November 15, 2010
This is James Levine’s fortieth year with the Met.
He conducted this weekend’s performance of “Don Pasquale” broadcast in HD to movie theaters all over the world. Saturday’s show begins backstage. The camera moves backwards as the host walks across the first scene’s set acknowledging the sponsors and giving some quick notes on the cast. As she arrives stage right she mentions that it’s time for conductor James Levine to appear and for the opera to begin.
The camera pans a bit to the right as the stage manager calls “Maestro to the pit.”
The scene then moves out front to the packed house and then to the pit. There is a slight applause from the audience as a few people notice Levine. The members of the orchestra look up and see Levine making his way into the pit and begin stamping their feet in their version of a standing ovation for their leader.
Levine makes his way to his spot as quickly as he can. It’s not fast. He supports himself with a cane and walks so slowly. He looks so old. As he gets to his stand and hoists himself up into his seat. The Met audience see his familiar curly head. He smiles at the audience and bows. He then tugs this way and that until he is settled into his seat.
There is something magic about that seat. You can feel it. A collection of musicians is now a single orchestra with everyone’s energy linked to this one man in the chair. They’ve rehearsed with him forever. They’ve performed with him before. And yet each performance is special. When he looks at them, they look back. This is the true meaning of synergy.
It’s not the seat. It’s Levine in his place preparing to link the orchestra, the actors, and the audience. He raises his hands and the individuals at the Met and in movie theaters everywhere become the audience. Levine himself is a young man again. Every performance is clearly special to him.
He quickly sets the tempo and the overture begins. More than set the tempo, Levine sets the tone. He looks at a musician and points to his heart with one hand. He looks at another musician and puts his hand against his throat and vibrates the hand as if his is playing a note on a cello. He engages the whole orchestra and smiles. He smiles that deep smile of a baby being tickled. Sometimes he talks to members of the orchestra and at others he sings along. Really? Well, I’m not good at reading lips but how hard is it to read “bum, bum, bum, da, bum.”
As you learned in yesterday’s blog entry, the love story being told on the stage isn’t a very good one. The true love story is here in the pit. The maestro loves what he does. He loves the music and the musicians and they clearly love him.
I think this is a lesson for all professions. His love of the music and those that bring it to you are what bring you into this opera. It’s what gets you to begin suspending disbelief, wanting to hear whatever he will share with you.
Someone who loves their job, or at least is able to convince me that they love their job, lightens my whole day. Someone who let’s me know they’re happy to do what they need to do because they know it’s important to me is a wonder. They don’t need to tell me “I love what I do”, they just need to love what they do.
As you write, we’ll feel whether you love what you are doing and want us to share your love of the characters you’re writing about or the technology you’re describing. We’ll know. And if you are truly jazzed about what you do, we’ll follow you through all sorts of weaknesses in your prose. If you hate writing or what you’re writing about, we’ll know that too. It will become hard to keep reading what you write. We may not know why, we’ll just know that something is fighting us.
Find joy in what you do. Find it daily. You’ll soon be able to spend more of your day doing what you love because people will go out of their way to help you find a way to do so.