Thoughts by Richard Bleil
Recently the story of Vivaldi came to mind. As I understand it, most of Vivaldi’s repertoire has not been played since its debut. Vivaldi, I’m told (and I’m sure my friend Anna will know for sure) worked in a girl’s orphanage. The young men in the village were allowed to ask these young women for their hand in marriage but were not allowed to see them. They would put a sheet up with the boys on one side, and the young women on the other, and the young women would play a musical piece in the hopes of winning the heart of one of the potential suitors. To help them out, Vivaldi wrote a unique piece for each young woman, and she would practice it until she was proficient enough to play it for the young men.
It’s a terribly romantic story, an older man who loves (innocently) his young charges so much that he writes music for each of them to steal the hearts of the suitors. It’s not unlike Cyrano de Bergerac who was reputed to have written love letters to his cousin Roxanne on behalf of Christian, a young man who was in love with her in the hopes that she would fall in love with him. But, somehow, the rest of the story is missing.
It’s like the story of a commoner woman falling in love with a Prince and becoming a Princess. What a great fairy tale story, but they never talk about what it means to be a princess. I think of Princess Di, who struggled with her new role every day since attaining the title. She had to learn how to walk, talk, and act in public, how to control what she says, and how she behaves, and hide any true feelings she had. It was a lifestyle she could never quite adjust to, and presumably the crash that killed her was as her driver was trying to lose the paparazzi who were following.
These young women of Vivaldi may have won the hearts of a suitor, but they certainly had no opportunity to fall in love with the men. What are the odds that the marriage, which was barely more than arranged marriages, would be happy? Yes, the story is romantic and beautiful, but there’s this enormous shadow hanging over the legend.
Human history, for as long as we have tracked it, seems to be to a large degree the history of the oppression of women. Imagine a society that puts the value of marriage on such a pedestal in the minds of women that anything else falls away. These young Vivaldi women had tremendous talent, and skills above and beyond their ability to play music, and yet they readily gave up their individuality as soon as some unknown man that they have never seen make a bid to buy them. Uh, marry them. Sorry. Typo.
Attending a Catholic wedding, I saw, in my twenties, my very first unity candle. It was beautiful; two individual candles burning on either side of a larger unlit candle. Even before the wedding began, I loved the symbolism and knew that they would be lighting the middle candle together to symbolize the creation of a new couple. Sure enough they lit the candle uplifting my spirit, then, much to my horror, they blew out their individual candles.
Becoming part of a couple is a beautiful thing, and yes, the partnership does create a kind of new entity, one capable of growing and evolving, but in no way does that mean the individuals have to give up themselves, but this is such a huge part of our society. It’s a great tragedy when women are seen as good for little more than laundry, cooking and cleaning. Today, an old friend of mine posted photos of a ring on her finger. I’m very happy for her, and I hope she’s deliriously in love and happy, but I also hope he treats her well. She’s a remarkably intelligent, sweet and gifted young woman, and if she falls into that trap of limiting herself to fit into the mold of the traditional wife it will be a great loss for all of us.
Everybody, including women, deserve to be happy. I am a huge romantic and do believe in love and marriage. But I also believe in the power of women and the right for them to pursue the avenues that make them most happy as well. It’s a forest we’ve created in our society; I hope she doesn’t get lost in it.