I just finished watching the Pavarotti documentary by Ron Howard and not only was it an incredible film, but I found myself bawling - BAWLING - at the very end, when Pavarotti’s famous rendition of Nessun Dorma is shown in its entirety. I had teared up near the end when his death was described, but even the sadness of that did not bring me to nearly sobbing, as this moment did, causing the dog to turn to look at me as if to say, “Is everything okay? Do I need to call someone?”
Several years ago I had the incredible opportunity to see the Maestro sing live and I actually got to meet him briefly afterwards, but that is a story for another day. What I want to talk about today is how experiencing a cultural event live, surrounded by other people, can significantly lift our spirits and cause a positive change in our emotions and our outlooks on life, sometimes forever.
So why was I crying while watching this man who has been dead for 13 years on a flat 2 dimensional screen in my living room? Because the music, his voice, the swelling of the orchestra, the outdoor scene - it all came together and resonated in such a way that it evoked a true emotion inside of myself. When this happened I was reminded of the very first time that a similar musical experience touched me to my core and gave me a memory that I will cherish forever.
I had the amazing fortune to see the original cast perform in Les Miserables on Broadway many years ago. (Shout out to say a huge THANK YOU to my parents for that transformative experience!) I remember toward the end, when Valjean sings “Bring Him Home,” on the very last note I found myself with real tears in my eyes. Yes, everyone had been killed and it was a very sad moment in the show overall. But I remember distinctly feeling affected by the music and the exquisite, unmatchable beauty of Colm Wilkinson’s ethereal high note at the end. I remember feeling something like a seismic shift within my body as I realized, right there, the immense power of music and how it can touch a person’s very soul.
Some years later a friend of mine very generously gave us free tickets to see the stage production of A Lion King when it was touring in Boston. Being one of the very few people who intensely disliked the original animated film version (another topic for another day) I was reluctant to attend, but then I remembered 2 things I had heard about this production. One was from Oprah, who said that after seeing the show it made her want to be a better person, and the other one was a scene from one of my all-time favorite tv shows, Sports Night, when the main character saw the show she came back feeling strong and powerful and like she could accomplish anything. So I went, and sure enough, I left the show feeling like I wanted to be a better person AND that I was a strong, powerful, unstoppable person whose dreams were most certainly within her reach.
It wasn’t so much the show itself, or the giant mechanical animals, or the “nuts and bolts” of the production. It was the sheer effort of the performers, combined with their talents and the sweeping and palpable enjoyment of the audience that made it such an emotional and empowering experience.
I generally feel the same way after seeing a very good production of a musical or a play or a great concert. The exhilaration of it all usually leaves me feeling like I’ve been spending time on a different, higher plane somehow, and it’s because of the shared, in-person experience that cannot be easily described and can never be replicated.
Question: Why is it that bands and solo artists always sound so much better on recordings than they do live, and yet we still love to see them in concert?
Because it’s the collective experience of BEING THERE, hearing the music, dancing around and enjoying yourself with other people that makes the difference. It’s also the incredible experience comes with the knowledge that we are all sharing this one special moment in time and space that will never be repeated. Even if the set list is the same the next night and the next night and one after that, the show will be different based on the feeling from the crowd, the emotions of the performers, the weather outside, what’s going on in the world, etc. To have a live, never-to-be-seen-nor-felt-the-same-way-again experience is extremely powerful. Which is why I would encourage you to have those experiences as often as you can.
Well-intentioned and superbly executed art can truly be magical. Whether it’s a show on a stage, a musical concert, a cinematic film, a fine arts exhibit in a museum, a photography show, or a weaving or quilt exhibition in a barn, art is meant to inspire us. It’s designed to evoke emotions and light the fires within us that can lie dormant when all we pay attention to are what’s showing up on our social media feeds. It can take us out of our senses being inundated with political buzzwords and vitriol aimed at people who aren’t like us in every way, and it can remind us of the beauty and one-ness that we all experience in the realm of simply being humans.
Have you noticed that when you try to show your friends the videos you took at a concert it never sounds as good or feels as great? Why doesn’t the video convey the excitement and thrill that you yourself experienced? Because you can’t capture a full, immersive, 360 degree experience on a flat screen with tiny little speakers. And you SHOULDN’T be able to. Because that’s not what it’s about. It’s not just observing something, it’s being a part of something. And as human beings I believe we are designed for that. For belonging, for having a place where we are welcomed and embraced no matter where we come from, what we look like, what we believe, or for whom we cast our latest ballot.
If we’re choosing happiness in our lives then we are also choosing to make a conscious effort to fill our lives with things that fill up our senses, that tap into our emotions, and that keep us on a path of constantly seeking the good out in the world. So make the choice to buy those outdoor concert tickets for the musician that yo love. Make the choice to make a trip to your nearby city to see the touring company of the Broadway show you really want to see. Take a day off from work and spend it at a museum, drinking in the phenomenal-ness you see when mere mortals take a blank piece of canvas or a shapeless piece of clay and transform it into something magnificent, or even something that you can recognize. Open up your eyes and ears and hearts to the art around you, and even if it’s not something that you particularly like, you will still have the experience of doing it and being exposed to it.
Do you know what the best part of experiencing art in a public place is though? That it can inspire you to create it yourself. To take that pottery or drawing class you’ve always wanted to take so you can express yourself in that way. To audition for the community theater that’s putting on a play. To explore your surroundings with your camera and experiment with different filters and lighting.
To quote Luciano Pavarotti: “Life is too short.”
I completely agree Maestro. And while we’re here I believe we should take opportunities to experience art in as many ways we can, as collectively as we can. To truly experience it, savor it, be surrounded by it, and enjoy it.
It’s a choice. Choose it. Pavarotti would be proud.