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Zan Thompson

In Tune With the Sweet Music of Youth

April 12, 1987|Zan Thompson

My computer and printer would have gone to the dump long since if it were not for a bright and charming young man named Craig Hodges. He is a junior at Occidental College and has the same snuggly relationship with these oversold machines as my sister, Patsy.

The difference is that Patsy wheedles the brutes whereas Craig is crisp and matter-of-fact with them and they trot along at his heels, whirring and humming and being pleasantly helpful.

When I am bored and impatient and the machine tells me repeatedly that it can't or won't do what I ask, I call Craig and he comes over and changes its attitude.

Craig is from McMinnville, Ore., and I have never remembered to ask him how he chose Occidental. It's a fine and respected liberal arts college where I feel at home because it's the kind of a campus that is scholarly and hospitable.

I'm delighted that Craig came to Occidental from McMinnville because he subdues the computer, but more because he is funny and refreshing and gives me a confederate in the ranks of the current college crop.

Last weekend, Patsy and I went to Thorne Hall on the Occidental campus to hear a concert by the college glee club, in which our friend Craig is a square-jawed baritone. It was a rewarding evening and excellent music. These young people, 45 or so of them, are good.

Their conductor, Thomas Sommerville, leads them superbly through their program. He is grand in his tails, and the young men are suave and handsome in their dinner jackets. The young women wear straight, high-necked, long, utilitarian dresses. I know there isn't much else for them to wear to give a unified look, but I wish they could be a little more festive. Fortunately, the young women sing with such elan and their faces are so alight, the uniforms become unimportant.

The eyes of the singers never leave the conductor, and he leads them to build shimmering towers of sound. Their first selection was a Mozart Requiem, the rolling Latin punctuated with the crisp Greek of the Kyrie eleison.

I asked Craig how they learned that much Latin with its stately phrasing. He said they memorized it and even though they might not be able to produce verbatim translation, Sommerville spent a lot of time discussing with them the meaning of what they were singing. They were not singing as if they had been taught by rote but with a knowledge of the melancholy sense of the words. It was a tour de force.

They sang three songs in French from Leonard Bernstein's "The Lark," the play based on the life of Joan of Arc. Their French was as tripping and brocaded as their Latin was dignified.

They did a William Butler Yeats poem set to music, earthy with the Yeats feel for the countryside and the weather.

They did spirituals and a nonsense Edward Lear poem and ended with three American folk songs. One of these was "Shenandoah." For some reason, that song always makes my throat tighten, although I have never even seen the wide Missouri unless I have flown over it. But that song has the sadness of deep loss and of whip-leather strength, which makes it sound as if it were music to cross the Plains by.

The soloists, men and women, were superb, and I died a little with each of them. As they walked away from the protection of their fellows out to the front of the stage, I knew the feeling each one had. No matter how many times you've done it, when you're on alone, the butterflies rise up in your stomach and you wonder how you ever let yourself get talked into such a terrible predicament. If you don't have a certain amount of stage fright, it's because you don't have enough experience to know what can happen. Only the rawest amateur has that total lack of fear. Stage fright is not a bad thing, and it puts a fine edge on a performance. Never mind that the poor performer is nigh to disintegration.

The Occidental Glee Club and its conductor will tour Europe this summer, giving concerts in Germany, Holland, Belgium and France. How marvelous.

Whenever I'm on a campus like that, I envy the young men and women and the wonderful feast of knowledge and ideas they have in front of them. Of course, it's not always easy and there are soul-bending problems. Oh, tell me about it.

But I hope when they are packing for their concert tour this summer, they put in one of those weary little black dresses just my size.

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