Wednesday, January 23, 2008

the concert hall

An empty concert hall is a magical place.

Row upon row of empty seats line the aisles. If the house lights are low, jagged shadows rifle across the tops of them, forming lines of perspective that burrow into nothingness. Underneath these seats are stray paper programs, a single glove, a cough-drop wrapper, and the fine grit from a thousand pairs of shoes.

There is a certain silence louder than noonday traffic that pervades such an empty place. Silence, I say, that is so present that you listen for it as one would the coming of a train. Like the maw of a black cave, the walls yearn for a sliver of sonority in order to be sated. Sound is the rice or bread of a resplendent hall.

To test the air, I wiggle a seat (the kind that springs up when you rise from it) and it's whispery thump is quickly swallowed up by thick upholstery. (The Troy Savings Bank Music Hall retains its original torturous wooden seats-- and the gift shop staff makes a killing by selling blue foam seat cushions to its patrons. Before such an innovation, many a posterior eased its way from left to right for the duration of symphonies, cantatas, piano recitals, and the like for well over a hundred years. Somebody, somewhere, must have a tale about a splinter.)

In the heights of the rafters, recording wires are strung about. They swing from pillar to post in graceful long arcs and are only missing a trapeze artist for my imagination to be satisfied.

In old concert halls, dusty legends hide everywhere in the heavy curtains and in the crevices of the sculpted drapery. Not one artist ever stoops to shake them out. Not one. Before each performance, they are busy imagining their encore. And when the encore is finished, they are off to greet the throngs who await them with flowers. What is left behind is only this: During the last refrain, a few specks of glitter from the soprano's bodice are swept into the air by her swift gestures, and they hover electrically in the quavering light before they, too, turn to fancy dust. Always you can see them sparkle in the filtered light, briefly, as the artists strut by. They hover in the air like ghostly fireflies of yesteryear before they settle into their most humble state.

#1 Son draws his bow across his violin strings; the lovely grainy sound draws my attention to the warm circle of light on the wooden stage. I settle into a dark seat and tune my ears to his music. The phantom house hushes suddenly around me -like summer crickets when I walk near a hedgerow- and off we go wherever Bruch intends to take us.


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