It been over thirty years, but the memory is vividly clear. I leveled a stereo needle onto a record, then an ethereal voice crooned,
“Heavenly shades of night are falling
It’s twilight time
Out of the mist your voice is calling
‘Tis twilight time . . .”
All at once a bedroom door blew open, and my grandmother waltzed into the living room, cigarette balanced in her fingers. She smiled at me as she swirled. “Your grandfather and I danced to this,” she explained, and glided off in her reverie. I watched, amused, enjoying my grandmother’s response to the music, wondering why the melody had her behaving so out of character.
A similar, unexpected episode occurred a few years later, this time concerning my daughter. It was afternoon, after school, when I heard the front door open, and little feet tromp down the hall. While calling out, how was your day? her bedroom door slammed, and deep wailing erupted from her bedroom. Alarmed I opened the door, and found her face down on her bed. She could hardly speak, issuing huge sobs, so I rocked her until she settled down. When I asked her what happened, what upset her, she gasped out that they were studying Native Americans in class, and watched the film, “I Will Fight No More Forever.” This movie depicts the Nez Perce Wars in Idaho. And what had set her off was the patent injustice suffered by America’s first peoples. She had encountered a long ago atrocity, and intuitively understood the grave wrong doing. She was only eight.
Two distinct generations impacted by the power of music and film.
In John Vogel’s superb new book, A Spiritual Exploration Of The Literary And Performing Arts, Volume I: Philosophy, I found some answers. In a lively, brief 100 pages Vogel literally defined magic.
A seeker of truth, the author methodically offers a case for the transformative power of the Arts; how film, the stage, and music calls to us, elevates our spirits, and imparts universal lessons. In clear language Vogel asserts persuasively that, as human beings, we are made better by embracing the sentiment intended for our souls.
This book takes on the task of explaining inspiration through the works of the masters. Vogel considers standards such as the musical Show Boat, assorted characters from Shakespeare, the Greek poet, Homer, and even Jimi Hendrix to provide object lessons. Each example is fleshed out to illuminate the dynamic power of performance- a realm where imagination, intuition, morality and spirituality reside. Particularly poignant to this reader was author’s discussion of a scene from the film Gandhi, and its lesson on personal redemption.
Lively and fascinating, A Spiritual Exploration is also a cautionary tale. Vogel reminds us through the performing arts that a lust for temporal power and wealth is spiritually lethal, as revealed in the tragedy of Macbeth. More timeless examples are offered reiterating that hate produces nothing of value, and worse restricts our humanity; the essential lessons of humility, reason, spirituality, and justice. Moreover, Vogel makes a persuasive case that the Arts are the guardrails of orderly society, imparting the message that through literature and music were a taught to be human.
This is a short read with a long title, made even weightier for the philosophy it imparts. As I read Vogel’s words I intuitively knew that he was right about the sublime power of the unseen.
A Spiritual Exploration is a work that speaks to the timeless and universal.
John Vogel’s book is available at:
Gail Chumbley is a playwright and author of the two-part memoir, “River of January,” and “River of January: Figure Eight.” Both books are available at http://www.river-of-january.com and on Kindle.