|A Fado Evening|
By Peter and Helen EvansThe musicians began arriving, and, as we rose to let them prepare their instruments, Joana Amendoeira made her appearance. Blonde, petite and polite, she greeted us with her few words of carefully spoken English, and spoke more easily, yet with reserve, to Norberto and the musicians in Portuguese. This was their first meeting and it was a toss-up as to who was more impressed with whom. The musicians were men, generally middle-aged and formally dressed in dark suits, devoted amateurs drawn from their various daily lives by the opportunity to re-kindle and be warmed by the flame of Fado. Joanna, barely 19, dressed in a pale sweater and jeans, was just off the plane from her native Portugal, chaperoned by her mother and starting a world tour as a "Fadista." The performers, united now, moved indoors to get organized. As we waited for the other diners to gather for the "evening of Fado," Manuel Azevedo, LaSalette’s chef and owner appeared with two glasses of wine for us. By the quietly gurgling fountain, under the green vines of the patio, sipping the robust, rustic red in the gathering twilight, we felt ourselves transported to Portugal. Norberto returned, splendid in his dark suit and an intense tie. He watched as the dining room filled and said they would begin with some instrumental numbers after the soup was served. We asked him what would be the ideal setting for Fado. "Here!" he said "This is perfect. Fado is about life... all of life. Eating is part of life. It all comes together." Norberto was clearly pumped. He had mentioned earlier that Fado had helped him to become a better person, "more comfortable with myself, a more peaceful man." This was quite interesting to us because through our classes and books we teach the very same concept. By striving to express our highest and best, we become fulfilled and develop an inner peace. For Norberto, being pumped before going on-stage was now a calm, inner awareness of the power of his expression waiting to be released, rather than the nervous butterflies he used to suffer from, before finding Fado. A few minutes later, we were seated on a bench beside Joana’s mother, knee-to-knee with the ‘guitarristas’, within arm’s reach of the microphone and the music began. We were blessed to have made the acquaintance of everyone beforehand, so our wonderfully intimate location was perfectly comfortable. To be able to watch music being made is just as fascinating as to hear it, and both together are a delight. It was a real treat for us, in the opening medley, to be able to watch the subtle flicker of their glances, slight shifts in their postures as the instrumentalists established a mutually agreeable ‘plucking order’ and went on to build an atmosphere colored by the unique sound of the 12-string Portuguese guitar. When Norberto took up the microphone to begin "Mary of Heaven" we realized that despite what he had already told us, we were here now "for the first time." Being unable to understand a single word of the song paradoxically freed us to hear his singing. He was the wise and kindly minstrel, respecting the power of the story, almost as a teacher would recount a familiar classic and let us draw the lessons from it ourselves. He sang only three numbers before he introduced Joana. She was now wearing a black, sleeveless evening dress with the traditional black shawl of the Fadista wrapped around her shoulders. Where Norberto had been telling someone else’s story, Joana was "living out loud," sharing her own story and, in moments of piercing poignancy, striking haunting resonances in the hearts of her spellbound audience. We could not have told you what the song was "about" but we were moved to tears by the moment. As we drove home, we reflected how easy it would have been to dismiss this whole opportunity simply because we "didn't speak the language." Yet it was clear that the language of Fado isn't just Portuguese, it’s Life. Fado, like all ‘real’ art, transcends its particulars and touches something, communicates something universal, common to all humanity. In trying to find out what was unique about Fado, we discovered its universality. Its universal message is that we all share this experience of uniqueness when we each face our own ‘fate’ in our own way.
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