April 29, 2005

Faithful Lines / Shirley Vogler Meister

Film validates reality of a calling from God

Have you ever heard someone sing so incredibly well that you can hardly breathe for the beauty of that voice? Recently, in the privacy of our home, my husband and I did while viewing a ­30-minute DVD, Laundry and Tosca—a Burning Heart film produced, edited and directed by Lauralee Farrer.

The film is about Marcia Whitehead, who for most of her adult life has lived in a small garage apartment in southern California, working at a modest-pay job but blessed with a unique talent. When first told that she has a rare operatic voice (a lirico-spinto soprano: a lyric soprano with more power), she was first disappointed. She wasn’t fond of opera. However, “obedient to God’s imperative call,” she worked for 20 years to pay for vocal coaches on nights and weekends—and she learned to love opera.

Catholic acquaintance Susana Name arranged a New York City audition with world-renowned vocal instructor Maestro Franco Iglesias. (One of his students was world-class tenor Placido Domingo.) The audition came during the week of the 9-11 World Trade Center terrorist attacks.

The film juxtaposes this devastating and tragic time with Marcia’s talent and her time with the maestro. It also captures both triumphal and trepidatious moments, and records Iglesias’ respect for a voice he calls “a gift from God.” The maestro, with all his experience, was as awestruck as my husband and I were. Also Catholic, he arranged for Marcia to stay at a Carmelite monastery in Manhattan.

I learned about Marcia Whitehead through Reel Spirituality, an institute of the Brehm Center for Worship, Theology and the Arts, which recently co-sponsored with Burning Hearts a Laundry and Tosca film and concert program at Fuller Theological Seminary’s Travis Auditor­ium in Pasadena, Calif. That was the same weekend my spouse and I viewed the DVD. We had no idea that Marcia, despite being very ill, performed brilliantly to a packed house those two nights.

Film producer Lauralee Farrer, editor of publications at Fuller, as well as other experts shared their comments at the program, which delved into the importance of recognizing and following the will of God.

Farrer also produced Best Man in Grass Creek (filmed in Grass Creek, Ind.), for which she was co-recipient of the 1999 Heartland Film Festival Crystal Heart Award in Indianpolis. Currently, she has in production Praying the Hours, a narrative feature-length film about the eight Benedictine hours of prayer. For more about Farrer, see www.IMBD.com.

For information about Brehm Center—which “empowers, equips and enriches a new generation of Church leaders through arts, media and excellence in all things”—see www.brehmcenter.com.

If interested in Laundry and Tosca, contact Justin Bell, assistant director of Reel Spirituality; at jbell@fuller.edu or view www.reelspirituality.org.

(Shirley Vogler Meister, a member of Christ the King Parish in Indianapolis, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.)

Local site Links: