It was a lot of money, even with the student discount. He had never been to the symphony, let alone invested in an eighth row center orchestra seat. He wasn’t even certain he would enjoy it, not having more than a superficial experience of classical music. There was, however, something that drew him to this one performance, a magnetic pull that tugged on him since he first saw the announcement. It was something he had never felt and could hardly deny or resist.
Nervous and excited, he entered the rarefied and unfamiliar atmosphere of the concert hall, drinking in the drama of a cavernous space so beautifully appointed. Discomfort stirred as he awkwardly made his way past gowns and tuxedos in attire that betrayed his station and youth. Arriving at his seat, he shrunk down slightly, shoulders tucked in, hands clasped on his lap – allowing neighboring patrons to use the common armrests. Attempting light conversation, the words caught in his throat as a nameless instrument sliced the thin air with the clean edge of a perfect note.
One by one, black-clad musicians, looking surreal in the dim light, added to the fragmented, but somehow euphonious discord as they gingerly prepared their instruments for the task ahead. He was captivated, his eyes dancing across the expansive stage, unsure as to where to focus his attention. Each performer, tuning their strange and beautiful tool, held his fascination until, one by one, all went quiet. He rose in his seat.
A sense of anticipation filled the hall. Suddenly, the room opened in applause as a graceful, gray-haired man flowed onto the stage, paused at its center, bowed, and took up the baton.
The young man had a cursory sense as to the conductor’s indispensable role in the unfolding mystery, but it was obviously more that…this smiling, instrument-less man was adored by the dozens of musicians gathered in front of him. The master turned toward his waiting disciples. They looked up, as into a lover’s eyes, nestled in and announced their final adjustments with the incidental music of their chairs.
With ballet-like fluidity, the conductor moved – but for what seemed an eternity, no sound followed. Then it came, a beat behind the motion yet somehow right on time. Immediately, music was everywhere, permeating everything. A quiet gasp emerged from his lips as he was struck by the mass and shape of the living air surrounding him.
As timeless minutes drifted by, the young man sensed something cold and hard melting inside of him. Eyes closed, senses open, a tear ran quietly down his cheek. He wasn’t sure why. His consciousness began to swim in the warm swirling currents of sound, his thoughts surrendering to the impossible beauty of the palpable sonic tapestry being woven in front of him.
A quickening of the tempo was matched by his pulse. He opened his eyes to ground himself, but to no avail. Colors leaped from strings, reeds, skins and horns in glorious celebration. There was no turning back; he was fully involved. He lost all peripheral experience; only the liquid glow of the orchestra remained. One by one, instruments added their voice to the dance, pounding, building, rising and undulating, initiating this young warrior into acoustic alchemy – driving, reeling and flowing, testing, caressing and blanketing him with an unrelenting embrace – preparing him…until finally, the full weight of the orchestra crashed as one through the roof of his soul, consuming him in a rapturous crescendo.
As the last resounding notes of the first movement echoed into history, he was dazed. His face moist with tears and sweat, wide-eyed, smiling, laughing. Leaping from his seat, he burst into a wild and unrestrained applause. His clapping was crisp, fierce, loud and fast, aimed with reverence at the conductor’s back.
What’s going on? Why hasn’t he turned to face the audience…?
Everyone was staring. The pace of his clapping waned as he looked through watery eyes at the faces around him. Didn’t they like it? What, are these people deaf? How could anyone…I mean… Didn’t you hear?! Too late now. He stood his ground, his clapping quickening in defiance. Salty tears ran races to his shirt as he mined his spirit for resolve. A hundred musicians were looking at him, most of them slack-jawed. The conductor slowly turns. As the maestro sees his face the percussion of his lonely approval intensified, exploding into its own crescendo of gratitude. He couldn’t stop. Their eyes met.
A slight smile found its way to the maestro’s countenance as an elderly woman nearby rose slowly from her seat and with delicate hands added power to the day with her soft applause. The young man smiled at her. Others rose. Hesitant kudos dappled across the field of humanity like a gentle wind on golden wheat. The conductor, now in a full yet sheepish smile, bowed deeply, extended his baton towards him and looked out at his congregation. With permission granted and the safety of numbers, the hall erupted into volcanic appreciation. All around, gasps are heard as the surprised musicians rose with their instruments and bows, inciting yet another wave of joy in an undisputedly magical moment.
The next day – as predicted by the gracious older woman who was first to join the young man’s tribute – the entire art world was alive with discussion and fanfare as news of this triumph of beauty over convention spread the globe through hungry media.
Header image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Johnaco.
This article first appeared in Issue 120.