If I allow my mind to flit back to the days of my youth in search of a representative scene or day, I usually come up with a composite picture that racks me with nostalgic longing. Me, huddled by a window or on a porch swing, reading a classic novel and listening to classical music. The swing swims in a weightless atmosphere of gold and green – sunlight filtering through leaves that toss like confetti, dappling the grasses and dandelions. Every breeze, sight, sound, and smell affirm what I am hearing and reading: the world is shot through with Goodness, and the goodness is the end to which the world is tending. If only I might somehow find myself with a bought-and-paid for ticket, strapped into a seat in that Train! Train of glory, train of His robes, train of interminable attributes of the Great Mystery for which I, a small mystery, wait.
Now that I have become cozier with pop culture, I note the threshold between that and my old enculturation far more distinctly. I press “play” on the CD player and enter what I now know to be an older, different world of the imagination than the one in which I have lately become accustomed to living. There’s still no doubt in my mind, however, as to which world I prefer. Or rather, which world is Better.
Kathleen Battle, my favorite soprano, is coming to my town this month. I have a ticket. People who are not citizens of that older world of the mind I’ve spoken of like to class all classical vocalists as “opera singers.” Kathleen Battle is my favorite among them because she lacks that most irritating characteristic of true opera singers – what I call the “frog in the throat” syndrome. Her voice is clear as a bell. What’s more she posseses a disciplined version of that innate musicality that separates all true musicians from mere performers. It’s an ability to enter into the creative process of the music you are singing, shared by the likes of Yo-Yo Ma, Pavarotti, and all the others whose popularity transcends their own genre.
An up-and-coming favorite is Anna Netrebko, a Russian soprano with a Cinderella discovery story. Her “Russian Album” is among my top ten musical recordings. It was pressing the play button on that album and feeling myself cross that threshhold that started this train of reflection.
It makes me recall my theory about the “Trail of Delight” that leads from each good thing to each greater good thing. Sometimes I think faith is simply the willingness to recognize that Good is good. That all Goods posess one another – that the better is the stronger is the more beautiful is the truer is the more permanant… It is in this frame of mind that you can see the good parts of the world and the bad parts, and understand that you’re better off listening to the good parts than to the bad, about the significance of it all.