Secret Lonely Lives Of Arts Loving Kids linked to a Hudson Review piece by poet and former NEA Chair, Dana Gioia, talking about how he became entranced by opera and classical music as a child, but realized it was not an interest shared by adults and peers in his life. Granted, his younger brother Ted is  a noted jazz critic and music historian, but their shared adult affinity for arts and culture probably was not apparent when Dana was in elementary school.

Gioia’s piece evokes the bittersweet feeling shared by so many who fall in love with forms of creative expression but perceive themselves alone in these passions unshared by those around them. This is not to say that his family didn’t have an appreciation of such things. He talks about his mother reciting poetry when they did housework. He also admits to being a snob and turning his nose up at the popular music of his youth. But he did see record collections of deceased a uncle sold off with only a couple classical music albums saved. Likewise, he managed to assemble a collection of opera records before his mother cancelled their subscription to a record club after two months.

Gioia discusses his furtive attempts to grab fixes of classical music after school when the apartment was empty and on other occasions with such evocative language, I am afraid the excerpting I am about to do is going to ruin its impact.

At the same time, I feel I may have pasted too much text below to hold some readers’ attention.  But I feel like so many of us have experienced these dismal, lonely feelings about experiences that enliven and energize us, that cutting much more would deny readers the realization of a more broadly shared experience than they might have recognized.

My conniving continued and worsened. When I was eleven, my school was given four free tickets for a Los Angeles Symphony youth concert featuring selections from the Ring. I had already gone the year before—… but I asked the sister who taught me piano if I could go again. She was appalled. She told me I was impossibly greedy and advised me to confess the sin. I knew she was right. My desire was selfish and disgraceful. I left her office embarrassed. On Saturday morning two hours before the concert, she called me. One of the chosen kids had decided not to go. While the other kids and parents sat bored beside me, I had the most thrilling musical experience of my young life….

In the car home, I wanted to talk about the concert, but I knew it would be a mistake. Everyone else had already forgotten it. It was best to hide my enthusiasm. I had already been exposed as greedy. Why add weak and weird to the list? Many children lead secret lives. Mine was simply more elaborate than most….

Keeping my mouth shut in the back seat of the car was an important moment. I knew the practical people were right. To treat art as anything but a brief diversion was dangerous. It made everyday living more difficult. Beauty had an effect on me I didn’t understand, but I recognized it made me cultivate a vulnerability that everyone else suppressed. There was no one to ask for advice. I could only wait and watch….

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker ( website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (

My most recent role was as Executive Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


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