Friday, June 25, 2010

Vocation as Vacation?

This is the enigma of Colloquium. “To spend exorbitant amounts of personal funds, time, and energy that one might gain opportunity to endure the queues and petty torments and rituals of the TSA/Airline/Airport politburos, to sing “I’ve seen fire and I’ve seen rain, I’ve seen humid days that I thought would never end….” (©Jeffrey A. Tucker), so as to increase one’s abilities and skills in an ancient form of G*dspeak which provides great joy to yourself, your peers and the tired, meek and lowly PIPs at home, knowing that you will return to the bosom of the parish, ennobled and emboldened to “push back” the nattering nabob sheep when they attack, or to nudge the elephant in the room that is clerical disinterest or resistance………………………..or not?”

That is the question, dear Yorick!

But yet, “here we are, altogether as we chant our chants, joyfully!” (Even though some might wonder if we don’t “take off” from an isolated punctum with absolute perfection in all concerns of musicality and ritual meaning, will the top of Jeff Ostrowski’s perfect Marine’s buzz-cut head pop off like an animated feature in “Monty Python?”) Yes, here we are!

And as we’ve broken bread with three squares-a-day during this week at Dusquesne, I’ve informally determined that this event amounts to the only substantial “vacation” time most of us will afford ourselves for the entire work year! Who else does this? Do the illuminati and plebes of the corporate world go down to Hilton Head or up to Cape Cod to hob-knob for brief moments with the Clintons and Kennedy’s on their official retreats, and then plop down into their clubhouses, pencils in hand to pour over the writings of Fan Li, Adam Smith, John Maynard Keynes, Milton Friedman and Alan Greenspan? Heck, who knows? Maybe they do. Or maybe they’re out on the links, or flaying their squash racquets, or worse, blurrily watching the vagaries of the Dow Avg. with their little friend, Ketel One, nearby. Who knows? Who cares?

In my dictionary, you look up “Passion,” you see an icon of Christ collapsing a third time under the weight of the crux. Now, in my revised dictionary, you look up “passionate,” you see zoetrope sequences of the various facial expressions of one Jeffrey Ostrowski!
Those CMAA folks who know me, know I’m partial to great movies. “Whaddya mean “great movies?” Well, mostly weird stuff. “Whaddya mean “weird stuff.” Uh, off-beat, compelling, sometimes life-altering, sometimes off-the-charts bizarre. Okay, Jeff Ostrawski IS…..the “Buckaroo Banzai” of our life and times in chant. (You have to do the cinema math, one can’t explain “Buckaroo Banzai.”) This whipper-snapper (and I DO MEAN “whipper-snapper!) probably pulled out the Excalibre of chant at age five, found the peep-stone spectacles which compelled him towards endless libraries of autographs, manuscripts, facsimiles and uhrtexts at age nine, and so forth until now we have the chant version of the offspring of Stephen Hawking and Indiana Jones.

For you partial to cartoon caricatures, Jeff could be likened to a cross between the Tazmanian Devil and that Enfante Terriblé kid in “Family Guy.” I simply think he’s our own Buckaroo Banzai in a barong, performing brain salad surgery one moment, choosing well the true Holy Grail among many the next, and taking the chant world into the eighth dimension, despite the contrariness of the many evil Dr. Emilio Lizardo’s around the world. (See the film, I ain’t got time to ‘splain.)

Still and all, Jeffrey Ostrowski is a serious, devoted, and reverently earnest man. And he has, among others in leadership roles, literally transformed the notions of many other serious…..earnest chant proponents of how to effect the chant from conception to acquisition to rendering to its spiritual culmination. If I had to liken his methodology to a sport, I’d say that would have to be Mixed Martial Arts, or MMA to you cage-fighter enthusiasts. On Monday we’d learn via TaiChi; Tuesday it’d be Karate, Wednesday-Kung Fu, today more like Leonides versus the whole of Persia! One moment he will liken a chant phrase to an airplane’s takeoff, cruising and then landing, and the next he might stomp a foot and aim a death stare off into space should our schola not intuit a cadence in the manner which he had already drilled into our brains a great many times. It was funny today when Jeff mentioned Msgr. Bartolucci in passing. I remember distinctly thinking to myself on our second day’s session, “Bartolucci wishes he were Ostrowski!” (Though, of course, that would be a cultural impossibility.)

Well, our band of real men in tights may not achieve the elegant thrust and effortless landing of a stealth jet fighter, but we’re awfully close to singing with the precision of a really good metro train moving from station to station. You know, that clean whoosh of initial thrust, the smooth ride between terminals, and the perfectly measured braking into the next stop, ahhhhhhh. And Jeffrey smiles, somewhere between Dennis the Menace and the Dalai Lama, knowing that he charted the course and his matey’s brought her safely to harbor.

But Jeffrey, according to his own testimony, has difficulty sleeping through the night. One night he claimed the declamation of the word “are” kept him awake. He was serious! And many other perplexities vex his REM time. So, what do you think Jeffrey and his beautiful bride do for vacation? COLLOQUIUM I’d wager; in a heartbeat.

Sundown in Pittsburgh on a Friday peers through the skyscrapers from my dorm room.

That was almost as bad as, “It was a dark and stormy night….”

And coming from a Vesper Service to almost literally die for, all I can think of about these wonderful vacationers, every one of whom likely gives more time, talent and treasure to their parishes, and who receive the ack-ack of flak cannons from all quarters with a side dose of grace now and then, is “Well done, good and faithful servants.” Oh, and “when you get back you have three funerals and a wedding that Father’s fitting in on Friday night after confessions. You okay with that?” Sure, you think?!? I sang with Jeff Ostrowski. I can do anything!
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