The TAFTO excursion I sponsored was to the April 9 matinee performance of the Honolulu Symphony’s “Homage to Mozart” program. I arrived early so that I could secure the tickets from will call before the others in my party arrived. The marketing director ended up arranging for us to pay $10 for tickets in the sixth row which I assume is $65 seat territory. I knew this would be the situation when I submitted my first installment to Drew, but thought the alternative of offering comp tickets for a donation so that people would place a value on the experience was an interesting option to share with readers.
While I do work as a theatre manager, up until I took myself to the orchestra last year as part of Drew’s inaugural TAFTO challenge, my only real exposure to classical music was recognizing pieces from Bugs Bunny cartoons and a hazy recollection of attending a performance by the Albany (NY) Symphony Orchestra about 20 years ago. I don’t quite remember why I attended all those years ago. Though since I was a dorky college freshman I suspect an attractive woman and a free ticket were involved.
I have spent a good portion of my young adulthood coercing friends (“dragging” is too strong a term, “asking” not strong enough) into joining me at concerts, with mixed results. I imagine they accept my invitation because they know it’s important to me, or because they’re looking for an elegant night out, or because they’re curious about this unfamiliar art form they encounter every week in the Sunday Times, in between the theater and gallery listings.
In Paul Auster’s “The Locked Room” from The New York Trilogy, Fanshawe is missing and presumed dead. Although a prolific writer before his disappearance, he could never bring himself to publish any of his work, and has left his entire unpublished oeuvre to the narrator, his childhood friend, with instructions that he read the collection and decide whether or not it is worthy of publication. Upon reading Fanshawe’s manuscripts, which confirm to him his friend’s literary genius, the narrator decides to pitch the collection to a publisher, singling out a large novel as the most brilliant work, and as a result, the one that should be considered first for publication. When the publisher asks the narrator for a description of the book, he considers the request but then decides on the following course of action:
As an orchestral violinist, I follow a routine before concerts. I usually leave home about an hour before the downbeat and swing by Starbucks for my caffeine fix. Dressed in a penguin suit, violin case in hand, I quickly realize that I am a walking advertisement for my orchestra. Sometimes, it garners a number of unsolicited questions and interest. A woman stops to ask me what instrument is in the case. The man behind the counter enthusiastically tells me that he played the violin in his school orchestra.
Those of us constantly drenched in the wonders of Really Big Sound From A Large Group Of Humans are so used to this great spectacle that we rarely consider what it must be like for the ears of those new to such drama. But sometimes we go too far in the other direction, and are guilty of thinking that this experience is something for which a person must be dutifully prepared.
A recent cartoon in The New Yorker showed two men wearing business suits, one standing up, the other seated behind a desk. “Christianity isn’t the only thing that needs evangelists. So does big oil,” the seated one says. While none of the Take a Friend to the Orchestra contributors thinks of themselves as lobbyists for classical music, we are, in a way. But we have the benefit of advocating for an art form whose continuity we care about, and any money we happen to pull down from our employers is almost incidental. We also tend not to be subpoenaed.
After reading the many posts in this series last season, I have to admit that I felt a bit out of place contributing to this collection of perspectives. But, as Drew reminded me, the whole purpose of the endeavor is to encourage people to advocate the art and to motivate them to introduce new people to an orchestral performance. In a way, I am that person.
My wife and I never had children of our own but we were lucky to have a nephew–my wife’s sister’s son–that we could “borrow” for a week or so during summer vacations. He started coming to New York to see us every year when he was nine-years-old, arriving at LaGuardia the first time wearing a name tag and carrying a small bag with his clothes and a slightly bigger bag which contained his Goofy doll.