Argus editor Jane Thaden wrote a column recently that expressed gratitude for those days of college when she was immersed in a culture that included an abundance of quality arts performances. That’s just one of the reasons I love Jane—that she would remember and recognize the sort of thing that others take for granted. Plus, apparently, she plays the piano, which I didn’t even know, and which makes her even cooler.
So here I sit in the music hallway of my alma mater, Augustana College, where my daughter is currently taking saxophone lessons. As I wait outside the office of her instructor, I am surrounded by college women who clutch sheet music in their hands. They chat about voice lessons and breath marks and whether or not they warm up before singing (mostly they don’t, which they all seem to agree is “crazy”). Finally the door to a different office opens and, one by one, they march inside to sing for a person I cannot see—an audience of one.
They are auditioning for a solo, or so I am told, and not a one of them (if you can really believe such a thing) practiced for her audition. Their voices drift out from beneath the door and those voices are exquisite. One young lady in sweatpants casually complains about being bound by three hours of physics homework per day and two more hours of something that sounds like “bio-med,” if that is, in fact, a subject. (What do I know, I majored in journalism and modern foreign language … )
Finally, she disappears behind the closed door, after claiming that she is going to “wing it,” and I strain to hear her singing. I wonder, what if she spent two to three hours a day on her music? Why is it so glorious to boast about hours bent over a physics textbook and so easy to be glib about a choral audition? And, for the love of God, when did everyone start wearing sweatpants?
Jane Thaden is right. College can be a place rich with arts experiences unparalleled post-graduation. For a moment, I truly envy my own daughter and the years of music and art and literature ahead of her. She already, at the age of 11, swims through the music of these hallways once a week and emerges happily soaked on the other side.
We exit through the art gallery and, as always, send our silent greetings to the muse who perches on the lawn of the Humanities building. We breathe in the last air of the place and wrap ourselves in warm energy before the cold ride home.
“I’d like to go to college here someday,” my wonder-girl says. “I want to be in school forever … as long as you can still take days off to play.”
Ah yes, you must always take days off to play.
Maybe I took college too seriously, I wonder as I steer the car out the circle drive. Maybe I was too obsessed with my perfect GPA and how I was going to pay for those classes that I needed to check off my list on my way out the door. I was already 27 years old before I graduated, and so I needed to work. I had spent six years in the US Marines after high school and time was soaring by. I needed to support myself. Fast.
I know now that if I could go back, I wouldn’t drop that art class I scratched off during the first two weeks because I knew I’d never pull an “A.” Those were the days when an “A” must have been worth at least as much as a dance with the muse. Age has taught me to be wiser about such things.
If I could do it all again, I’d have some fun as an academic tourist in the art department at Augie and keep that class on my list. Maybe I would even explore the music department, heaven help them. But I’m not sure I’d have done much winging it, although I’m sure winging it can be its own form of play. I never had the kind of childhood where my mother drove me to music or art or dance lessons and waited for me with a book perched on her lap. Every drop of that education I paid for myself was precious.
How do we begin again?
Perhaps it is by sitting on a cold bench in a hallway washed in music and putting down that book you brought along (because there is always more to be squeezed from the hours, no?) and taking 30 minutes or so to listen—to the jazz band somewhere within, to the voices of girls who long for real dates, academic success, and a chance at a solo (possibly in that order).
And finally you concentrate even harder, sorting through the collage of vocals and the fat ensemble until you can hear, quite distinctly, the voice of a single saxophone played by your own dear child—clear and bright and playful.
And you listen to that alone and you listen well. Because there’s nowhere on earth you’d rather be right now. And next week. And the week after that. There’s no hurry.
The race is already run.