I played thousands of concerts when I was a kid: school orchestras, music camps, pit orchestras for operas and musicals, regional and state festivals, street fares, community orchestras, you name it. I played the violin, viola, percussion, and even a few concerts on the double bass. I always got a huge kick out of the concert experience as a musician. Preparing for the "big night", dressing up in concert blacks or whatever other appropriate garb there might have been, taking special care to ensure whatever I was wearing would allow me to life my left arm and that the neckline wouldn't interfere with my shoulder pad...

Pit orchestras were my favorite because it didn't matter what you wore - no one would see you. Only the conductor need take special care that the back of his head looked presentable, but other than that, you're below stage and the only people who even get a glimpse are the looky-loos who come by during intermission and peer down, Neitzche-like, into the abyss. We always high-tailed it out of there during intermission and hung out backstage anyway, so all they saw was empty chairs and cases.

One of my favorite pit orchestra experiences was when we were playing, Fiddler On the Roof when I was a senior in high school. There were a LOT of rehearsals for that one and the stage crew was not musician-friendly. We were bored out of our minds while they wasted hours of our time deciding whether the Fiddler should be upstage-right or downstage-left of Tevye. At one point, the brass players fashioned a large shark fin out of cardboard that had been left in the pit and "swam" the shark across the edge of the stage to amuse the actors while the bass players played the beginning of the theme from Jaws.

In that same show, the stage crew had a real thing about food and drink in the theatre. They were so anal about it, they wouldn't even let the woodwind players bring in water for their reeds. Do you know what a dry reed sounds like when played on? Imagine: injured duck sounds. There you go. So the wind players had to smuggle water in in small film canisters to use during rehearsal and even then, if the stage manager caught them, he'd pitch a fit. So on the last performance of the last day, in a fit of rebellion reserved only for teenagers, we brought a toaster oven smuggled in a french horn case to the show. Each section was responsible for bringing an different ingredient and while we played our best John Williams stylings, during dialog and rests, we assembled tiny individual pizzas and cooked them in the toaster oven during the performance. No one was ever the wiser as far as I know, but I'll bet a number of audience-goers wondered why when the Tsar's henchmen broke up the wedding in Act II there was the unmistakable odor of pizza wafting from pre-Revolutionary Russia.

My parents, who only appreciated classical music insomuch as it was something I was into, would never miss an event I played in if it was in their control. I can't imagine the things they suffered through in those years: badly played Bartok, endless renditions of Can-Can, seventeen kids they didn't know in a recital just so they could listen to me - scheduled third from the end, of course. They were saints, Saints, I tell you. They sat through it all and clapped wildly (probably after being nudged awake by someone nearby)... because it meant something to me.

After every concert or event, my family and I, and whatever friends who were either there attending or playing alongside me would all pile into the car and traipse off to Swenson's for ice cream. (Does anyone remember Swenson's?) Some days, I wish I could have all the money back that was spent on ice cream during those years... it'd probably pay off my husband's student loans. A lot of my friends didn't have parents who were so supportive of their stupid interests, which is probably why they were having ice cream with me and mine after each concert. I understand now that I was very lucky.

Now, I'm an adult (at least technically speaking). I still love to play and even though it takes a lot of time I don't feel like I have, I ensure that I make time to do something musical as much as possible. I love making music with a group of people. I've never been the solo-istic type... didn't major in performance in college because the spotlight didn't appeal to me. What I always really dug was putting people together and creating something greater than the sum of its parts.

Mozart: "Sire, only opera can do this. In a play if more than one person speaks at the same time, it's just noise, no one can understand a word. But with opera, with music... with music you can have twenty individuals all talking at the same time, and it's not noise, it's a perfect harmony!"
So that's why I continue to be involved in music - even though I'm not a full time musician today. But the concert experience has changed somewhat for me. My parents do not live in the area, so they seldom come to see me play anymore. My husband used to come to most of my concerts and play the part of long-suffering relative, but now that we have a three-year-old child who has a bedtime around the moment most concerts begin, he usually stays home with her and I head off in my blackest best by myself. I no longer have close friends playing alongside me, in fact, most of my fellow musicians in this orchestra are strangers. They show up to rehearsal, play, and leave. They aren't the friendliest bunch and only seem to talk to one another if they know each other from elsewhere.

For each concert, the musicians in this group each get an allotment of comp and discount tickets which we may give out to whomever we wish. When I first started playing with this group, I would buy them all and give the tickets to friends, people at church, etc... thinking it was a nice thing to do. In most cases, I paid for the tickets myself and gave them away as gifts. I figured I'd give my $5 a ticket to help the orchestra and maybe we'd fill a few more seats, plus someone I know might like to have a night out. I think with the exception of my husband and a couple of musician friends (who are obligated to come when they say they will), every person I ever offered to get tickets for who said, "Yes! I'd love to come." and I left the tickets that I paid for out of my own pocket at Will Call for them, has ended up not showing for one reason or another. Later when I mention it to them, it's usually some lame excuse: "Oh, I just couldn't make it... sorry." Thanks, and can I have my $5 back?

So like I said, it's different now. There's no camaraderie, no accolades afterward, and no Swenson's. It's quite anti-climactic and sometimes I wonder why I even continue to put in the practice and rehearsal time required when the concerts are really for no one I know. I don't want to sound like a whiner, and fully realize this makes me exactly that.

I was thinking about this at our dress rehearsal the other night and wondering what the point was, when I remembered that quote from Amadeus above. Here's the reason I still go to every concert: because the fact that this many different people can come together from this many different lives and places and still create something as wonderful and cohesive as a Beethoven symphony, still floors me. I love music. I love how it touches everyone in some way. How while there have been a lot of cultures discovered that haven't had a written language, archaeologists have yet never found a culture that they think did not have some form of music and dance. I love that I can look into my CD cabinet and see Al Jolson, next to Howard Jones, next to Joseph Joachim, next to Robert Johnson. I still love to play, no matter what I'm playing or where in the orchestra I'm seated, and frankly, I could do without the concert altogether and get the same rush from just the dress rehearsal.

But I still miss the ice cream.