Failed Epics

I recently read LeRoux's The Phantom of the Opera. It utterly blew me away with its exquisite, delicate interweaving of good and evil, love and hate, light and darkness. The supernatural mysteries with their quite rational, human, explanations all swirling about the mysterious supernatural power of that ordinary human phenomenon we call music... I was in a daze for about a week, just relishing the beauty of the tale. I have certainly read better novels, but that is among the best stories I have ever experienced.

Thus it was with great disappointment that I pulled out Andy's old soundtrack from the musical. It's... a musical. A good musical, full of delightful, charming songs. Broadway at its best.

But the Phantom, after all, haunts the Paris Opera, not Broadway. Whatever the merits of Webber's score, it is not music of the soaring beauty that drives men mad. His songs are the songs of a wonderful evening's entertainment, not the songs of sirens. And as lovely and lucid as the performance was, it lacked that inexplicable genius which forms the entire theme of the story. Sarah Brightman has a gorgeous voice, but I am not entirely convinced that she has heard the Angel of Music.

I was pontificating to Andy the other day, voicing my complaints against the predictable love songs written for this delicately unexpected romance, and the bombastically forceful overture with absolutely no harmonic interest to justify its sweeping pretentions. As Andy responded, I realized that this conversation was treading on very familiar territory. My husband, as usual, took pity on Webber, the composer, the man. Was I saying that this man's greatest work was a failure? Well, no... it's really good, just nowhere near good enough to justify the subject matter.

My mind flipped back to a similar conversation we'd had a while back about Michael Card. I absolutely love his Ancient Faith album. He beautifully draws out the poignant stories of individual men as they weave in and out of the grand story of redemption. It's absolutely breathtaking.

I am much less impressed, however, with his album based around the book of Revelation. He seems to be rather over-reaching himself, trying to paint a sort of grandeur that he simply does not have the tools to paint. As a result, the overture in particular winds up coming across as bombastic rather than profound.

Although it wasn't Andy's favorite of Card's album's either, he was almost personally hurt by my harsh critique. Was I saying that Card is a failure? Of course not--just that he should stick to approaching the Great Story via the small stories of particular men. But Andy still thought that I was being a bit harsh to tell someone that they should stick to the little stuff, leaving the big stuff for people like Bach and Handel.

I still think I'm right in a sense. It's not just about the skills of a particular composer, it's about the capacities of a form. The music in a Broadway musical can only go so deep. It must be easily accessible to the general public, and it cannot build up much of a macrostructure, being necessarily broken up by dialogue. A musical can do a lot of things, but it cannot produce the sort of music that the Phantom is about. In the same way, I really do think that a ballad is well suited to tell Abraham's story, probably better than an oratorio could. But to sing about Revelation, you probably need an oratorio.

Nevertheless... at the end of the day, would you rather be Milton, your life's work a failed epic, a deeply flawed poem reaching for magnificent grandeur, striving to explicate the deepest mysteries of God and Man, and failing...

....Or Steinbeck, with his really excellent, practically perfect novels.

Cannery Row is just about flawless. Mack's complaints in the intro to Sweet Thursday notwithstanding, I can't think of any room for imrovement. Funny and endearing and poignant and tragic, it gives humanity and dignity to the lives of the bums and whores and drunks and loonies in a tiny close-knit community on the Monterey Bay. It's a fabulous book.

But then again, I suspect that Handel was overreaching himself too, I just don't know enough to see it.

And aren't we all failed epics?

Someday there is redemption and wholeness. But woe to him who has safely buried his treasure.



I always thought the whole Baby Einstein hoopla was pretty silly. So when my sister-in-law gave the boys some DVDs for Christmas, we weren't tremendously sad about the fact that we do not have a DVD player. But... the lack of a DVD player also means that we can't watch that spiffy salsa dance instruction video Andy checked out of the library, so we borrowed Chris and Sheri's laptop to watch DVDs on. Of course, once there's a DVD player in the house, you cannot escape the necessity of watching the DVDs...

And they're wonderful!

They are actually really beautiful, setting the movements of everyday toys to music, incorporating rhythm and grace into the elements that make up a child's experience. They integrate aesthetic appreciation into a child's natural wonder and curiousity. They are very tasteful, being geared toward the simplicity of a child's comprehension, rather than toward the crudity of a child's taste. The boys are enthralled, and I, a classically trained musician, am not above delighting in its beauty.

Another wonderful thing is that they invite human interaction. The DVDs call themselves "digital board books," and indeed, the boys and I had lots of fun pointing out everything on the screen. The videos are so low-key that there is plenty of room for mommy to be involved.

All in all, I was very excited to see such a wonderful use of the available technology. The technology was used in such a way as to conform to a child's developmental needs, rather than conforming a child's development to the technology.

Meanwhile, moving from the sublime to the ridiculous, we watched a decidedly mediocre childrens show on PBS the other day. We watched it, not because we were particularly fascinated by the plight of the lazy, unmotivated insurance salesman, but because the advertisement at the begining of the show informed us that it was funded through the No Child Left Behind Act, and I was curious to find out what it was that they had deemed a higher priority than sufficient textbooks for underprivileged schools.

I am rather bewildered...


Zen and the Art of Kitchen Floor Maintainance

We have a lovely Zen garden in the kitchen.

Yes, the boys got into the sugar.

I always did think Zen gardens were pretty sweet...



...and waiting...

It seem's that Andy's boss was bragging about him down at headquarters, and landed him an unsolicited interview with The Head Honcho. Thanks to our wonderful neighbors, Andy was actually able to attend said interview, unhindered by the ill-timed accident our turtle-mobile attended immediately prior. Andy hit it off smashingly (no pun intended, thankfully!) with the Head Honcho, and walked away with the offer of a full-time position. Not only will he be teaching lots of math classes, but he will also be working with a very cool visionary math/philosophy guy on curriculum development. Perfect mentoring environment---and they'll even pay for his credentialing!!! Adequate salary, great benefits.... All in all a blessing from above.

The only problem is... we don't know when the job starts.

Can't make any plans, because any day now, they could call him in...

Can't choose a new pediatrician until we know if we're going to be on Blue Cross or Medi-Cal...

Can't actually hire the mother's helpers we've lined up, or tell them they can start looking for a different job...

Uncertainty---it's the gift that keeps on giving.

*cue Jeopardy theme*