Finding the Arts in a Rural Community

I‘m always looking for more opportunities and experiences for the arts, whether for myself or my children. And after so many years of searching, it surprising to sit back and look at just how much there is going on where we live.

Shakespeare 4 All

Photo by Deniz Demirci on Unsplash

This will be a new experience for us. For three weeks out of the year I’ll shuttle my daughter back and forth nightly from Modesto to rehearse for and participate in a Shakespeare play. Shakespeare 4 All creates a community opportunity for people of any experience level to participate in a Shakespearean play. My daughter has thus far only performed in home theatrics but loves to memorize poetry. Her little heart came alive when we held our first family Midsummer Night’s Festival at our house. For years, she’s sustained an interest in the stage, and now she is old enough for me to feed that.

Opera Modesto Reader Performances

The Reader Performances with Opera Modesto’s Story Into Song Literacy Initiative mean I can bring my multiple children to the productions I report on. We are already reading poetry and studying music, now they can see poery and music combined, performed by professionals and pre-professionals, including young women like Darby Schmidt who starred in “Annabel” as the titular character. Schmidt is from Oakdale and grew up operatically through the Summer Opera Institute program with Opera Modesto. She now studies at Eastman School of Music.

Homeschool Co-op Classes

Photo by Isabela Kronemberger on Unsplash

Organized homeschool community activities are very important to a homeschooling community, creating educational extra-curricular opportunities for our students. With aging children, I now have one old enough to participate in ballroom dancing. Learning to dance not only ensures a good time at weddings but can help create some really good awkward moments once self-consciousness sets in. Class will be once a week for six weeks.

Art Classes at Carnegie Arts Center

I have three children signed up for classes this spring with the Carnegie Arts Center in Turlock. Those classes include painting, stop-motion animation and print-making. One child reports she would like to be an artist. Another draws dynamic figures at war. We visit exhibits often, primarily their opening nights which offer free admission and often have the artists present and available to answer questions. I relish opportunities for my children to meet working artists to hear what is like and to be encouraged.

Aileen Jaffa Poetry Contest

Contests are important. The thrill of competition comes with the idea that, if I apply myself, maybe I could win. It’s an exciting proposition. Last year my eldest wrote a riddle-poem about our chicken egg basket, my first-born son rhymed his way through a goblin attack, and my middle child played with words sounds in a poem about spring. Contests help us draw up what we’ve learned and apply it in a concerted effort, often with very surprising and entertaining results.

A Cèilidh

A few years ago, gentleman came and washed our windows. While filling his bucket, he overhead my husband’s soundtrack of Celtic music. They got to talking and Mr. Derek Sturke of “I Can See Clearly Now” Window Cleaning invited my husband to participate with a group of musicians in a monthly meet up to play those good ol’ Irish tunes called a “cèilidh.” This last month I came along with the children for the first hour. Nothing quite beats hearing our 7-year-old belt out the chorus from “Wild Rover”.

Whatever my children choose for a career, I hope that the love of beauty and the practice of making the world a more beautiful place will be a part of their lives, however it may look. I hope will be for you, too.

If any of these things appeal to you, check them out.

There are more out there include ballet thorough the Juline School or Central West Ballet, theater at Prospect Theater and Gaslight Theater, Gallo Center performances, plays by the performing arts departments in the high schools and colleges. There is so much to enjoy in our neck of the woods, we just have to dig a little.

And if you find a little something you love, please considering supporting these groups that work so hard.

Many of the educational opportunities are made possible to a large family through the generous scholarship programs offered by local non-profits and teachers. If you have been supporting these programs with your donations, thank you. On behalf of a family for whom it might not otherwise be possible, thank you.

When the world feels dark

The world is a dark place

but as I was reminded today in a Facebook meme, “look to the east.” The sun rises in the east. A new day begins are dawn. When our nights are filled with weeping, upon waking, hope often finds itself restored. The morning looks not so dark.

Life is hard.

Even with things “opening up” and returning to whatever normal is, life will still be hard, only now more people realize it. No legislation, no tax break, no job growth will change this fact. Even if herd immunity is achieved, even if unemployment levels return to pre-pandemic levels, even if the time machine in my neighbor’s garage manages to return us all to a different, better, purer age, life will still be hard.

Only now more people know it.

That sounds bleak.

What do we do with this information?

We can self-medicate, isolate, escape into virtual reality until it passes. But it won’t pass. It will wax and wane, but the world we live in will still exist even after a night of heavy drinking.

We can volunteer, advocate, and work to change the brokenness of the world. While we have a significant impact on our community and the individuals we encounter, the world will still be a complicated, messy place. It cannot be controlled. The seeds of weeds will still scatter, some intentionally, some unintentionally, but we will never have to stop weeding unless we burn it all down.

There are those who want to burn it all down. But then, nothing will be left. No humans to tend the earth, no climate to make life worth living for the humans. It is an ecosystem and one thing depends on another.

What do we do?

We find a new way, a new path, something different than suffering and not suffering, but learning to find meaning in suffering and live even amid the pain. That is a life worth living. It does not have to be perfect or physically complete. It may not even be financially stable. But it can still be good.

Would you believe an operatic telling of Aesop’s Fables inspired these thoughts?

Opera Modesto presented “The Race” on April 9 as part of its Festival @ Home.

It will be available from Opera Modesto until May 9. I wrote about it as news, but now I want to write about the spirit of it.

It is joyful.

It is light.

It is playful.

It is beautiful, both in its naturalistic settings and the unique ability of humans to sing.

The singing is impressive.

The performers are representative of the diversity of the real world, in age and color, harmonizing together.

It has a vision beyond the brokenness and pain of 2020 and the tensions of the present moment.

Because Aesop’s Fables come from an age when we were better equipped to take the world as it is. And because the world was recognized as a sometimes dark place, with wolves in sheep’s clothing or consequences to laziness (those grapes did look good) it was actually possible to learn lessons that could make life better despite hardship, pain, or injustice.

The narrative turns a little darker as the Wolf played by Roy Mendiola peers over at the seemingly helpless lamb played by Lance Mendiola. Photo by David Schroeder.

We could learn:

I have control over my actions.

I can make a decision.

I can work or not work.

I can complain or not complain.

I can boast, becoming consumed by overconfidence in my perspective, no longer allowing for even reasonableness to intrude on my thoughts (should you really take that many naps during a race?), or humbly recognize my skills for what they are. They may be very good indeed, but it is still possible to lose. Not everything is within my control. But some important things are.

One more moral of the story. Overconfidence can spoil a good sport, we learn this and more from the Hare, played by Katie Overton. Photo by David Schroeder.

I believe we need to teach these lessons to our children, and revisit them ourselves.  A lot of things come easier in this day and age than they did in the past, and that is a good thing. But it does mean we have to work a little harder to be reminded that we need to learn these lessons.

“The Race” is a great movie.

It really is what we need in this world. I heartily recommend it as one more antidote against both the doldrums and storms of this age.

Photo by Rosan Harmens on Unsplash

Previously published in the weekly column, “Here’s to the Good Life!” in the Hughson Chronicle & Denair Dispatch.