. Regurgitated Alpha Bits: Self-Deception is a Beautiful Thing

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Self-Deception is a Beautiful Thing

Yesterday afternoon, I attended the theater with my mother. We saw Souvenir by Stephen Temperley. This true story accounts the late-in-life singing career of soprano Florence Foster Jenkins, or Lady Florence, as she preferred to be called.

Lady Florence was, in reality, a socialite living in New York City in the early twentieth century. Armed with life-long love of music and a seemingly unending supply of money from an inheritance, she staged yearly performances for her friends in the ballroom of the Ritz-Carlton and gave the proceeds to her favorite charities. Her repertoire included the challenging works of Mozart, Verdi, and Strauss and always included at least three elaborate costume changes.

Word spread of her singing. She recorded records and soon strangers counted themselves as fans and clamored to attend her concerts. In 1944, at the age of 76, she rented out Carnegie Hall for a sold-out performance. So great was the demand to see her that two thousand fans had to be turned away at the door for lack of tickets.

Her undying appreciation of the musical arts inspired her to share it with others, even at her own expense. She spent thousands of dollars on stage decorations, costumes, and concert venues. She was known to rehearse tirelessly.

Have a listen to her unforgetable rendition of Mozart's "Queen of the Night." Be sure to listen to her entire performance as some of her most memorable vocal feats occur near the end of the aria.

I simply can't stop listening to her slaughter this beautiful piece of music. She exemplifies the reason I only watch the try-out stages of American Idol, when they spotlight all the people who haven't a snowball's chance in hell of making it on the show.

She was completely tone-deaf.

But in her mind she was a diva with impeccable pitch and accuracy. She did not hear her own faultering half-steps or recognize her inability to hold notes or maintain a consistent tempo.

She truly believed she had a gift and that it could be used to benefit others. All reports about her personality indicate she was a kind and generous person who frequently put the needs of others ahead of herself. A network of friends within her social circle fostered her self-deception in an effort to protect her feelings. Her sweetness kept them from revealing the truth to her.

At her concerts, they muffled their laughter behind balled-up fists or shoved handkerchiefs in their mouths. When the giggles got the best of them, they would bolt for the door to release their laughter in the lobby far from her sight. When strangers filled the concerts with roars of laughter, her friends buried the gaffaws behind shouts of "Brava!" Tears of laughter, to Lady Florence, were simply tears of joy.

Her singing brought her national fame, but not for the reasons she thought it did.

And why this, on a teacher blog?

Well, in part I want to share the curiosity that was Lady Florence. I find her story fascinating in a train-wreck sort of way.

More importantly, I share it because when I have a rough week, I need to remind myself why I chose this job and this odd little story did just that for me.

I have a lot of kids who "sing" like Lady Florence. It's my job to make them believe they're wonderful...

because they really are.


Anonymous said...

What a well-written page on FFJ. Thanks so much. I think you hit the nail on the head.

Donald Collup
Producer, "Florence Foster Jenkins: A World Of Her Own"

The Bus Driver said...

haha.. "Train wreck..." omg i'm laughing sooo hard right now. very funny.

Melissa B. said...

The video is a hoot-and-a-half! I'm on the verge of Peeing. My. Pants. Right. Now. She reminds me of some of my administrators--completely tone deaf. To everything!

Melissa B. said...

BTW, don't forget my Silly Sunday Sweepstakes tomorrow--I've got a sweet snap for ya. Remember, it's all about Sharing the Caption Love!