Sometimes, when I can’t get a handle on something, I look for a clarifying analogy, to set me on a successful narrative track. Then I can write the thing. Otherwise, I can’t. Well, I can. But I will not know exactly where I’m going. And when that happens, none of us will be having much fun.
So we… oh, no – I just started a sentence with “So…”! I am as doomed as doomed can be, you know.
Okay, start again.
We went to a classical music concert, to hear the visiting Chicago Symphony play Brahms. (I was hoping they’d play “Go, Cubs, Go!” as an encore, but they played Schubert instead. Oh well. I guess that was too much to ask.)
I know nothing about classical music. (I originally spelled Schubert wrong.) I often to listen to it on my cable TV station’s “Classical Masterpieces” channel while I’m working , and when I hear a piece I like, I turn and check out who the listed composer is – or, occasionally, who the Liszted composer is – my first and hopefully last classical music joke – and then immediately forget who it was.
Some things I remember; some things I don’t. I an remember the Treaty of Ghent was signed in 1814, but I do not recall who composed… anything. Okay, “Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony” and “Brahms’ Lullaby”, but their names are in there. “Brandenburg Concerto” – not a clue. Although I’m almost certain it was not Brandenburg. Was it? No, I am pretty sure that’s a place.
I love music. I’ve been studying piano – although you’d never know it from my playing – for more than ten years. I’ve learned songs. but I’ve also learned musical sequences, like the “Circle of Fifths”, an identifiable chord pattern, found in countless popular songs. I am aware of the “2-5-1” and 4-5-1” song endings. I know some ropes in rudimentary music theory. Okay, maybe not ropes exactly, but definitely threads.
I know nothing of that nature in classical music. I mean, I know the basics –fast and slow, loud and quiet – but structural nuances and subtleties? I am entirely in the dark. To me, it is music, played in a foreign language. I get “melodic” – or otherwise. But that’s it.
I wanted to write about attending the symphony. But I was stuck about “how”.
When I find myself creatively unfocused, I am reminded of a wise man’s valuable advice: “Everything is like something else”, he explained. “What is this like?”
I could not think of what an ignoramus’s experience at a classical musical concert was like. And then it came to me. Not from inside my head. It was magically delivered to me from without.
I come home from the concert, I turn on the TV for the local sports report, and there it is. The “Ideal Analogy” I had been searching for:
The L.A. Rams had just played an American football game in England.
I heard that report and I immediately said,
Me, attending a classical music concert was an English sports fan, attending an American football game.
We get the essentials. But otherwise, it’s like,
“What are they doing?”
They know, you run the ball, you throw the ball, you get four chances to go ten yards, a touchdown is six points, a field goal is three. But what’s a “Fly Pattern”? What’s a “Sweep’?” What’s a ‘Bootleg’?” What’s “Calling an ‘Audible’?”
They know, like, six things. But by and large, English people watching an American football game are as clueless as I am, watching the Chicago Symphony play Brahms.
I believe they played skillfully. They finished the “movements” together; nobody kept going and went, “Oh.” I heard no sour notes. No woodwind “squeaks.” They probably did a really good job. The audience around me thought so. The guy beside me nearly “Bravoed” himself hoarse. (Could he have possibly had “family” in the orchestra?)
I applauded too, of course; I mean, they all worked real hard. But what was in all about? Who did Brahms come after and what musical innovations, if any, did he contribute? What story was the music trying to tell? Or is that the wrong way of thinking about things? Why are there four movements? How do they relate to each other? Or is that, again, the wrong way of thinking about things.
Listening to the music, my mind inevitably wandered. I found myself pondering meaningless extraneities, English fans in Twickenham Stadium, wondering why the American football is pointy. (You see how a good analogy helps me?)
What occupied my mind for two-and-a-half hours, minus intermission? (Where I wondered whether the second half would by shorter than the first.)
We were seated in the second row – which I am not sure makes any difference for hearing – so while I was listening, I got a chance to do a lot of close looking around.
I wondered if the conductor was wearing a toupee.
I wondered why the female Second Violinist was wearing four-inch stiletto heels.
I wondered if, the violinist sitting in the sixth row of twenty orchestra violinists believed he should justifiably be seated in a closer row, and if he was concerned that there was no seventh row.
I worried about another, somewhat older, violinist, whose face was beet red, apparently from exertion, hoping that the Asian female violinist beside him was also a doctor. (Is it racism is you think another culture is more accomplished than yours is?)
I wondered how much the bass fiddles cost, and if the really expensive ones made you play better, or if the musicians who played them just thought they did.)
I wondered if members of the Los Angeles symphony were lurking in the shadows, going, “‘Chicago Symphony.’ La-dee-dah.”
I wondered when the concert would be over.
“English football ends a lot sooner. These ‘Offsides’ penalties are bloody irritating.”
“It’s ‘Offside’, actually.”
We have tickets to three more concerts. Maybe I could educate myself further by then. If not, the magnificent Disney Hall has an adorning cluster of what look like vertical “French Fries”, mounted behind the orchestra.
Maybe I can count them.