I know something about immigration. My father immigrated from India, my first husband came to the U.S. from Poland, my brother immigrated to Sweden, my in-laws were part of the Great Migration that so many African-Americans made from south to north in the 1940’s and 50’s, and the German and Scottish immigrants that make up my maternal half are well documented by a genealogically-minded uncle. Immigration represents the most radical form of leaving home, and I saw, as these family members got older, how much childhood homes tugged on them. Some part of them longed for a home they hadn’t been part of for a long time.
Going home is a theme that inspires a lot of literature, including St. Luke’s tale of the prodigal son. A carefree young man leaves home, making his father sad and his brother angry, living a wastrel’s life, and then warmly welcomed back home when he tired of his dissipated life. It was story used in 1884 by a 22 year student named Claude Debussy, who entered the prestigious competition for the Prix de Rome with a brief work, L’enfant prodigue. It was a challenge for him to compose a piece of music that was conservative enough to please an academic committee and yet still expressed his growing interest in a new musical language that incorporated the exoticism and folk sounds he had encountered in his travels. An artistic language that came to be known as impressionism. I’ve long wanted to do Debussy’s little one-act opera, which might more properly be categorized as a cantata, or more evocatively as a scene lyrique, and I will be joined by a wonderful cast of singers (Mary Shaffran, Andrew Brown, and James Shaffran) in a performance this coming Sunday at 7:30 p.m. at Bradley Hills Presbyterian Church.
What I love about Debussy’s work, besides the shimmering hints of a musical style that would soon mature in works such as Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune and Clair de lune, is the prominence of a missing figure in St. Luke’s account…the boy’s mother. Surely she anguished over her son’s absence as well. This is a rare chance to hear this beautiful little gem and I hope you’ll join us on Sunday at 7:30 if you’re able.
The prodigal son does go home, celebrated and fussed over with great joy and feasting. After all of his travels and experiences, I wonder if he really is able to be at home though. The longing for a childhood home I have seen in my own family members was always accompanied by a realization that they couldn’t actually ever really go home. Either because places and people changed, and what they remember as home didn’t exist anymore, or just as surely because they themselves had changed and weren’t the same person who once lived in that home.
We might feel sad at this inability to go back, or we might find peace when we look more deeply inside ourselves to find home within. After all, at birth we are given a home of flesh and blood and mind. We are told then that at death we are welcomed into an eternal home with God. In between, our earthly homes are really shaped more by the people we love rather than the places we’ve lived. So the prodigal son may have found home, upon his return, in the warmth of his parents’ embrace, but he will soon take his prodigal experiences with him to new homes.
Where I’ll be:
April 24 – performing L’enfant prodigue, Debussy’s one-act opera, with Mary Shaffran, James Shaffran and Andrew Brown, at Bradley Hills Presbyterian Church, Bethesda, 7:30 p.m. ($15 suggested donation)
May 22-August 14 I will be serving as a sabbatical replacement for the Music Director at St. John’s Norwood, 6701 Wisconsin Avenue, Chevy Chase, MD
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This blog represents my attempt to put thoughts together on various things that seem to connect – in my mind anyway. More often than not new ideas first involve reaching back to what was and I can only hope that the prehistoric San cave painting at the top of this page inspires all kinds of new connections between old and new.
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