Monday, February 27, 2012

Preparing My Children for "The Opera"

State Opera House, Budapest
Pick a place that you love, a place that is full of beauty and goodness that amazes you when you go there.  That place for me is the opera house.  I spent a significant time of my youth learning the techniques and nuances of classical singing and the opera house is the epitome of all that I think is amazing.  I feel surges of emotion from listening to the music, I understand and silently sit in awe of the talent and dedication that it takes to sings difficult passages, and it is something that brings joy to my heart.
I want to someday share that joy, pleasure and love of music with my children.  I know how it makes me feel and I want to give them the opportunity to feel that happy and swelled up with beauty and inspiration.

But they are not ready for it...yet.

Can you imagine what it would be like for me to take my young children to the opera house?  Do you think they would enjoy it?  Do you think they would feel comfortable in those surroundings, comfortable with behaving according to the expected rules?  I have high expectations for my children and I like to think that they're rather well-behaved, but I'm not blinded by that satisfaction--my kids would hate going to the opera.

I'm sure I could bribe them to go--I could gush about wearing fancy clothes and going to a fancy dinner before and eating fancy dessert afterwards.  But the actual opera?  "Let's go sit and listen to people sing stuff you don't understand for two hours with only a short pause to use the bathroom halfway through."  Yeah, that's not going to sell them on the idea.

I need to start at the utmost basic level and painstakingly prepare my children, one step up at a time, to appreciate and enjoy operatic music before thinking of ushering them into the opera house and expecting them to actually enjoy the experience.

First, they need to master their little bodies to handle the experience.  They need to be able to sit and pay attention and resist the urge to talk loudly.  They need the physical maturity to not wet themselves in their chair and not pick their nose and flick boogers at the person occupying the seat in front of them.  I'm working on this physical maturity in their early years.  We work on controlling ourselves and learn new skills that will afford us new opportunities once a lower skill is mastered.

Second, they need to master their emotional selves.  I'm not taking a child who cannot control their anger to the opera.  No one in their right mind would take a tantrum-throwing child to the opera.  Until my child can show the emotional maturity required for opera attendance, they are not setting foot in that theatre.

Third, I need to nurture my child in musical knowledge and appreciation.  The first two expectations are a given, but I find that a lot of people will completely skip this third step and then be completely baffled as to why their child (or significant other...) did not enjoy nor appreciate the fine entertainment presented.  Every now and then you'll hear the story of a "natural" who had no foundation in operatic music that just loved it from the first vocalized note, but those are rare stories.

Opera, to the un-initiated, is an archaic form of music that isn't particularly catchy or flashy someone who prefers Top 40's music used to tell even older stories.  You're generally not going to stand outside the opera house after the final encore and hear the exiting patrons exclaiming about how the beat really had them grooving, how "sick" the choreography was, or how the costumes were going to set new fashion trends.  As a young adult, I most definitely did not earn any "coolness points" for being able to sing an aria and I did not consider my ability to resolve a Neopolitan chord as a seductive tool.  Yep, opera just isn't that sexy in a world that considers sexiness one of the most important factors in entertainment.  But wo, wo, wo unto ye un-initiated!  Opera is gorgeous.  Opera is intimidatingly awesome...once you understand it.

Anyone can turn on the radio and snap their fingers to a catchy tune.  That's entertainment.  People are easily entertained because being entertained is easy.  But opera, there is a lot going on in opera.  There's the singing, the acting, the story and the orchestral music.  There's usually super-titles (translations of the foreign words shown above the stage) as well. 

It takes effort to watch an opera production, but if you've done your homework ahead of time, it's really an enjoyable experience.  You need to know the story before you go to the show or it's going to be slightly disappointing.  You don't go to the opera to be told a story.  You read the story ahead of time and go to the opera to appreciate the artistry that tells the story.  You'll fare better if you've heard the music in its entirety beforehand.  You don't go to the opera to listen to music.  You listen to the music ahead of time and go to the opera to appreciate the performance and the singers' execution of the musical passages.  The opera-goer who doesn't know the story or the music before attending the show misses out on enjoying the opera at a higher level.  I love that higher level of opera.  It is deeply fulfilling for me to witness the excellent execution of a show.

I realize that "going to the opera" isn't the same experience of beauty and fulfillment for some of you that it is for me.  That's why I asked you to think of a place like that of your own.  I'm sure you do not plan on taking your children to that place until they have mastered the ability to behave, control their emotions and after a little bit of education to help them understand what's going on in that favorite place of yours.  You want to share those good feelings you feel at that place with your children and you go through the effort to try to stack the deck in your favor.

It is the same thing with Heaven.

We have a loving Heavenly Father who is in a place that is full of love, beauty and joy and He desperately wants to share it with each of us.  Just as our toddlers, preschoolers and teenagers may not be mature or educated enough to truly appreciate "our" special venue, God knows that we are not mature or educated to just traipse on through those pearly gates whenever we please.  So He gives us commandments to follow; commandments that will help us learn to master our physical bodies, temper our emotions and help us to learn of what will happen in His special place.

Just as my opera house isn't seen as too terribly "cool" or "fun enough" to warrant the work needed to truly enjoy the experience, Heaven isn't generally regarded by popular opinion as cool enough to warrant the work needed to truly enjoy its celestial experience.  Humility is viewed as a weakness, modesty portrayed as repression and virtue touted as old-fashoined and non-applicable in our "modern" world.  Those who try to live according to the commandments are labelled as idealistic dreamers, goody-two-shoes or brain-washed sheep that are too timid to live in the "real world."  But those idealistic individuals striving for exaltation are putting in the work now that will make Heaven a comfortable experience for them in the future.

Just as I'm not attempting to raise my children to feel comfortable around scantily-clad, screaming inebriates at a rap concert, but instead hedging my efforts to encourage appreciation and understanding for the musical venue that makes me feel joy, so is our Heavenly Father hedging His efforts to encourage appreciation and understanding for the venue that makes Him feel joy.  He wants to share all of the best with us and He has given us the instructions on how to get there and enjoy it.

If we don't do the work now, Heaven may feel rather alien to us later.  We take our intelligence, habits and personalities with us to the next life.  If we're uncomfortable around the meek, the humble and the virtuous in this life on this Earth, the perfection of Heaven is going to be a very uncomfortable experience in the next life.  God has given us commandments and high expectations to live up to so we can be prepared to enjoy His beautiful residence.  Obedience to His commandments brings us joy, beauty and love in this life and the next life. 

The commandments aren't meant to stifle or limit us, just as my expectations for my children to behave aren't meant to suck the fun out of their lives.  The commandments prepare us to fully appreciate everlasting joy.


  1. so... if I don't take the time to appreciate opera I'm not getting into heaven? O_O j/k :-)


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