January 22, 2003

What I Did For Love

Filed under: Art and About Theater — admin @ 10:49 pm

My husband and I went to see the Davis Musical Theatre Company’s production of “A Chorus Line” a couple of weeks ago. My sister-in-law, Heather Benner, had the lead role of Cassie. As a local FYI, Heather’s singing and dancing resume includes the choral program at Acalanes High School and the California Academy of Performing Arts in Moraga.

I have seen “Chorus Line” several times over the years. The first time was when I was 14. As I often do, I had memorized the original cast recording before seeing the show and had eagerly awaited the touring company to hit San Francisco. That was in the middle of the Broadway show’s then-recording setting 15-year run and the buzz from the show’s multiple Tony Awards and the Pulitzer Prize had put “Chorus Line” on my “to see” list for a long time. The morning of the performance, I woke up with the unmistakable marks of chicken pox on my neck. I felt fine, so I wore a turtle neck and didn’t tell my parents until the lights started to go down at the Golden Gate Theatre. You should have seen their faces!

My favorite song from the show both then and now is “What I Did For Love,” but I realized when I saw the Davis Musical Theatre Company’s production that all these years I have completely misunderstood what that number was all about. Perhaps because I learned the lyrics with the sensibility of an immature 14-year-old mind, I have always thought the song was about what a person does for the kind of love that comes from adulation. It didn’t occur to me until last Saturday that that famous first verse — Kiss today goodbye/ The sweetness and the sorrow./ Wish me luck, the same to you./ But I can’t regret what I did for love, what I did for love — was about what someone does simply because he or she loves to do it. It’s really a love song to oneself about having the courage to follow a passion without regret, no matter where the journey might lead.

My sister-in-law told me that in the rehearsal process for “Chorus Line,” the director asked them all to consider what they would do if they no longer could do that one thing they love. The context for the song in “A Chorus Line” is that one of the auditioning dancers in the show severely re-injures a knee, which every dancer knows could be a career-ender. Heather said the question led to an extremely serious and through-provoking discussion among the cast.

On the drive home from Davis, I had the same discussion with myself. What is the one thing that I do purely for love, and what would I do if I could no longer do it. It took longer than it should have, but I realized that for me, singing is the one passion I pursue strictly for my own happiness. I asked my mom if I could join a church choir of older kids when I was only four, and have been singing ever since. There was a very dark period of five years during grad school and immediately following when I wasn’t part of any choral group and I longed to find a choir to sing in again. There literally was an emptiness in my life, and a kind of desperation to fill the void.

But I had to find just the right a’cappella group who liked to sing the same repertoire I do, and it had to be comprised of people who weren’t afraid to challenge themselves with tough music. I tend to enjoy pre-20th century composers, and I especially like the music written for the great cathedrals of Europe when the Christian church wasn’t afraid of pomp and circumstance. Chanticleer has most recently made this kind of music and singing famous in the U.S., but would you believe there aren’t a whole lot of us out there looking to be in a glorified church choir?

Amazingly, three years ago I found the Lamorinda-based Chorus Cappella right in my own backyard. It’s group of a little over a dozen — although we would love to grow larger — educated and exacting musicians from a variety of backgrounds who like to spend a couple of hours every week pretending St. Stephen’s Church in Orinda is St. Paul’s Cathedral in London and querying what Monteverdi or Lotti were intending when they wrote their masses.

I was very fortunate that Chorus Cappella eagerly and warmly welcomed me and my husband (yes, I married another oddball) into their fold and we’ve been happily making music every since. I find that while other activities slip in and out of my life, especially since becoming a parent, I bend over backward to keep the singing spark alive.

The question of “what I do for love” was definitely worth pondering and made me grateful for the gift I have and the people with whom I share it.

What would I do if one day I could no longer sing? I have absolutely no idea.