Friday, September 02, 2011

My Very Eenteresting Monseigneur Just Said "Unigenitus Nunc Pater"

Currently, I have a trombone student who is not like all the others I've taught.

For one thing, he's an adult.  Adult students are rare for me, coming as I do from a youth educational background. It's far more likely to see a student of twelve than a student of sixty when they pick up the trombone for the first time.

Also, he's a man of the cloth.


I won't be naming him here, nor will I intentionally provide enough details to identify him.  Just like with everyone I write about who isn't me, I'm not interested in commenting about them "behind their backs", but I am interested in talking about what happens to me.

I did briefly entertain the idea of creating a splinter blog covered in anonymity, with which I could create a set of linked anecdotes that would catch the digital world afire with embers of insight, all leading to a massive book publicity tour.  Then I decided that sounded like a lot of work.

Just for the sake of avoiding endless pronouns, I'll refer to him as Padre Buccina.  For your bit of culture, a buccina is a type of Roman brass instrument that curved away from the mouth, under the arm, behind the back, and ended in a bell over the head.  

There are so many anecdotes about such a student / teacher pairing.  Before our first lesson, I openly admit that I went to the internet to try and figure out how to address a person of his vocation properly.  Unfortunately, there aren't a great deal of references available for how an agnostic addresses a priest.  Do I call him "Father," even though I'm not Catholic?  Does the fact that I have a degree from DePaul University mean I'm obligated, at least part of the time?  Honestly, I don't even know if my diploma has any "churchy" bits -- I never framed it.  In fact... do I even know where it is?  Hmm...


I call him Monsignor Buccina.  I've had several people ask why I do this, as he's no "lord" of mine (the title being a modification of "monseigneur" from French).  I do it for a couple of reasons:

1).  I rather like the antiquity of it.  Since the advent of the "Vatican II" reforms, everything is supposed to be more informal, even to the level of "Please call me Bob!"  The title harkens back to a different era.  And while I have no desire to return to said era, I do appreciate the nod towards it.  It acknowledges that things change.

2).  As someone who is within striking distance of a title of my own, I encourage it for selfish reasons.  I'm going to want people to call me Doctor when it's appropriate, so I add my two bits to the karma tin by passing along the favor. 

We make an eyebrow-raising pair.  Should we have met under other circumstances, we have enough policy differences between us to firmly drive wedges.  I bet he doesn't have my opinions on abortion, gay marriage, marriage in general, life, God, science, real estate, morals, art, knowledge, and the best kind of Halloween candy.

In spite of that, we laugh as friends in our lesson time.  He pokes fun at the fact that I am forever using phrases like "it's no sin to practice with a mute", while I make occasional references to jazz and heliocentrism being beyond his scope.  He makes fun of his own eyesight, while I make fun of my overuse of the word "embouchure".  For the most part, religion never comes up.

Every once and a while, one of us will stray towards the heretical or the doctrinal -- no points for guessing which is who -- and we both carefully and without fuss steer the conversation back to phrasing and architecture.  We do talk about a great many things which -- like architecture -- have little to do with trombone lessons.  We discuss art history, language, Latin jokes, his iPhone and iPad, Paris, cooking, and television technology.

I think the priesthood is a lonely life in some ways.  Even though he's constantly surrounded by people who want to talk to him, I'm not sure he ever has beers and chats about things.  One of the things that absolutely everyone asks is "why would he want to play the trombone?"  It could be to simply escape from the moment for a while.  Unlike being a policeman or a lawyer, his job doesn't "stop".  He doesn't take off the collar and hang out as a not-priest until Monday at 9am.  He's always on the clock.  And I should think that would be fatiguing in a way I can't really understand. 

At least when he gives an excuse for missing lessons that begins, "I'm flying to Rome to meet the pope, then on to Turkey to investigate the beatification of a nun," I know he's not just trying to get out of lessons because he hasn't practiced.


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