When I lived in the city, I had a subscription to the orchestra--it was something I'd always wanted to do, and I knew I should do it while I lived within walking distance of the concert hall. I subscribed for several years. After I moved farther away, and my writing became more of a career and left me less time and energy for concerts, I let my subscription lapse. But I still try to make the occasional concert, as I did today.
It was good to be back. I had a seat in my favorite
section: behind (and slightly above) the stage, in what they call "The
Conductor's Circle." It's like being part of the orchestra--without the
responsibility of having to, you know, play an instrument. You
can see all the musicians up close, and you get to watch the conductor's
face and see his constant nonverbal communication with the musicians.
like to get there early because, to me, the twenty-minute period before
the show is part of the whole experience. I arrange my coat and
belongings. I listen to the conversations drifting around me (as writers
often do). I read the program, learning a little about the music and
the composers. I look at the list of musicians. Today I was surprised at
how many names came back to me, and glad to see so many familiar faces.
The concertmaster, the principal timpanist, the principal flutist, and
many others, are the same as when I was last a "regular."
mostly, I like to watch the orchestra get ready. It's not like at a
play, where all the setup happens invisibly, behind a curtain. The
musicians come out and warm up and chat with one another in plain sight.
Even though they're dressed up nicely, there's a friendly informality
to it. Some musicians like to get out on stage super early. They
practice their instruments, and I would bet they also settle into the
space, get comfortable with the atmosphere. (If I were a musical
performer, I would be in this group.) From where I sat today, I could
see into the wings, and I noticed they had a giant clock on a stand
right outside the stage door. As time passes, more musicians filter in.
There are always a few who come in with only a minute to spare. I'm
guessing they're the ones who make transitions easily, who don't need
time to settle before they perform.
There's a squawking bird-like
noise I often hear during this time, and today I was almost able to pin
it down. I think it's oboists testing their reeds. It's a sound I had
forgotten until I heard it again today.
In terms of writing, all
this made me think of how many components there are to a setting. Having
reentered a familiar setting after some time away, I was able to
recognize all the little details, but with fresh eyes (and ears, etc.).
When I lead writing workshops, I encourage people to use all five senses
in describing settings. This was a setting where sound dominated (the
stray scraps of music being practiced, the squawk I mentioned earlier,
the hum of conversation), but there was also the plush of the seat, the
gleam of wooden and metal instruments, the brightly colored wrapping
around the ends of the timpanist's sticks, the elastic face of the
conductor, the taste of coughdrops (to prevent coughing at inopportune
moments), the smell of perfume and rain-wet coats.