Sunday, December 13, 2009

Last talks

I gave one final guest lecture last Friday at Satya Nilayam Academy, a Jesuit seminary associated with Madras's Loyola University, one of the most prestigious colleges in India. Dr. Gabriel, my "boss" while I'm here, has contacts there and was able to set something up. My talk was on Music and Expression: An Esthetic Perspective, and the students (all future Jesuit priests) had all kinds of good questions and comments in the Q&A that followed! The free lunch that often follows my off-campus give talks provides extra opportunities to get to know some interesting people. My host, Father Dr. George, was familiar with the Baptist missions in northeast India and in Bengal-Orissa that I’ve been hearing about since I was a young P.K. attending the Missions Nights my dad sponsored every Sunday night in February at the church in LaCrosse! Apparently a good number of students at the seminary are tribals (India's equivalent to our native Americans), since historically these groups were more responsive to the Christianity than the upper-caste Hindus (who had much more to lose)! Anyway, the students had lots of good questions and comments in the Q&A time that followed my talk.

And this past Wednesday was my final day of official duties at MCC. I started with a morning lecture on U.S. Presidential Elections in the Political Science department. I don’t think I said a word about music this time, and it was fun to talk about the election process and especially about the 2008 election, which was so exciting and historic in so many ways! I’m no political scientist, but I’ve been following presidential election campaigns and political conventions since I was 9 year olds, which finally paid some dividends! My final “gig” was to give the meditation for the carol service at Martin Hall, the main women’s residence here at MCC. I’d attended several hall festivals in September and October, and I saw how seriously they took those events, but I didn’t stop to think this might be an equally big deal … and it was! As I came down the drive to the hall entrance, I saw Christmas lights all over the place, and the yard was mobbed with people hanging out, talking up a storm, and enjoying snacks. I was recognized at the entrance (surprise, surprise), and ushered in past the activity to a room in the back, decorated with balloons and lined with chairs. My host said, “You’re right on time!”— which in India usually means I was the very first one to arrive. As others were ushered in, former principal Dr. Philip, chaplain Spurgeon, senior administrator Soundaraj, Anne from St. Olaf, and so on, I realized this was the VIP reception room. We were all served snacks and cakes and tea, and then it was time to move to the auditorium for the carol service itself. Just as I saw with the hall festivals a few months back, it takes a long time to square away the technical details, do the sound checks and light checks, make sure all of the participants are present and accounted for, etc. What an elaborate program they prepared! There were congregational carols, carols in various Indian languages, two very lovely dance numbers, and a Christmas play written and produced by the Martinians themselves. My meditation came nearer the beginning, and I decided to use a favorite Christmas song, “I Wonder as I Wander,” as the theme for the talk. I sang all four verses, but with breaks in between for three reflections on the words and the meanings implicit in the song. The Christmas play that followed my talk was an absolute stitch! The hall residents were dressed up as angels and sheep and and a shepherd and Mary and Jospeh and three kings and two camels (who could not begin to see where they were going under those sheets!), with some nicely penciled-in beards and moustaches for the male roles. The rambunctious group of angels and the noisy flock of sheep were very cleverly done, and the play pointed up some of the same incongruities I had just described in my talk. What fun! I think my meditation came off well enough. I got lots of positive feedback afterwards, including Anne’s comment that I had picked one of her very favorite songs! I also got some very lovely compliments from Jubi when some of “the guys” got together last night for an impromptu farewell celebration. Hard to believe everything is wrapping up so quickly now! Will I have enough time to do the things that need to be wrapped up before I go … and finish packing, too?