Thank God my mother took me to the theater as a child.
I don’t use that phrase cavalierly; I literally thank God that I had a chance to sit next to my mother in the Bushnell Theater and not only see musicals and operas and plays but watch dance, hear jazz ensembles, listen to choruses and even a symphony or two.
Sometimes our seats were up close to the action, sometimes, as was the case for my first opera, La Traviata, way up in the back. In Hartford’s signature hall the seats in the back come with a perk: proximity to the fabulously ornate ceiling of the main auditorium.
When we walked down the stairs to the bathrooms my mother would say things to me like “Katherine Hepburn might have walked down these stairs!” (you may recall similar exclamations regarding St Augustine on a trip to Milan). But my favorite moment at any musical was always when the music first swelled, when the chorus made their way onto the stage singing and dancing, filling the hall with their sound and energy. My heart would pound and I would lean forward in my seat. I loved it.
I can’t remember where it was we saw A Chorus Line, but it wasn’t at the Bushnell. Some smaller theater nearby must have performed it, and I went with my mother as was our habit. I also can’t remember how I obtained a bootleg tape of the soundtrack. Most likely my father, with what would have been considerable technical prowess for his time, made a tape-to-tape or LP-to-tape copy from a version we borrowed from the library.
Like a lot of cassette recordings it didn’t take up the whole tape, so when I got to the finale I would have to fast forward to the end of the second side to get back to the beginning again. And I did, over and over, listening to the dance music and the goofy music and the heartfelt music, finally reaching the penultimate song, “What I Did for Love”.
This musical is mostly about whiny kids, and it’s a tribute to Marvin Hamlisch’s music that you come out liking them at the end (as opposed to my reaction to the end of Rent, which is invariably the desire to slap someone). When Diana sings What I Did for Love at the end, offering her reflection on how she would feel if she had to stop dancing, there is a moment of true wisdom, almost out of place in the show.
Plus, the song is gorgeous. At some point I obtained the sheet music for the song which I played over and over. I was relieved to find that the piano part was pretty simple – in fact, if I went back to my parents house and rummaged through the piano bench until I found it, I could probably still bang it out.
I turned to YouTube searching for a video of the song to put into the post, and I couldn’t find one with a singer who satisfied me. This is probably because when I hear the song in my head the voice is mine, singing across time, howling along to her boom box with the bedroom door closed, passionately singing about things I knew nothing about.
It was enough to know that I wanted to know about them. I wanted to love something so ferociously that I would do anything to be a part of it. I wanted to know what it was to use a gift, even if I knew the gift was fragile. I wanted a life without regrets. And I wanted to be driven by love into a life I could be proud of.
Sometimes I forget how I got into this crazy and beautiful life of singing and conducting and teaching and writing. I forget how lucky I am, not only to have things that I am passionate about but to have the ability to pursue them. I never forget how lucky I am to have had a mother who took me to the theater.
Composers and singers and dancers and mothers, we all some day leave this earth and most of us don’t leave a trace behind us. The love remains, though, pushing us forward into our lives, if we are able to follow it there.