I decided to go the orchestra last night rather than watching the Grammy Awards. Like everyone else, I was deeply saddened by the death of Whitney Houston. She had been so beautiful and gifted — and her decline beyond painful to observe. I didn’t think I could take watching what would inevitably be performances in a room filled in memoriam. To be truthful, I didn’t want to watch it by myself at home alone. I wanted to be around people.
What was I thinking?
For years I’ve wondered why it’s always me who winds-up sitting next to the chatterbox in the theater? As the dumbing-down of civilization progresses, more and more people seem blithely unaware when watching a film or live performance, that they are NOT in their own living-rooms in front of the TV set. Generally I react with a benign but unmistakable glare in the direction of the noisy offender. Next I try a gentle “shhhh” which progresses to the word “hush” until everyone is telling everyone to shut-up and eventually I get-up, go to the management, and have the offender removed from the theater. I’m brutal that way. By that time my theater experience is ruined and the moment is gone. Sensible people don’t come to a theater to hear some stranger’s gossip update with the orchestra providing Prokofiev as a background soundtrack. It’s a pretty simple concept: Keep quiet and sit still when you’re in the theater. Is that so difficult to grasp?
Invariably there are folks who forget to turn-off their cellphones in spite of the opening announcements and THEN with indifference take incoming phone calls all the same. Even worse are people who’ve turned-off their ring-tones but still think it’s acceptable to endlessly send and receive text messages. Your eye is pulled to a light source other than what’s on the stage or screen, and again the moment is lost due to distraction.
I no longer play the piano – it’s been so many years and broken fingers ago that I wouldn’t know where to begin – but when a musician sits down in front of a piano I am there to hear the performance. Be it strings, wind-instruments or the human voice – we owe the person on stage our undivided attention. It doesn’t matter if it’s a dance troupe or a stage play, we are obliged to grant the performers and the people around us our silence until the artists are finished. Then, and only then, is it our turn to make noise — hopefully applause.
We live in what’s increasingly becoming a rude and discordant world. And with that thought in mind, it never ceases to amaze me how an orchestra or a small quartet can put aside all human differences and fill the air with the sound of beauty. It’s the rare witnessing of people working together in harmony for a common purpose. Sometimes the musical magic builds to a crescendo that lasts only a moment — but when it reaches that point it moves the heart — and nothing touches more deeply. If I need to vent tears caught within my heart, music is my answer. I highly recommend Samuel Barber’s ‘Adagio for Strings’ for a good all-purpose cry.
I left the orchestra last night and got home just in time to switch-on the TV and witness Jennifer Hudson give an astonishing performance filled with grace and respect for the late Whitney Houston. To me, the primary appeal of the ballad ‘I Will Always Love You’ is the moment when the melody modulates into another key signature — it’s that moment when the heart strings are touched. I have tremendous admiration for Ms. Hudson’s performance in accomplishing a tribute void of imitation and without the vanity of making the song her own. And by doing-so truly earned the right to claim a piece of that song forever. I wondered how she held herself together with the layers of her own recent personal loss while honoring the passing of a mentor? Ms. Hudson lifted her arms in a gentle gesture to the audience to quell the sound of their appreciation and astonishment at her accomplished a cappella… As the piano then joined her, Ms Hudson was telling a room full of people saddened by loss — everyone pulling for her to succeed — to merely listen and allow her to perform. And perform she did, lending respect to a memory that deserved our silence and undivided attention.
The world does feel a little emptier when we loose a talent like Whitney Houston — and at once we are richer for remembering who and what we have known, appreciated and lost. Music itself is fleeting, evaporating into the air we breathe. The world has a way of renewing itself with new artists who come along while others pass. Death and renewal are the only constants in life. Memories remain and new hopes are born within other young talent. It brings to mind a poem I wrote for a struggling young musician…
The Hopeful Musician
The musician composes music playing solely in his ear,
Beating tempo for an orchestra that isn’t really there.
Striking chords on a guitar made from the finest, thinnest air,
He conducts with a chopstick, if you listen you will hear.