Sunday, January 3, 2016

Honors and Artistry

Hopping outside the Bubble today for a look at the recent Kennedy Center Honors presentation. The general response on social media could be reduced to one word: Aretha. What an amazing performance. What a brilliant performer. We marveled along with Carole King, perhaps shed a tear like President Obama.

In the glow of that performance, viewers took to the Internet to express their appreciation. When I read this one I was stopped in my tracks:

Carole King may have written than song but it belongs to Aretha.

Okay, let's wait a minute. Aretha did a masterful job, no argument there. But the whole point was to honor the composer. We're going off the rails here if we forget that Carole King was the honoree and that songwriting is the gift we were celebrating. This doesn't diminish what the singer does in any way. Both composer and performer have amazing gifts; each shares with the other. Each is enhanced by the other.

But without the composer the singer would have nothing to sing.

Let's back up a bit to look at the entire evening. Many, many talented people were involved to create the show we saw on television. In particular, a core group of people designed the overall shape of the show. They decided the order of the honorees, how each one would be honored, who would speak, who would perform. I remember thinking during the conclusion of the George Lucas segment that it was rather unfair to unleash all those special effects since no one else could possibly compare to that.

And yet it all worked. The theme and scope of the presentation of each honoree flowed from one to the next. By the time Aretha dropped that mink coat on the floor she had the audience in the palm of her hand and no one was thinking about laser light shows.

None of this happened by chance. Imagine the entire show as an enormous, impressive wedding cake. Envision Aretha's performance as an exquisite ornament atop the cake, something so beautiful that you gasp. It makes you say you've never seen a cake like that, not ever. But that decoration wouldn't be there to impress you without all the layers underneath supporting it. And most of all, no one would even have baked the cake unless someone was getting married.

Aretha did everything she was supposed to do. She exceeded expectations, if that's possible. (Who puts a limit on Aretha?) But there are so many choices and decisions, so much hard work and talent and vision that led to her being there at that particular moment to share what she does best. Let's not forget how beautifully interdependent the performing arts are meant to be.

The entire evening was exciting, moving, and inspiring. Each one of us will take from it our own unique experience. And that's as it should be.




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