Steve just got a new CD. You know how many books he has? Well, he has almost as many CDs. One of our projects this summer has been to take them all out of their jewel cases and put them in sleeves, to save space. Then, we have to file and categorize them. Classical music (in the broad sense) makes up most of the collection. Jazz, movie soundtracks (he’s a big Ennio Morricone fan), world folk/country, singer/songwriters, and novelties are other big categories. He has very little Rock/Pop, and no Punk or Grunge or new genres like that. So, the latest purchase was Cecilia Bartoli’s Sacrificium. I love this artist. She is thoroughly Italian, with a wild animation in her face that makes you wonder if she is controlling her voice or if it is controlling her. Watch her on youtube and you’ll see what I mean. She specializes in the works of Rossini and Mozart, and in this new CD, she takes on the vocal fireworks of the premier castrati of Napoli. The melismas and ornamentations are phenomenal. Close your eyes and imagine a castrato singing the same thing. It’s tough for us in this century, but in the 1600s, there were about 4,000 boys a year in Italy alone who sacrificed their bodies to achieve this sound. The liner notes contain an article entitled “Evviva il coltellino!” which translates as “Long live the little knife!” Imagine shouting this in the opera house instead of “Bravo!” after the leading character’s aria. Why was this such a hot trend? Well, the Catholic Church forbade women to perform in churches or on the stage, but paid good money to the composers and performers of Baroque pieces for alto or soprano voices. Could it be that the Church condoned or actually supported mutilation of the body? Oh, yeah, this is after the Spanish Inquisition. (Another fascinating book Steve has is on the instruments of torture used during the Spanish Inquisition. With illustrations.) Well, they did and they didn’t. “The castrato mania even rages in Rome and the Papal States, where indulgence in these rare flowers occurs in up to forty different theaters at one time. Although castration is forbidden there, on pain of death, thirty-two popes over the centuries delight in the singing of castrati in the Sistine Chapel. In the Holy City, ecclesiastical dignitaries frequent the theaters in droves.” The manufacturing of castrati was a big business for two centuries, and didn’t die out completely until the beginning of the nineteenth century. The Italians were willing to sacrifice their progeny for their art.
When I was in 6th grade, I asked my dad if I could get my ears pierced. His response verbatim has now been memorized by my children as well as myself: “That is mutilation of the body for purposes of vanity, and I will not subscribe to it.” What about for purposes of art? Or livelihood? Or to exact the truth from a tight-lipped prisoner? (see Dick Cheney). So far, I have no piercings or tattoos, and I think one of my children can say the same. I don’t want to be judgmental or dogmatic about what choices should be made for what values, but I do want to support thinking deeply about it and taking responsibility for your choice. I want to treat myself and every living thing as a “Thou” and not an “It”. Your relationship with a “thou” depends on respect and communication and understanding. As I understand myself, I know that I value honoring my father, not because his judgment on ear-piercing is “right”, but because of the relationship we had. I don’t want to pierce my ears as much as I want to honor my father. I do wear clip-on earrings on occasions when I want to dress up. To me, this represents making a choice based on “The Middle Way”, one of the practices of Buddhism. Music, art, our bodies, land, food, water…so many things can be seen as a grace and as a commodity. Political arguments are made all the time about how we regulate or deregulate our use of these things. We wonder if we can legislate morality so that people make the “right” decision. Often, we get stuck and find ourselves drawing lines in the sand and treating each other like “Its”. What would happen if we made a stronger commitment to treat ourselves like “Thous” and worked toward respecting, communicating, and understanding? Would we be able to make decisions along “The Middle Way”…and then make new decisions in light of new understanding? Trying to adopt this practice has made me a better mother, I know that for sure, especially since my children became adults. Perhaps the hard line I took on some things was beneficial when my kids were little. I don’t regret the standards I set, but I sometimes regret the way that I went about trying to enforce them. I don’t agree with James Dobson, the author of the very first book I read on parenting. I remember him saying that in conflicts between children and parents, it was the parents’ responsibility always to win. I think that sets up an “It” relationship. Steve has a quote from Carl Jung tacked on the refrigerator: “Where love rules, there is no will to power; and where power predominates, there love is lacking. The one is the shadow of the other.” I want my relationships to be loving, above all else, and I want to make decisions with”Thou” in mind. That includes the thou that is myself.