This photo is borrowed from a friend who was seated in the audience. You won't be able to spot me here—I'm perfectly framed by the top of the red drape but camouflaged by the base drum. I swear, that thing was so forceful at one point, my hair actually moved with the sound waves. Weird.
My orchestra performed one hell of a concert last night. I was going to say "heck," but the situation calls for a full-blown cuss. We inaugurated the new performing arts center with the first concert of our season, and we did it the right way—very well.
The hall seats 1,100, and all tickets sold out days before the performance. We opened with Beethoven's Consecration of the House, which the horn section transposed. It has never been made clear to me exactly why, but composers used to write horn parts in keys other than F on occasion, and now modern-day horn players have to transpose on the spot. If the note on the page is an F, for example, we actually play a lower C. If it's a C, we play a lower G, and so on. Once you get the scale in your head, it isn't too difficult, but there is no room for one of those momentary brain clouds that seem to affect 48-year-old brains, and I was concerned. I needn't have been because I was so ready for that concert and so excited to play in that hall for a packed house that I didn't miss a note. Then, in the key of F, we performed Grieg's piano concerto with an amazing guest pianist, and I mean AMAZING. Brian Ganz's playing was dreamy and powerful and moving and rousing. Know what I mean? There were moments in the second movement when I had nothing but rests to count so I could just sit back and soak up the man's playing. I was tempted to close my eyes, but I had to pay attention to my rest counting at the same time. Same thing with the middle of the third movement. You know you've done a great job when, after the last note, a man in the audience shouts out uncontrollably. He didn't shout the obligatory "Bravo!" It was more like a guttural vowel. Wonderful.
After the intermission, we switched gears to fun stuff—circus-like music while a juggler performed front stage and a daring young man on a flying trapeze twirled overhead. He was later joined by his nimble wife, and they performed this beautiful display suspended from a bright, red drape. Then they left after a suitable bow, and we finished with Bolero. Standing ovations. Dopamine rushes. Broad, uncontrollable smiling. Everything a good concert should include. I'm still buzzed just thinking about it.
But I've also been thinking about something other than the musical and communal thrill of the performance, something that happens when you walk out on stage to perform with a group. Everything that is unimportant, all of those superficial things we heap on ourselves, disappears. Do you have lots of friends, or are you lonely? Do you wear pricey clothes, are are you forced to shop at the Good Will? Are you successful in your career (unless you're a musician by trade), or have your aspirations been dashed? Do you have a lot of money or not much? Did your candidates win in the last election? None of it matters because you're there to make music with your fellow orchestra members. You aren't there to be the star, unless you're that guy at the piano. You're there to play your part in all of your humanness and to blend to the best of your ability. Follow the conductor's cues, and don't be too loud or too soft. If the flute is the feature at the moment, back off from your boring old half notes. If you're supposed to be the boost to the cellos, or if you have an interesting bit of theme on the page, play out.
People tend to be self conscious, or at least I do. In so many situations, people tell you not to worry about what others are thinking about you because they're too busy thinking about themselves to notice, and I think that's mostly true. But I get the idea that on stage with the orchestra, they aren't thinking about themselves either. They're thinking about the music. And what a relief it is to focus on something that matters for awhile besides whether or not the republicans are in charge or if your column is going to be well received in the Monday edition or if your clothes fit right, or maybe you should be wearing that other sweater that hides your flaws more effectively. Put on your black concert clothes and sit with all the others in their black and stop fretting over the superficial stuff. It's the best feeling there is. At least I think so.