Can I get away with saying “Best Canada Day concert ever?”
Not really, I suppose. And it wouldn’t do posterity any good, either. The main reason I journal is so that I can go back and refer to it, after all, so a bit more detail is necessary.
First of all, hearty thanks go out to the following in the order I saw them before the concert: my mum and dad, MLG, ADZO, t!, Jan, Lu, Ceri, Scott, Marc, Miseri, Mousme, tcaptain and J. One of the reasons I love this concert is because I see friends I don’t see often. Your presence was deeply appreciated, and I hope you all enjoyed yourselves. And thanks go out to everyone who wanted to be there but couldn’t as well.
And of course, deepest thanks go to HRH and the boy, for making it an extra-special concert. This was the first concert the boy was old enough to attend properly and be aware of what was going on. He’s known for weeks that it was coming up, and as the date approached I reminded him, shared some of the music with him, and looked through his book about instruments to explore the different kinds of things he’d see. He stayed for the warm up and by all reports enjoyed himself thoroughly, sometimes tapping along with the rhythm on the back of the pew in front of him, sometimes conducting like Douglas. After the warm up he pulled me outside to a jungle gym-type thing next to the school across from the church where he proceeded to throw himself up ladders, across hanging bridges, and down slides in all possible ways, encouraging me to do the same. Then MLG and ADZO showed up and he exhorted them to join him in his play too. Then he called some random teenagers over: “Hey, hi! Come play with me! Come slide!” and he did it with such openness and enthusiasm that they did so with decent humour. We met up with a few other people (Lu brought me swag from the BEC! I have an TSFT lace hairband among ARCs and books for the boy and other things!) and then I headed back to join the others preparing for play. (The music kind, not the jungle gym kind.)
We were fortunate in the weather. There have been awful, awful days when the night has been dreadfully humid and sticky, and there have been nights where the wind has been so bad we lost music and stands. But this night was just about perfect. It was hot (it’s July, after all) but fingers weren’t slipping on keys or strings and shirts weren’t sopping wet. It was pretty much perfect.
There’s something remarkably special about playing the national anthem. First of all, the cello line is so unlike the melody we sing that it’s really unique to hear how it all fits together. Second, there’s something very powerful about how the drum roll steadies and then initialises the orchestra. Third, it’s incredible to sense the audience suddenly recognising what’s happening and surging to its feet, joining in with the vocal line around the third note. Finally, it’s just so damn cool to play it and to hear a few hundred people singing the anthem to orchestral accompaniment. And there’s always an extra bonus when people applaud. Traditionally the anthem isn’t applauded, and while I’m sure there’s some sort of philosophical reason for it, I can’t think of a time when I’m more prompted to applaud than after a stirring rendition of the anthem, partially for the anthem itself and the nation (yay us!) and partly for the performers. Besides, it was Canada Day.
While I never hit the cello zone, I was very comfortable throughout this performance and please with my work. I enjoyed myself a lot, which on its own is huge. I had no major technical issues during the concert. The finger I use for pizzicato froze up during “Younger Than the Springtime” as it always does, but apart from that and some minor intonation issues (I can’t hear a thing in that church, it melds all the sound together), and a bit where both the principal and I stopped in frustration because the cellist behind her was playing very loudly and racing ahead in a certain passage in the first piece and we couldn’t hear things well enough to keep the proper pace going, it was a very good concert from the performance side of things. It was lovely from the artistic side, too. I like to begin with a piece I find pretty because it gives me confidence for the rest of the night, and the Symphony no. 3 (by not-really-Mozart) has a beautiful and expressive second movement that I love to play. I greatly appreciated not beginning with the Figaro overture, as it has some finicky technical stuff that would have frustrated me had I played it cold. As it was we did a very good job of it, nice and quick. The church may muddle sound but it also makes it sound very large and well-blended, so the overture had a very nice overall presentation that allowed some of the less precise stuff to slip through without calling much attention to itself. The 32nd symphony went well too.
The second half of the concert was the musicals, and we nailed them. We absolutely nailed them. In the past we have done passable renditions of some medleys, but these are decent arrangements and we were really on. It helps to have a good brass section for these things, and ours handled things just fine, thanks. I heard people in the audience singing along at a couple of places, and there were people crying at the end of The Sound of Music medley (of course they were, the ‘Climb Every Mountain’ arrangement was specifically designed to rip shamelessly at heartstrings). It’s always good for the ego to see people surging to their feet almost as soon as the conductor has cut the orchestra off, and to hear the wave of applause crash into us.
Sitting right next to the conductor means I make a lot of eye contact with him throughout the concert, and I get to see his face as soon as we’re done each piece. He winks at us with a crooked grin, or beams, or clenches a fist in a “yes!” motion, or nods and places his baton on his stand, or gives us a wordless smile to tell us we aced it before turning around to accept the applause and bow. Seeing his immediate emotional reaction is worth a lot. He’s genuinely happy for us, or thrilled at what he pulled out of us; he acknowledges what we’ve done. I like to smile back at him and nod, to reinforce what he’s given us and to thank him wordlessly in return. I often get a chance to thank him in person after the concert as well, and he always seems so hesitant, so unlike the caught-up-in-the-moment triumph in the moments following the final chord. He told us at the dress rehearsal there would be no encore, that he’s not “an encore kind of guy”. “Leave them wanting more” is more his style, and I can see his point. It’s great to leave things on that much of a high, vibrating with that much energy. An encore is satisfying in a very different way. (Besides, where could we go after ‘Climb Every Mountain’? Nowhere, that’s where.)
My deepest hope for this concert was that the boy wouldn’t fall asleep or get so cranky that HRH would have to take him away from the concert. He was fine but squirmy, and HRH took him to sit on the steps to listen to the music. And when we began the Sound of Music he looked at HRH and said with excitement, “That’s from my movie!” “Do you remember what it was called?” HRH asked. “Sound,” the boy said after thinking about it for a moment. “The Sound of Music, that’s right,” said HRH. Another parent with a girl on the steps looked at him incredulously and said, “He’s how old?” “Three,” HRH told her, “but his mother is in the orchestra.” (We apologise for his precociousness, it’s subject-related, we assure you.) HRH brought him back in during the post-concert applause and they both applauded. HRH tells me the boy applauded enthusiastically after each piece during the whole concert, too. I was so pleased that he’d lasted the whole night, and that he’d had the opportunity to listen to the Sound of Music medley. I knew it would be exciting for him to hear us play something he knew.
As we’d expected, the boy was tired enough that we had to head directly home; no fireworks for us this year. He laid his head against the edge of his seat and stared out the window until he pulled his cap down over his face and drowsed. When we got him home at ten o’clock he went right to bed. I snuggled next to him, and he said sleepily, “Oh no, Mama, we forgot your cello at the concert!” I assured him it had been in the back of the car and it was safely home again, and he was asleep in seconds. We heard the faint sounds of fireworks in the neighbouring boroughs as we got ready for bed.
This was one of my favourite Canada Day concerts. It also marks the end of my seventh season with the orchestra. This time of year is always bittersweet for me, because I like to ride the high of a concert and use it to propel me into the next set of music. Without the structure of rehearsals every week I tend to lose momentum and stop playing. I have the ongoing search for the 7/8 to keep me going, but being on hold financially takes a lot of steam out of that project, and without rehearsal to test the various cellos in a group environment I lose out on that aspect of the home trial. (In fact there’s a post due on the current 7/8 trial; it will come soonish.) It’s hard to walk out of a concert on that kind of high and know you won’t see everyone again for two months. We all scatter with instruments and stands and sometimes you can’t even find section mates to bid them a good summer. I did get the chance to thank our substitute principal for stepping in to help keep us even and confident for this concert, and thank our conductor for a wonderful concert and an excellent season. The orchestra as a whole thanked our secretary/librarian/general manager with a lovely bouquet of roses; she really has done an incredible amount of work this season.
I’ve gained a lot of technique this year, and I owe a lot of that to our section leader. I absorb so much by simply sitting next to her. There’s also a certain amount of pressure that comes from sitting right in front of the conductor (oh gods, he hears every wrong note I play), and it’s done me a lot of good. I think my expression has firmed up a bit too, partly from the kind of music we’ve been playing, and partly from reading things like The Art of Practicing, Making Music for the Joy of It, and Rosindust, all of which talk about the emotion associated with playing and how to communicate it. It’s important to remember that we make music because we love it. I think one of the reasons I prefer to play in ensembles is because I can relax more and merge my sound with someone else’s. (I had a partial solo of two notes this concert! Yes! I played them with the principal, sharing the first note and playing a different note afterwards! If you were there you probably didn’t notice. That’s okay. I know it was marked ‘Solo’ in the music and that’s what counts. And yes, I played it very nicely.)
I should really think seriously about lessons again.
Okay, this is very long, and more than enough. It was good, it was great, I loved it, I’m very pleased with how I played and with the overall evening. The end.
No, wait, one more thing: I hate it when audience members rush the stage to talk to people or to get to the bathroom before anyone else. We have sensitive and freaking expensive instruments here, people, and there’s a mess of stands and chairs. The amount of times I had to step in front of people so they wouldn’t kick my cello or knock a stand over onto someone or another instrument was unreal. Sheesh. At one concert we made an announcement to the effect of “stay back you thoughtless mob until the musicians have left the stage, thank you”; I think we should do it every concert. Also, people who won’t step out of the way when one is attempting to carry an instrument past/around them annoys me greatly as well. I move to the side as much as I can, but they just stand there. I’m not sure what they expect me to do, other than to politely repeat “Excuse me, may I get past?” Gnarr.
All right, now I’m done.
ETA: No, I’m not. I added photos. Finally someone has taken a picture of me playing in the orchestra! HRH did a simple point and shoot while corralling the boy while we warmed up. I like it. I needed to lighten it a bit, but it’s decent regardless. The only problem? It demonstrates how a mid-calf length skirt is Just Too Short on a cellist. Damn chairs; damn cellos. A bit too much leg, there. (HRH: “I liked it.” ME: “Yes, and I’m sure the most of our friends did too, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s inappropriate.”)