July 21, 2010

Some Thoughts on AVATAR [Spoilers]

Through the magic of NetFlix, the home-bound Kerns finally saw AVATAR (James Cameron's 3D Epic, NOT Shymalan's "the Last Airbender").

Franky, I thought it was a great movie. Good to see that Cameron isn't all about the geeky technical details, he can still write and direct a decent action flick.  Yes, it was riddled with minor plot holes and common "Tropes" used by many movies, but it was overall a solid movie and not the "Pocohontas with Smurfs" that people were claiming.

Like many people, I was moved by the story. Some came away with a renewed interest in living in harmony with the natural world and the rejection of America's evil Military/Industrial Complex. But, me being me, I had another line of thought after seeing the movie: [SPOILER WARNING!!!]
Avatar Banshee

According to the movie, the Na'vi and their flying Banshees apparently "Bonded for life", and Jake's (let's call him "Patches") was faithful to him. Patches even stayed behind when the Hometree was destroyed, awaiting his master when all other Na'vi had abandoned him. So when Jake returned to his Navi body, Patches was there, forgiving, accepting, showing him that even though Jake was a traitor to the Navi, Jake was HIS traitor, and Patches would always stand by him.

And in return, Jake took flight with patches once more. Everything was just like old times, until Jake told Patches that he wanted a BIGGER, meaner Banshee to ride.

Avatar Banshee 'Big Red'
Adding insult to injury, Patches even had to help Jake CAPTURE "Big Red" here. As the final battle sequence went on, I can imagine Patches huddled in the corner of the burned-out HomeTree, sniffling, wondering what was wrong with him? If maybe he had flown faster or been stronger, would Jake have stayed faithful to him and not needed to stray? The Banshees are not used to such emotions, so the tears sting Patches' eyes, and since they have claws used for gripping onto rocks for hands, his attempts at wiping them away leave him cut up like Edward Scissorhands trying to put in a contact lens.

And as a post-credits sequence, you can imagine Jake coming back to Patches, perhaps holding a bouquet of small rodents as an apology.
"Patches! How wonderful to see you again!"
"SCREEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!" [How dare you come back here, after what you did]

(Of course, the Banshees don't have an exact language, so Jake can only guess at what is being said. And even that badly.)

"Whoa, easy boy! It's me, I'm really a Na'vi now, this is my real body! Neytiri's Mom fixed me up real good."
"SCREEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!" [Sure, you look great. What about me, huh? How do I show my face on the cliffs anymore? Every SINGLE Banshee on the CONTINENT was in that battle but me! And every single one of them saw you riding... that... THING. You bonded with it didn't you? DIDN'T YOU?!?!?]
"We saved the Tree of Souls! We sent those 'Sky People' packing back to my... er.. THEIR world! We won't see any of them again, and I'm back for good.
"SCREEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!" [So, you had your little fling. Is that what you needed to prove that you were a REAL Na'vi Man, some big conquest? And now you've let him go and got that out of your system, and we're supposed to go on like nothing happened? Do you Realize what you have done?]

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So Jake Sulley may be the savior of Pandora, but he also corrupted it by introducing infidelity to what was once a pristine, monogamous relationship.

July 18, 2010

The Gift of Song

A few weeks ago, a lovely woman named Billie from our church died. The choir quickly got together a rehearsal and learned Billie's favorite arrangement, "The Lord Is My Shepherd" from the BBC Comedy "The Vicar of Dibley"


It was beautiful and moving, and it was amazing that our choir, (a largely self-taught and by-the-seat-of-our-pants group), learned it so well after just one practice.

Choir call-time was an hour before the service, and I was on my way up to the church. It's a 20-minute drive, a time which I often try to center my mind, but today I needed to warm up, so I started singing in the car. With the radio at first, but then I turned it off to sing alone. After a few minutes of vocal free-association, I started singing "If Ever I would Leave You" from Camelot. I hadn't sung this since my final recital my senior year in high school, but out it came, complete and without a hitch. And just to see if I could do it, I sang the rest of my recital, nearly perfect from memory: "Everybody Says Don't", "Rainbow Connection" and even a little German for Beethoven's whimsical "Song of the Flea. And even more amazing is how different my voice sounded compared to then.
----
I had one year of voice lessons, my senior year in high school. One of my best friends' mother helped out with the school's spring musicals and also gave voice and piano lessons. Her name is Judith Patterson. I have a long list of things that the Patterson family has done for me over the years, but Judith game me an incredible gift in that single year of lessons-- a foundation that I have slowly built upon since then.

Before that I'd dabbled with instruments. two years of piano gave me the basics of music theory, six years of playing tenor saxophone in the school band, even a year in the percussion section. At the end, all of these left me wanting. I wasn't very good at them, and I really didn't feel the desire to continue. My junior year of high school, I left the band to join the choir with my friends. At that point, I was barely above shower-quality singing, but their support and lots of practice got my foot in the door.

After that, it was just a matter of sticking with it. By the time I finished high school, I had sung in the school choir, was the Bass in the school quartet, performed with the county summerstock theater and even did an 8-month stint in a college a cappella group called B Natural. (It was for the local community college, which was in dire need of singers. I and several others were found in high schools and we insisted we were all "freshmen".) Once at the University of Georgia, I immediately joined their renowned Mens Glee Club and got a coveted slot in their a cappella group, The UGA Accidentals. Later I sang in two other independent a cappella groups, Local Vocals and LiveWire. From High school on through college and to this day, I have been a part of my church's choir. Of course, "My Church" has changed over the years, but I've almost continuously been a part of *A* church choir since high school.

From each of these groups, I have gained knowledge and experience, met incredible people and gone all sorts of places. And one event after the other has brought more joy into my life. Because I joined the chorus, I was told about summerstock theater. Because I was in summerstock theater, I met up with Brad Maffett, who directed me in B Natural and Local Vocals. Because of my work in B Natural, I was able to move the UGA Accidentals towards touring and recording CDs. Because I was in the UGA Accidentals and Glee Club, I met my lovely wife Melissa, who sang in the Women's Glee Club and Concert Choir. After Melissa and I were married, we moved to Flowery Branch, where we found St. Gabriel's Episcopal Church, and were drafted into the Choir upon our first visit.

My life could have been so much more ordinary, but that single decision to start singing and that single year of voice lessons from Mrs. Patterson set in motion the events that have defined all the key moments of happiness in my past 20 years. The fact that I can still remember--and sing--nearly every piece of music I've learned, given my limited training, is a testament to how much it means to me, how much a part of me singing has become.

So thank you Mrs. Patterson. You have changed my life in countless blessed ways and made such a difference that I cannot imagine my life without your music in it.

July 06, 2010

When it's OK to Cry

This weekend, I almost lost it and cried, twice.

(1)

'Nuff Said. If you didn't well up at least twice during this movie then you never loved a toy in your life, you heartless guttersnipe. Now I only wish that I knew the whereabouts of my Star Wars figures and a certain stuffed weasel that I named "Schnookie".(PS: Not This one.) I never thought another cartoon would be able to plumb the emotional depths that Jessie's Song from Toy Story 2 did for me, but I was wrong. This script was amazing and the direction was spot-on.

(2) After Matthew fell asleep last night, I snuck in to turn off the Lava Lamp that he uses as a night light, but accidentally knocked over a tub of legos *crash*. He half-woke up, not really conscious, looked at me and lifted up his arms, inviting me in for a hug. I smiled and gave him one and he settled back down, and was asleep again before I left the room. I don't know whether he was saying he forgave me, or if he just wanted a hug, but I'm just glad that at some level, he still wants to be close to us like that.