How the Student Symphony Reminds Me of Insects

My daughter is principal flutist in one of the county’s youth symphonies. Last Thursday was their first performance. There are other items I could write about regarding this performance, but some of those things are making me very angry, so I thought I would concentrate on something more positive.

I arrived at the hall slightly late, because I was stuck in a traffic jam on the highway. It took 35 minutes to go from exit 62 to exit 69, and I had another thirty miles to go. Things weren’t looking very bright for me to get there on time. Once we edged past the accident, traffic picked up to the usual 80 miles an hour plus. Though I normally am not a speeder, it was helpful to be able to do so, and I was only about five minutes late.

I love watching music being played. We have season tickets to the symphony, and our box seats are just to stage right. We are parallel to the conductor and can read the music from the violinists’ stands. For the youth symphony, they borrow a hall at a local high school, which has nice acoustics and furnishings. It is first come/first served for seating. Most parents arrive early to secure the best spots.

As I settled in, the performers came onto the stage. Most are high school students, and the orchestra is arranged differently than a traditional one. For one thing, there are 38 violinists, only six cellists, and six violists. My daughter’s flute section has six flutists as well.

From my vantage point in the nose bleed section, the entire thing reminded me of a summer garden full of insects. The violinists were the gnats, buzzing furiously. The cellists and violas were the mosquitos, with their lower pitched buzzing. The basses were the giant beetles, lumbering about. The flutes were the butterflies, floating serenely above the garden. I thought of the horn section as being the cicadas, crickets and grasshoppers, making blurting noises. The percussionists came in like the lawn cutters, and all was orchestrated by the owner of the garden.

The music was all “modern” classical, which included a Tchaikovsky clarinet piece, Prokofiev, and something called “4’33″” which is four minutes and thirty-three seconds of silence. I take it the Orkin man was there at the garden immediately preceding that piece.


9 Responses

  1. This does it. I have too much to say. I’m not commenting. I’m writing an email.

  2. I think that the 4′ 33″ piece is rather silly.

  3. I think so too, teaspoon. I guess at the initial performance (it was written for piano!), people became angry and walked out disgusted. It almost caused a riot.

  4. Hmm…the tuning up always reminds me of insects but the music usually resolves into something else.

  5. I enjoyed you likening them to a garden full of insects! I’m sure that was the impression from the nose bleed seats. I often watch rather than listen. It leads to a whole different understanding.

  6. You’re right, Scout. You can learn a lot from watching, about posture, taking cues, whether or not the players like the conductor, etc. I thought of the insects because so many of the violinists were young and new, and when you’re young and new, you tend to scratch at the strings.

  7. I always marvel at how fast their arms can move … the violinists, that is. I don’t think any part of me has ever been able to move that swiftly.

  8. Have you ever tried playing the 4’33” on a goat? I’m telling you that’s quite challenging.

  9. I like the insects simile.

    I also have a lot of respect for the John Cage piece; at least for me, it serves as a reminder that without silence, sound would be meaningless. Whether that’s what he intended, I don’t know — but that is what it says to me.

    I think it’s also an excellent example of the elastic nature of time. Four minutes and thirty-three seconds seems like forever, when you’re expecting something else to happen.

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