I attended a Liederabend in the 18th century tradition tonight. This translates from German, “an evening of music.” I sat in a folding chair in a living room listening to rich, textured operatic voices and the most artful, seraphic piano accompaniment I have ever heard from that close of range. Thirty people gathered to engross themselves in the talent of their friends and family. No wonder musicianship was more universal in the 18th century. They say entertainment was less accessible and TV had yet to steal our higher minds, but I believe they inspired music in each other. It must be impossible to attend a Liederabend and not be moved to make music. I wanted to float the arpeggios, grace the high notes and emote the stories of Bach, Schubert and Verdi like the performers. I wanted to crawl inside their beautiful singing bodies and be them.
Other great talents have tugged on my heart the same way. I remember being eight and having the same desire to emulate Broadway’s Annie the first time I saw the musical. Watching the Winter Olympics I wanted to be Dorothy Hamill; figure skating’s bowl-cut darling. When I first read about Jane Goodall, I was good as gone for chimps in Africa. And when the soprano walked up to the piano tonight and twinkled like Sean White about to enter the halfpipe, I felt the same familiar “tug” at my heart. After she performed, the baritone took the stage. He was also the host, and an amateur. He sang Figaro and joy exploded in the room. We cheered him. We loved him. We were him. He was accessible. He didn’t have earth shattering talent; he just had to sing. It turns out that these performers and Jane, Annie, Dorothy and Shaun had something else in common; simply doing what they love to do.
As humans, we react viscerally, we celebrate, when we see people expressing love. Whether its in a performance, a book, a game, or mundane life, we feel it with them. When we witness two people committing their lives to each other in marriage, we dance all night. When my eight year old shows me the new ship or train he has drawn, I glow. When a baby reaches out to mom for the first time, she cries. When a rock star carries the highest, strongest note in the ballad, we feel powerful. And no matter the task at hand, or the simplicity of the feat, we feel joy. We resonate.
Some of the greatest compositions of 18th century weren’t written for masters on stages; they were written for the Liederabend in the living room where people got together to share their music. I left the show tonight feeling inspired. I felt free to sing or run or write or ski or parent, NOT to be great, but just because its what I love to do. Some people were born for greatness, but we were all born to love something.