I liked 2 things right away about Jackie. 1) The Disagreement
Our first argument came when I asked for her number. I remember standing on our friend's driveway, while I stumbled over some awkward jokes. We didn’t have any paper or pen to write down her number, so I decided to memorize it. She did not approve of this ridiculous idea. The moment could have been one of those playful, flirty disagreements, except that it wasn't. Instead, we argued about it for real. Clearly, she wasn’t afraid to challenge me. A worthy opponent. Feisty. Combative. Confident. I didn’t really process any of those thoughts in the moment. At the time, I thought, “Who does she think she is?!” Ah, young love.
Eventually I reshaped that first fight in my mind as downright romantic. Cue the orchestra. Which reminds me of point number...
2) The Voice
She studied voice. As soon as I heard she was an opera singer, the cool factor of meeting her went way up. My mind filled with all kinds of crazy romantic notions of what it would be like to date a Soprano. We met as a group in the high society wheeler-dealer social club known as the Old Orchard Mall Houlihan’s. All 15 people attended that night simply so that we could meet, and when it came time for introductions, she and her roommate were introduced in the wrong order. My disappointment was immediate. Why did the opera singer have to be the tall and lanky frizzy-haired girl? Why couldn’t it be the cute girl with the gorgeous eyes? And then, seconds later the farce was over. The mistaken identity was clarified, and lucky for me, the cute girl was indeed the opera singer.
As we dated, she educated me on opera - the history, the culture, and the art form itself. My experiences playing trumpet in a youth orchestra and marching band molded my thinking on opera. Quite frankly, I hated it. As I mentioned, I loved the cool factor of dating an opera singer, but I wasn’t sold on the actual music. Why ruin some beautiful classical music with singing? Of course, as I learned much more about opera, I started to appreciate it. Her music score looked technically challenging, not to mention that she would have to sing in German, French and Italian. And the stories told grand tales of love, comedy and scandal, and that’s just in the first scene. The reality of this opera singer beat most of my expectations regarding the cool factor.
Then it came time to attend a recital. I had heard all about the topic of opera, but finally I was going to hear some actual opera. They had a little party where all the students performed. I thought I knew how an opera singer should sound. And her classmates filled that expectation for the most part. Some of them clearly had some work to do. They were studying, so I wasn’t surprised to hear some righteous clams and back-tingling voice cracks. Some showed extreme promise. But, for the most part, they all sang with a sound that I considered about right for an opera student. Then Jackie sang. Sweet Jesus Cakes! She blew them all away. I don’t mean she was more technically proficient (although she was). I’m referring to her pipes. Her vocal cords. Her natural instrument. Anyone with two ears and a human soul could hear the amazingly perfect and deeply powerful quality to her voice.
My small-minded pre-conceived notion of the romance of dating an opera singer became immediately eclipsed into oblivion by the reality of the magic and core-shaking power of her voice. Curtain Down! I still consider myself fortunate to hear that lovely voice from time to time around the house. Even if it’s just singing a little ditty about our dog.
Conflict + Opera = Sketch
I enjoy reliving the memories of those first years of our relationship – the conflict and what I learned about opera. When I wrote the original sketch that became Episode 5 of the web series (out on Thursday 9/19/13), I used many of the details I remember from her days studying voice. It’s sort of like a shout-out to those memories. Hey, memories: you don’t go changin’! Plus, I loved the idea of trouble-makers with the admirable intention of supporting the arts.
Then, when I started writing the web series script, this sketch arguing for more arts education seemed like a perfect fit, especially in light of my wife’s experiences with holding on to a job as a music teacher over the past decade. As I’ve discussed often in this blog, the public education system has proven to be a continuing challenge given the loss of financial and political support. It’s no secret that the education system in our country has been slashed and burned, and the arts are always the first casualty in the budget. Despite the challenges, my wife happens to be a fantastic teacher (teacher of the year for LAUSD in fact!), so she's managed to continue working throughout all the budget cuts.
Even if she wasn't working, no one could ever take away that stunning, heart-shaking voice -- winding its way through the rooms of our house, over our Chow Chow's wagging tail, and into my grateful ears.
It’s so romantic, it makes me want to argue.