It’s not every day that a riot occurs right outside of your office door, but that was pretty much what happened yesterday afternoon, around 2:30, when the cast list for our J-Term production of Mozart’s “Magic Flute” was posted right across the hall from my studio. Word had apparently spread like wildfire that the long-awaited cast list was about to be posted – finally! – two weeks after the official auditions had occurred. (No wonder anxiety levels were so high.) So there were 14 or 15 students crowded in the hall, anxiously waiting for that little piece of paper to appear.
As I overheard all of the commotion, it reminded me of the days when I was where those students were, anxiously waiting to see if my name would be on such a list- or if my name would be opposite the role I was hoping to get. But it also reminded me of a very odd power trip I experienced during my senior year in high school when the state speech contest was held at Atlantic High School and I spent much of that day as the official runner who was responsible for posting the results on the walls of the cafeteria. It got to the point where people began to recognize me even in the hall as I was running from the tab room to the cafeteria, and they would follow me, knowing that a new batch of results were soon to be revealed. But the ultimate power trip moment would come when I was doing the actual posting of ratings. The way it worked in this particular case is that the names of the various competitors were already posted with blank spaces after each name- and it was my job to write in the ratings which each contestant had been given by their three judges – plus the composite rating. (e.g. If you were given a I, I and a II, your composite rating would be a I.) Here’s the power trip part: as I would write those ratings with my big black magic marker, I would hear everything from squeals of delight to grief-stricken groans to angry outbursts from the students crowded behind me . . . and all because of those numbers I was writing.
Of course, I was just the courier. It wasn’t me who had determined any of these actual numbers – it was the judges who really had the power. But yesterday, it was a very different scenario and in fact it was me along with my colleague Corinne Ness who had made these exceedingly difficult choices – choices which delivered sweet delight to some students and painful disappointment to others. I don’t think this is ever going to be easy for me; I’m just a little too caught up in other people’s feelings and wishes – and way too reluctant to disappoint them. But it’s a foregone conclusion in these scenarios that somebody walks away with less than what they wanted – and that’s an important life lesson and an especially potent way for that lesson to be taught – that part of life consists of not getting everything you want. Another lesson for some of our students is that just because they got a lead role in every high school production they ever auditioned for back home does not mean that they can expect the same uninterrupted success here. And when it comes to the world of music, so much of it is completely subjective and intangible. It’s not like a football coach having to choose his starting wide receiver – who can turn to very tangible statistics of one kind of another. But the question of who should sing Pamina or Tamino or the Queen of the Night will always defy the straightforward clarity of comparing number of touchdown passes or the speed with which one runs the 50-yard dash. In the end, it’s an untidy stew of considerations: how well will they sing the role? how well will they act the role? Is there a role which will present exactly the right challenges or that will help them grow as singers and musicians? How do they do with learning music? Will they be punctual and attentive in rehearsal? Are they overdue to be assigned a major role? And how young or old are they? Is this their last hurrah or are they around for awhile it many more opportunities yet to come? It’s funny – just typing that list makes me realize that it’s a wonder that the cast list went up as quickly as it did! (Thank goodness I had Corinne Ness sharing the responsibility with me.)
Anyway, the list is up at last . . . and it certainly looks like a tremendously strong cast to sing Mozart’s wonderful masterpiece. My hope is that those who are excited by the roles they’ve been given will channel that excitement into their effort, to do as good a job as they possibly can. And I hope that those who are disappointed to be given perhaps a smaller role than they were expecting will nevertheless find it to be a satisfying experience and challenge. And let’s hope that the piano player (me) does as good a job as this fine cast is destined to do.
pictured above: the infamous list – posted right outside my office.