You know, when you are a professional musician, you kind of don’t get taken in by the theater of it all. The music can be beautiful, and moving - but your job is to move someone else, which takes a calculated effort and a level of detachment. Aside from my genuine enjoyment of the interaction, and the synergy, and the admiration of other people’s efforts, it’s rare for me to have a real personal moment of response to the music itself.
Here in South Bend, we have been heavily involved all week in presenting Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem. I’m sorry I didn’t preview the concert on my blog - I always intend to, as part of my personal mission to bring people to concerts, but this cycle was too overbooked for me to manage it. The War Requiem is an astounding piece - a large-scale work with multiple choirs and two orchestras and three soloists and a lot of complex and unfamiliar music to learn. We worked hard on it all week, and various internal details of hiring and resource allocations caused some hard feelings which as orchestra committee chair I was trying to resolve, and I had quintet performances every day, and a house guest, and meetings, and a reed shipment due, and Zoe was home from school on Spring Break. Though I enjoy all of the things I do, the week felt pretty stressful.
But on Friday we found out that two members of our orchestra had just taken oaths of US Citizenship, and decided that we would play the National Anthem for them at the beginning of rehearsal. It required a little bit of scrambling and emailing and asking permission and digging out music and putting it on stands and time taken away from rehearsal for us, and even though I was not the one doing all the extra work, I wondered whether it was worth the effort.
Musicians play the Star Spangled Banner all the time. It is never rehearsed, but frequently it gets tossed in at the beginning of a concert. The snare drum roll begins, we stand, we whack through the thing, and the audience applauds. Then we get to the main business of the concert. I’m not saying that it’s a meaningless gesture, but it generally feels to us like just a part of the busy-work to get through before the real stuff begins. Like tuning, or rising for the conductor to come on stage, or the announcement about silencing your cell phones.
But on Friday night, with no one in the audience and 300+ people on stage, it felt different. The conductor cued the drum for real, we all rose to our feet, and off we went. The orchestra played with love and passion. The huge and well-trained choir sang in full voice. It was a performance for US alone. For our two new citizens, and for ourselves. Somehow, the absence of an audience made this particular performance one of the most special things I can remember doing. I was moved, and felt an unironic kinship with my colleagues and my countrymen which is rare for me.
Music is a beautiful thing. That’s my revelation of the week.