mass appeal

Last night, Jeff and I went to the grand re-opening of the Kennedy Center Opera House, featuring simultaneously sung and signed excerpts from DeafWest Theatre’s Big River: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn; a solo dance performance by Homer Avila, who has only a single leg, having lost the other to cancer; and excerpts from Mass, the Leonard Bernstein theatre piece originally commissioned by Jacqueline Kennedy for the opening of the Kennedy Center, and which premiered in the Opera House in 1971.

I first was exposed to Mass in the late 70s by two high school teachers and good friends–the Bartleys, a married couple who also introduced me to the comedy of Peter Schikele and his alter ego, P.D.Q. Bach. I was blown away. The piece had a profound impact on me and was, I believe, at least partially responsible for my conversion to Episcopalianism my freshman year of college and my eventual decision–though never followed-through upon–to enter seminary and become a priest. Later, my repeated listenings to this piece depicting a crisis of faith was helpful in recognizing my own such, my realization that I was a spiritual but not a religious person, and my resultant exploration of non-Western and non-Christian belief systems, culminating eventually in my self-identification as some combination of humanist, pagan and Unitarian-Universalist.

Over the last couple of months, I’ve found myself thinking of Mass again for the first time in several years, and eventually found the CDs buried in a box in my closet. I got them out and listened to the work again, and found it every bit as powerful and evocative as I’d remembered.

So it was a nice synchronicity to discover, when Jeff got us tickets to the performance last night, that excerpts from Mass were to be included in that event. And I found myself emotionally swept up all over again, having to wipe my glasses several times to clear the mist and salty deposits left by my tears. I really want to listen to the full piece again sometime in the next few days.