a failure. I so wanted to use my voice to help others awaken. I thought my tears would never end for the loss of my career as a singer. You could not know my dream, of course, though you knew I was dreaming. But the Holy Spirit saw and felt everything that happened to me. He saw my tears and my broken heart. He saw the way I had to work in a cruel, cruel world of opera where the men who ran it were asleep in their own dreams of indifference, hatred and usury.
But Father, after the dream of opera changed, I learned more and remembered more. A new dream of awakening into love’s Presence came to me. On the shores of Burnaby Lake with beautiful ducks and geese, birds and fish, water and flowers, I remembered us more. That dream of awakening is still playing out in me. Father, I loved singing, but I give it back to you now as my gift to you. Here in this little boat that I have set adrift to the ocean, there is a computer stick, with all my songs, and all my reviews. They are my gift of thanks back to you for the song we share. Now I will finish the work I began at Burnaby Lake. I will fully remember you and see the face of Christ in all my brothers, even the dark ones who dream nightmares, and who will laugh at the silly old man who writes to God. But that is OK. I do not care. We can speak now all the time if you want Father. I have nothing on my mind but you…and my brothers because I keep seeing the face of Christ in them!

Your Loving Son,
Joseph

164806_1772243636972_7512711_n
Advertisements

Truth, Music and Creation

When you sing serious music, you must understand that there is no intrinsic Truth in the musical form! The musical form needs something to bring it to Truth and that something is human experience. Singing is intrinsically human when it expresses deep emotions, but the musical form–even the melody–is not true, so don’t be so proud you can sing the notes to an operatic aria or a song from Lieder. If you have not brought human experience to the song, it is dead. Songs have to be sung. They cannot just be thought. So when you sing you must bring to the musical form human truth and let it be shown and felt. You must stream the truth to the music as you sing and this we call acting. All singing is also acting if truth has been brought to the music. Otherwise music is just a form that we use to create a block to the awareness of Truth. How often we see this. Some “great singer” sings a great piece of music–let’s say Schubert’s Die Winterreise–and we see him standing by the piano, his arms by his side, and as far as we can tell, there is no human truth being given to either the music or the audience, and there is always an audience for singing, even if it is just nature or God. No song is sung in obscurity!! He sings the music very well. His phrasing is good. His timbre is good. All the aspects of the musical form are good, but it is as dead as any lifeless form. The music has captured his mind and it sings through him as though on auto-pilot, as though a robot were singing. He has forgotten that his mental attention must be ahead of the musical beat so that he can present truth to the music as it comes. This takes a lot of concentration, of course, and so he contents himself with “just singing.” He tells himself a lie, that the music doesn’t need to be acted.
One of the best tools for a singer is oral interpretation of literature. One must take the text as a text and interpret it with human truth. Only then is he ready to “sing” that text with meaning in a song or aria. The “acting” will then be very easy and realistic. You won’t just stand there with your arms in one position and we will see on your face and in your body the human truth that you have brought to the music.
In the Stanislavsky Method, there are two “beats” involved in singing, the first “beat” is the awareness in the mind of a choice for how the phrase is being interpreted. The second beat is the musical beat. So, the dramatic beat must be before the musical beat or no truth is offered to the music. The music is very good at hypnotising the conscious mind into falling in line with its beat. If that happens, the singer is just a singing machine and there is no truth!! But if you know this you can also tell that the music is very good at giving the mind imagination out of which a dramatic beat can be chosen. It takes work! Creation takes work! We see little of it happening today. Singers struggle just with technique to sing the notes. They have no energy left over for human truth!!! But I also saw this in the singing of two generations ago among singers we now consider “golden age” singers. They just sang and added on some gesture here or there and called it truth, but such is as much a lie as we see today! Creation has always been difficult, and only creation can be called “art.”

Image may contain: 1 person, beard