Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Healing Power of Art

It's really not that much of a coincidence that hours before both the death of my grandfather and my father-in-law that I should find myself in a theater. After all, I spend much of my weekend evenings in theaters.

However, having it happen twice in such proximity did underline some things for me. Last October, hours before my grandfather died and a few days after I'd gone to say goodbye to him, I attended Guys on Ice at Williamston Theatre. It was a play that resonated in many ways because the guys reminded me a lot of the grandfather I knew I was losing.

This past Thursday, my husband and I left the ICU where my father-in-law was being transferred to hospice. We'd kissed him goodbye knowing that we might not make it back before he left us. However, we'd been there for two days and our son had a concert to perform in.

Pleasantview Magnet School for the Performing Arts has an annual spring dance concert. It was our first time attending it. They split the school in half and hold the concert over two nights with half of each grade performing each night. The theme this year was Broadway and movie themes.

I'll admit that I typically go to elementary school performances with somewhat low expectations. These are young children who are learning and growing. The focus is (and should be) on education and giving the children the opportunity to perform in front of an audience. Entertaining the audience is typically a pretty low priority--something I can wholeheartedly support.

However, this concert was the exception to that rule. It was absolutely incredible. The performances were entertaining and the children were good. It was obvious they had put a lot of practice in and that they were well rehearsed.

There were many wonderful moments: from the kindergartners dancing to Funky Town as Alvin and the Chipmunks to the band performance where some of the students "took over" from the band teacher to turn the piece into something jazzier. These were kids who were not only being taught their art, but taught how to perform and entertain.

I also have to give the school kudos for handling an emergency situation extremely well. Just as one of the dance numbers began, an audience member started to have a seizure. They immediately stopped the music and the students froze in place. The dance teacher grabbed a microphone and asked everyone to stay seated while the paramedics were called. The house lights came up, the curtains closed, and the person was able to get medical attention immediately. As soon as the paramedics took her out, the show resumed. It was handled exceptionally well.

And yes, I was especially proud of my own son. Despite his complaints about having to "partner" (something still icky for fourth graders), he and his entire class did a fantastic job. His face was animated and he performed the dance with great energy and precision--despite having missed the final two dress rehearsals because he was sitting in the hospital with us.

As we bopped in our seats to the songs and delighted in the moves the kids were making on stage, I was once again grateful at how live performances can lift the spirits. Even as we were mourning the loss we knew was coming, we were able to celebrate life in a way that transcended words.

Once again, I was reminded how necessary the arts are in our lives and how they can enrich our lives both in times of joy and in times of sorrow.

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