“That’s my violin teacher!”
The young woman sitting next to me at Symphony Hall this past weekend had not been able to help herself. Stranger though I was, she turned to me with undisguised glee. She talked to me but it was clear she would have talked to anyone in my seat. The conductor was not yet on stage, and the young woman had just been stretching, half standing in her seat to survey the members of the orchestra. Maybe she responded to my grandfatherly look; maybe she presumed I would be able to appreciate the excitement she was feeling on being connected to someone seated on the stage of Symphony Hall.
So I became her grandfather. I stretched as well to get a glimpse of the violin section. I smiled encouragingly at my fellow concertgoer as she pointed to an announcement in the program booklet. She would be performing the next afternoon with the Boston Youth Symphony; there would be a production of Verdi’s opera Rigoletto at Sanders Theatre in Cambridge. She was in a cloud, a musical cloud, that weekend.
I had come close to not being her grandfather. The ticket at my disposal that Saturday night was a single ticket in the first balcony. There had been a moment at 5:30 that afternoon when the lure of staying home and fixing an easy dinner and making progress in a novel that I had just discovered was strong. I had spent the morning with a family whose three daughters I taught over twenty years ago. Why venture out one more time? Who would be there to notice if I did not make it?
On the other hand, there are people I get to notice when I do make it.
The rows of seats of the first balcony wrap around three walls of Symphony Hall. Someone sitting in left center, where I had my ticket on Saturday, can see people seated to the left, to the right and even across the hall. At the end of the row where I had my seat, a gentleman in a tan cashmere sport coat raised a pair of opera glasses from time to time to watch the Tanglewood Festival Chorus and four soloists perform Verdi’s Requiem. Without the aid of opera glasses, I had a chance to record concertgoers who had joined me that evening in the first balcony.
1. One elderly gentleman had been brought by his adult daughter. He lumbered in with her help, settled his bulk in an end seat, kept the sweetest smile on his lips even as his eyes closed behind his glasses within the first ten minutes of the concert. His tie stayed neatly in place for the length of the evening. His daughter did not fuss over him as he slept; she read carefully through the libretto as the chorus moved from one part of the Mass to the next.
2. Two graduate students who had opted to share an evening of classical music sat close together. They leaned into one another as the evening advanced. They were equal to the demands of being part of a symphony audience, their posture seemed to communicate, at the same time that they meant this to be a date. With more to follow if they had their way.
3. One well-dressed woman with steel grey hair was sitting forward in her seat. There was no one nearby with whom she needed to confer, no one whose reaction to the music needed to rhyme with hers. She was smiling as she leaned forward. Her hair was long and fell over her shoulders and down her back – it was a way of wearing her hair that must have become her signature over the years. There was no mistaking the satisfaction she intended to savor during this evening of music.
4. A young family of four sat in balcony seats across the hall. From what I could make out, the two children were doing their best with a choice their parents had made – a choice their parents may have made before in other venues. The little boy seemed to know that he could fall asleep against his mother if that was his preference. No struggle there.
5. Not far from my row, I watched a man who from time to time could not stop his right hand from conducting. The hand remained low, never very high above his lap, out of sight to most of his fellow concertgoers. His dark shirt, buttoned at the collar, was tight around him. His eyes remained shut but only for concentration’s sake.
6. Two women sat at ease, each of them wearing a black sweater of some kind. Directed to the musicians on the stage, their looks of attention were mirror images of one another. They did not need to hold hands to communicate that they were a couple. They were used to facing a world together, used to knowing that the other would never be long from her side.
Hearing about my Saturday plans, a friend last week had asked me, “Are you going alone?” The answer that came most readily to my lips was not the true one. I know that now.