Ascend Mount Olympus and Frolic with the Gods in a Mythic Winnipeg Art Gallery Exhibit

One afternoon in the company of the gods and goddesses was not enough for my husband, Andrew, and me. We returned the next week to travel in time (2000 years ago) and space (to Greece) again. I assert that the social relationships among the Olympian gods and goddesses are not so dissimilar from modern day humans. Their families, too, suffered from dysfunction complete with sibling rivalry and abandonment. The ancient Greek values displayed in this exhibit were laudatory, and still would be considered exemplary today including honor for theatre, music, art, poetry, love, story telling, athleticism and fitness, medicine, gardens, parties, the big picture, and good food.

Has humanity really developed in the last two thousand years?

I remember reading Plato’s The Laws in my high school philosophy class. The book was seminal in framing my thoughts about how little society governed by a legal system has changed in the last two thousand odd years. Sure, some realms have evolved such as the necessity for environmental protection and intellectual property. But the essential scaffolds of human society, values, and life in some ways remain invariant.

The Greek gods were certainly not paragons of perfection, yet they provided a model for human interaction. Perhaps perfection is overrated? Perhaps our value lies not in our quest for perfection but in our humanity, in our flaws, and in our struggles.

The ancient precious Greek and Roman statues presented at the WAG were largely well preserved. There was the odd head from one statue placed on the torso of another, but the essentials remained intact. The exhibit unveiled a flavor of ancient ideals and life styles, ideals in art and beauty tempered by human flaws. The WAG serves as a sanctuary for the artwork, analogous to sacred temples that originally housed the sculptures. Perhaps art galleries and museums provide modern reflective spaces to contemplate and meditate on our life, humanity, and our place in the world. These monuments to Greek mythology were protected for over two thousand years. What do you hold dear which you should work to protect? Your work? Your friendships? Your artistic endeavors? What ancient heritage do you honor daily?

What can we learn from the ancient Greeks and Romans? The representative of war is Athena, who is also the goddess of wisdom. Perhaps this is an early feminist commentary that also instructs that war should be guided through wisdom rather than capriciousness, haste, and impulsive, immoderate reactions. I learned from the exhibit to honor history, beauty, love, poetry, and, yes, all that might be flawed and imperfect but still good in the world. We are inundated by the chaos and catastrophes in the world, but it takes wandering through an art gallery to discover some peaceful moments that remind us of all that is still good.

So much of our culture derives from the ancient Greek ideals. The Hippocratic oath still sustains a relevance as does the Greek symbol for medicine, the serpent. The ancient civilization values good health, a Mediterranean diet (shown to be beneficial), and fitness. We still struggle with Dionysus’ counter to moderation, his decadent indulgence in parties and theatre. Yet this Greek god symbolizes the emergence of theatre which is valued in modern society (though often in the form of cinema and television).

A traipse through the WAG is like time traveling to ancient Greece with a modern sensibility as the guide. It is a means to reflect on ancient life, on modern life, on our cultural heritage, and to meditate on what we hold dear. I took the personality quiz about which Greek god to which I am most similar, which quite accurately resulted in Apollo. Music, art, poetry. Theatre, beauty, friendship. These are ancient Greek and Roman values. These are still our values today.

My challenge to you is to protect all your values, live consciously with them through your days, and defend your principles and what you hold dear.

What do you hold dear?

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Voice Lessons, Life Lessons

Today is 9/11. Fourteen years ago the World Trade Center began its devastating collapse to ground zero. Sometimes many of us feel like we are at our own personal ground zero and have to rebuild our lives with the building blocks of life. In my voice lessons, I am not only learning to develop and find my voice, but also to reflect on my approach to life and to discover some of these building blocks. I am attracted to friends and mentors who are gentle and nurturing, gravitating toward people who dissect life with a laser scalpel rather than the sledgehammer approach my voice teacher alludes I utilize to attack life. My voice teacher is certainly a special person who fits this description, gentle and thoughtful. I feel so much gratitude to have her in my life, to learn from her and to reflect on music and life from her. For many people today is a day of reflection. I will reflect on my lessons from my sessions with my extraordinary voice teacher.

I suppose my sledgehammer approach at life was developed from being raised by a rigid, German disciplinarian mother and a father derived from Spartan roots whose formative years were spent working in a restaurant and in the army, though with a copy of Omar Khayyam’s poetry in his pocket. I encounter life with my weapons, trying hard and doing my homework. I discovered early on that if you try as hard as you can and prepare, you can overcome many difficulties. Repetitive practice is necessary for developing a skill and perhaps progressing, but, as I learn in my voice lessons, this can be achieved without so much effort. For example, if you approach your singing as an attack, you will engender muscular tension which is counter productive for singing. As my voice teacher prescribes, less is more, try less, and apply yourself with gentle thoughts.

We are constantly evolving and learning new habits. Occasionally we encounter mental blocks (one of mine included placing my tongue in my mouth according to my voice teacher’s instruction, another rolling those pesky Italian r’s). My voice teacher does not let me give up. There are times to give up (an impossible research project or an axiom which is shown to be unprovable) and times to persevere. So far I have not reached an obstruction over which I cannot try to pass in my vocal studies. My teacher guides me to approach impediments with gentle thoughts, quietness, and a slowing down. She suggests to monitor all our thoughts, our body, our tongue, everything a singer uses. See, I was about to write everything in a singer’s arsenal, but, I am learning a militaristic approach belongs only in the plot of Tosca, not in the rehearsal studio. A stillness and a naturalness, these thoughts are our allies. She also instructs that worrying and being anxious are not thinking. As I spend an inordinate amount of time worrying and being anxious, this is a novel concept about how to spend my mental efforts.

Quietness, thoughtfulness, this is what I learn in my voice lessons. And you know what? It relaxes my mind and body more than all the meditative exercises and books I’ve tried. Relaxing the body, mind, and breath are more lessons I learn in my weekly vocal sessions. I am learning to attack less and guide more, gently, naturally, to use my voice teacher’s words.

I traverse life approaching it as a warrior, on the defensive and trying so hard with all my endeavors, from my work to my music exams to my friendships. I decided to commit to my music exams this year. Grade 8 piano and Grade 7 voice plus music theory. But I will change my approach. I know I cannot reach perfection in both my approach or my music. As my teacher has often said, there is no perfection in music. But from her I learn to try to trust myself. To let go of all that I try to hold close to me. To let go of the warrior instincts. Maybe fighting instincts are necessary in the Hunger Games arena, or in the military, but life is generally not a daily fight for survival. At least it shouldn’t be. Maybe we can make room for a gentle and natural ideology even while keeping long-term goals in sight.

Gentleness and thoughtfulness are all ways we could approach all the people we encounter.  I think we need more caring thoughts for ourselves as well as our sisters and brothers out in the world.  Kindness, gentle thoughts to have on a day of reflection.

These are some gems I have gleaned from my vocal teacher. What are you reflecting on today? What life lessons have you learned recently?