Friday, July 29, 2005

Disco Dave, the Freight Train and the Church



The week starts with anger over what was to be a beautiful concert. Imagine a full choir and orchestra playing beautiful music by Brahms and Beethoven in a cathedral. Everyone – a professional in attitude and appearance, ready to inspire and be inspired. Minds open, focused and ready to perform. Because of the sensitive acoustics of the church, every sound is amplified, so we will have to be careful and thoughtful with our volume. Then, the sound begins. Not the sound of the choir – not the sound of the delicate oboe, nor that of the violins, brass or soloists. The sound is that of a man in the pews whispering into his wife’s ear. He’s sitting there, one row removed from the French Horns (where I’m sitting) with his arm wrapped around his wife, not unlike a teenager in the back seat of a Plymouth Fury. His shirt, I noticed, was unbuttoned at least one button too many. Maybe they were going to a disco contest after leaving the church. “Get a room,” crossed my mind.

I thought, well, that’s nice, I can hear this guy, but I’m sure he’ll stop. I should also note that he’s within my peripheral vision, so in between the whispers, I can see him looking at his watch! Is he commenting on everything he hears? If he is, how can he listen in order to have things to comment on if he’s always talking? Well, then it must be about personal matters. “Honey, did you pay the Capitol One bill?” If it was consistent, like at the beginning and end of the piece, I could work that into the program mentally. But, it’s sporadic and the unique sound he’s producing is cutting through the music. The sound is unlike any of the instruments and voices and is starting to sound like a freight train to me. There’s a freight train running through this beautiful church! My concentration is off and I’m starting to get angry. I’m going to walk over to him any minute now. I’m going to tell the conductor to stop the concert. I’m going to walk over to this man and give him my horn, and ask him to help out, because I can’t concentrate! To paraphrase the commedian’s response to a heckler, “Sir, this is what we do. It’s what we enjoy. I don’t go over to State Farm or wherever you work, with a wooden ladle and a bowl of marbles, and mix them around while you’re working, do I!?” Imagine me going over to your desk at State Farm with my fictitious wife, Bunny. I’m dressed in, I don’t know, a spandex body suit, and with Bunny next to me, I stir the bucket of marbles every thirty seconds while you’re trying to conclude a transaction on hail damage. Psychologically, that might inflict the same kind of damage.

The second half starts, disco Dave, is back with his wife, the music begins, and ladies and gentleman, please open the church door and let the freight train back in again. It starts, and it cuts, sporadically, through every piece of music, all the way to the end.
There’s been a slight change in tonight’s program. In addition to the beautiful requiems, we would now like to add Marble Mixing in B flat major for wooden ladle, bowl of marbles and pan flute followed by Freight Train in G Minor, performed by Union Pacific railway and chamber orchestra. There’s a reason I don’t carry a sledge hammer. I relayed the story to my brother, who told me about Isaac Stern who performed in Sacramento a number of years back. In the middle of his concert, the popcorn eating and conversation got a little too loud for his taste - only he did not continue. He stopped and walked out, never to return again. What my band director in college used to say now makes perfect sense. The director told our wind ensemble to be quiet, because we begin in silence. After all, the painter would not begin painting his masterpiece on a smudged canvas, would he? A few years back, I would not have understood what Mr. Stern did that night in Sacramento, but it is now clear as dead silence is to me.

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