Friday, May 31, 2002

Big Score on a Date Long Ago

Several years ago I was involved with a classical musician, a percussionist from Western Massachusetts. I'd never visited New England before, but one autumn I was there with her and she took me with her to a symphony rehearsal.
I've always loved classical music, but I always wondered why the conductor was such a big shot, since all he did was wave a baton in front of professional musicians who already knew what to do.
So, there we went for the rehearsal, on a snowy night to an ancient church hall in Northwestern Massachusetts. My beloved hummed for me the score on the way, so I'd know what to expect.
I got to sit behind the five percussionists, facing a conductor for the first time.
The piece they were rehearing was, "Appalachian Spring," by Aaron Copland, who was famous for "Rodeo," the song the beef industry lifted for their "Beef: It's what's for dinner" TV campaign.
The conductor led them through the first movement, and it frankly sucked. It sounded like junior high kids playing, all wobbly and screechy.
I was worried that my beloved was part of an orchestra that stunk, and it took a lot of the romantic appeal from her. I was eyeing her suspiciously.
The conductor tinkered with the violin section, told the cellos to do something else and made a few comments to the percussionists, particularly the mousy little female timpani player.
They tried again, and it sounded amazingly better. The conductor tinkered a bit more, telling the musicians to add this and subtract that. He told the drummers to hit one part harder, and another much softer.
By the fourth try, they sounded fantastic. They were tight and brilliant. I got chills.
So that's what a conductor does, I thought.
I am not a musician. I don't read music, I can't play music.
But that night I was able to peer into that private world and see what it takes to make seemingly random notes on a score come to life.
And that night I rode home with a great musician whom I found could play everything that can be hit with a mallet, a stick or even a fly swatter (The fly swatter part was actually written into the score).
She didn't understand my increased ardor for her that night. To her it was just another gig rehearsal. To me it was like experiencing magic.
Now she's working full time as a psych nurse. She toys with music only on occasion.
We've both moved on to other loves, but I'll always remember that one cool date.

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