Thursday, February 5, 2015

The Amen Corner

      "Strathmore, why can't we have one?" I thought as I moved through the gleaming, bustling arts venue filled with concert-goers chatting, having cocktails, or eating dinner at the sit-down café. The crowd was a good mix of younger, older, with representation from different racial/ethnic groups. Don't get me wrong, it was mostly older, mostly white, as supporters of the arts tend to be these days, but there were significantly more folks who didn't fit that mold. And that was good to see.

      Perhaps it was the event itself: the first half was to be the Wynton Marsalis Quintet, the second half, the Shenandoah Conservatory Symphony Orchestra performing Marsalis' Blues Symphony, which is based on musical themes and styles from African-American music. At any rate, the joint, as they say, was jumping.

      When we got to our seats we noticed that we were surrounded by kids. Well, not really kids. Young college students, I'm guessing, were filing in and chatting and trying to sort themselves out around us. They held tickets, and occasionally glanced at them, but whatever was on the tickets didn't seem to make sense to them. A friendly usher came over and spoke to them.

      "I know you're here as a group, and you want to sit next to a friend, but we have a full house tonight. So I need you to look at the seat number on your ticket and make sure that you are only sitting in those seats."

      One fellow suggested helpfully, "Would you like us to all move down to the right, and you can just fill in from the left?" She looked a bit startled and then said, no, that wouldn't be necessary, and left them to get settled. My husband smiled. He whispered to me that they probably had only been to concerts with open seating before. This was a new experience for them.

      I should have known that. When the two young men to my right had arrived, in "nice" jeans and rugby-style shirts, they looked around the concert hall with a kind of amazement, taking it all in.

      "Wow, isn't this weird, man, that we're in a place like this? To hear an orchestra?"

      "Yeah, crazy."

      Once the concert began these same fellows provided an endless stream of entertainment as they responded to the performance. They had no filter. And, as the first half was jazz, it didnt strike me as the kind of breach of concert etiquette which normally gets my goat. Their bodies moved along to the beat, showing clear understanding of syncopation, the stress of notes carried over the bar-line. They grooved. They were tuned in.

      "Yeah!" "Wow." Low whistles, head-shaking in amazement, appreciative hoots and shout outs. A startled gasp at a virtuosic turn by Marsalis, or a knowing glance to eachother at an unexpected key change or particularly effective crescendo from the drums. I witnessed a kind of enthusiasm for music that one usually sees in response to fast cars, pretty girls, or feats of athleticism. These kids may not have experienced "concert hall manners" before, but they knew music.

      As the first half progressed, the rest of the house gradually loosened up under the influence of the amazing jazz performance. It was almost as though everyone else warmed up to the level of enthusiasm that my seat mates had come in with. While at first I had found them off-putting, now I realized what a wonderful lens they were for me to experience the concert. I glanced over. One was leaning forward, rapt, head in hands. The other was completely flat out, head back, eyes closed. Both with identical focus on the music.

      The set ended. "Bravo!" shouted one, clapping enthusiastically. "Bravo!"

      "Bravo?" His friend questioned as he applauded.

      "Bravo! It's what you say!" replied his friend, authoritatively.

      Indeed. Bravo, guys. You made my night.


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