A nice thing about teaching music is that what my students learn will be useful to them in real life. Sure, the three R’s are important, and we use them every day. But I, for one, don’t use much geometry or algebra or chemistry. On the other hand, singing “O Suave Fanciulla” is very useful.
In rehearsal, we were discussing the translation, and how the word “trembling” was set with music that shivers with breathless enthusiasm. And a student asked, “why would the guy say it that way?” My mouth automatically opened to reply, and before I thought it through, what came out of my mouth was, “haven’t you ever…” And then I stopped. Because, no, of course this adolescent male hadn’t felt that–couldn’t conceive of feeling that way–couldn’t even conceive of anyone his gender feeling that way.
I thought, “oh! Thank goodness he’s singing this music. Now, when it happens to him, he’ll recognize it.”
I said, “Men can. Men do.”
Such things were useful for me, too. When I first fell for my husband, I was completely overwhelmed and confused. All I had to cling to was music and poetry. It’s a stereotype about that kind of love: suddenly all the dopey love songs make sense. And, yes, the pop songs make sense, but when you also have access to great art that tells these stories, you can sense a fuller, richer, more complex and therefore more accurate portrayal of the wild mess that goes on in your heart. There aren’t words for some of those feelings. There has to be art about it in order for it to seem adequately described. Poets and composers could say more about the sensation than I could, and I was grateful to them for their help.
My adorable munchkin students will have art for their feelings when they happen. As of now, when we discuss their experiences with joy, it mostly centers around free food. But some day they’ll get their knees knocked out from under them, and they may remember “fremon nell’anima.” And I’m glad to think that what I teach them will be useful.