Monday, January 15, 2007

Sunday Afternoon Music

New York

Ethan and I went to the Philharmonic yesterday--his first time ever. I wasn't at all sure he was going to sit still for Vivaldi's Four Seasons--or even a part of it. So, I hedged my bet a bit. We went to Ollie's around the corner from the music hall where Ethan had his snack in one of the great, enclosed public spaces in Manhattan. He felt like a big boy sitting at the table watching the world go by. The place was packed.

We were greeted at Merkin Hall by a volunteer that handed Ethan two 4x6 cards with a penguin on one side and the letter M on the other--and a crayon. The place was packed with parents, grandparents and tons and tons of kids from 3 to 6 year olds.

Ethan and I went up to the balcony to find our seats. On the way, we stopped by a practice room where more volunteers and two violinists from the Philharmonic were playing bits of classical pieces as the children milled around the room. Ethan stood at the edge, but as the music began, he went right down to the center of the room, facing the violinists. He clapped politely every time they ended a piece.

And then, it was time for the performance. We walked down to the front row seats. He stopped dead in his tracks. "I want to go back up," he said, his eyes wide. I knew instantly what was the matter. There was a bass player in the front of the stage, letting the kids in the orchestra section play the instrument, its deep resonance carrying up to our seats.
"Grammie, I no LIKE that noise," he said as he headed toward the exit. Bounding up the stairs behind him, I tried to imagine an explanation that would wash. "Ethan, it's just a sound. It can't hurt you. Sometimes if I don't like a sound I cover my ears for a minute." He looked at me with that I-know-you're-trying-but-I'm-not-buying-this look he has. At this point, he was smack dab in the center of the stairwell,feet planted firmly and people were trying to slip by him.The usher noted that we couldn't stay in the stairwell during the performance. Thanks, sir, what a surprise.

The woman sitting in the back row next to the door had overheard this exchange. "You can have this aisle seat," she offered. I looked over to see that she and her husband had each of their small kids in their laps, so there were spares--at least for the moment. The lights dimmed. Ethan saw that other musicians were joining the big, bad bass player on the stage--including the violinists who he had "met" in the practice room a few minutes before. "See, Ethan, there will be lots of different sounds. They're just sounds." He looked up at me from his spot on my lap and replied: "Grammie, that sounds like thunder. I don't like thunder." ( Well, at least he's getting the concept of music mimicking nature, I thought to myself.)

We sat there for a few minutes until the story of Phillipe, the Penguin, lost in a winter storm began. He leaned toward the stage and his body relaxed. "Are you ready to go to your own seat so you can see better," I asked hoping we'd get to the "good seats" sometime before the last bars of the Winter portion of the piece. He nodded his head, squared his shoulders, and down, down, down he went to his 2AA seat. For the longest time, I just put my hand at his back, I guess for moral support as much as anything, letting him know I was there, too. Two minutes later, he was standing, mesmerized with poor Phillipe's demise, lost in the storm without his mom and dad. This solo portion, by the way, was done by one the regulars at the orchestra--a brilliant young woman who performed as if it were the Saturday night subscription folks.

After the concert, we were invited back to visit the orchestra members in the practice rooms, and they had tiny violins and cellos that the children could play. The room was full of people, I was eagle-eyed, zoning in on Ethan's whereabouts. Suddenly, this boy about Ethan's age appeared. Hmm, I thought, that looks like my nephew's son, Liam. It was, of course. Ethan was delighted since they are playmates. Liam played the cello, looking quite comfortable with that bow in his hand as Ethan watched, not ready to make the big move himself.

We said goodbye to the Bolsters, and headed for the #1 train. Ethan slid his gloved hand into mine. "I tell Mom and Dad all about this, Grammie." Then he added gravely, "We should come again here."

And so we will. Ethan. So we will.


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