Sunday, June 7, 2009

The pleasure of things done beautifully

Question: What do the following have in common?

1) A great performance of Shakespeare's The Comedy of Errors at the Globe in London

2) An equally amazing performance of Croatian tamburitza music by Jerry Grcevich and his band in Chalk Hill, Pennsylvania

The answer? Both have been recent reminders to me of how pleasurable it is to watch a performance so masterful that it seems effortless. The kind of performance that makes you forget the prodigious amounts of talent, practice, inspiration, and energy required to spark such a magical chain reaction.

Tom is planning to blog about The Comedy of Errors, so I'll simply say that it was brilliantly staged and performed with incredible clarity and wit. Pure proof of the show's success: the fourteen-year-old boy sitting next to us who not only got it, but who laughed his ass off throughout the show. A real reminder that "masterpieces" needn't be serious or incomprehensible.

That reminder goes double for Jerry Grcevich. I have to admit, when I saw the scheduled entertainment for the first night of the Mid-Atlantic Folklife Association retreat, my friend Don's famous quip that "folk music is annoying" ran through my head. But tamburitza is anything but annoying; in fact, it reminded me of the great Gypsy music tradition that produced one of my favorite jazz musicians, Django Reinhardt.

Jerry is an NEA Heritage Fellowship winner who's regarded as the world's greatest prim player, and something of a music superstar in Croatia, where he collaborates with other musicians, tours, and records. But more crucially, he's also a consummate showman and a man who is clearly in love with the tradition he's engaged in.

It was a tremendous treat to be able to hear him perform in such an intimate setting...and by intimate, I mean not only small (there were only about 30 people there), but also up-close and personal. On at least two occasions, he came right up to me and played his prim about eight inches from my face. I'm not quite sure what that was about, but it was probably precipitated by the insane grin of delirium plastered across my face.

At one point he picked up another, smaller stringed instrument (I can't remember the name), which he said was sort of the ancestor of all the other tamburitza instruments, and explained that it might've been played by a shepherd out with his flock, as a way to pass the time.

To say that Jerry's playing is merely a way to "pass the time" would be a grave injustice. Nevertheless, his comment struck me: isn't it incredible that so much of the beauty in our world--art, music, drama, even gardening and great cooking--has stemmed from leisure? In saying that, I don't mean to diminish those activities. Quite the opposite: I am inspired by the fact that it's play, not work (or rather, the ethereal place where the two merge) that produces the most satisfying human accomplishments.

I am grateful for both of these recent experiences for reminding me of that, especially since my annual "holy-crap-I'm-not-getting-enough-done" summer panic is already gearing up. Note to self: play is essential, too.


Pam said...

As I tell the parents of my preschoolers when they complain about not doing enough *teaching* with their preschoolers, "Playing IS learning.It stimulates your brain. That's what matters.

pilypas said...

One night when Shan was about 14 years old I decided to watch Carl Theodore Dreyer's Jean D'Arc with him since he was developing an interest in film and acting. I thought he might make it half an hour or so tops. Dreyer is the antithesis of modern film making...slow stately and deep. To my surprise he watched with rapt attention for the entire film and was deeply moved. Art stands the test of time. As for your evening with Jerry, I'm insanely jealous.

Rosemary said...

Art does indeed stand the test of time, and when especially well done, can overcome obstacles like short attention spans quite easily!

As for Jerry, he plays every Thursday night at the Gypsy Cafe in Pittsburgh, apparently...not too far of a drive from Columbus...just sayin'.