This past weekend Miss L and I celebrated our fifth year together. Yes, believe it or not, even though we live in different states somehow we've managed to stay together as a couple. Each year we switch off who puts together the celebration. In the past we've gone to places like St. Mary's and Williamsburg, but my commitments to grad school this summer forced us to stay within the confines of Charm City. This year was Miss L's turn, and she decided we'd go to dinner and a concert in the city.
We started with dinner in Bolton Hill, at a little bistro known simply as B. It's a nice little place with good food, a nice wine list and prices that aren't too outrageous. After gorging ourselves on risotto and ravioli we made the mile or so walk to the Meyerhoff Center to take in the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. It turned out they were playing Beethoven's 9th.
First I have to give high marks to the Meyerhoff itself. The building design is perfect for classical music. Even though we were very nearly in the highest seating tier of building, we didn't feel that far away from the stage. The acoustics are also well designed, so we managed to hear every instrument quite clearly. On that scale of things it was by far a better experience that other classical concerts I've been to---most of which have been limited to sitting on the lawn at Wolf Trap and trying to hear over people shouting while they chug beer to Wagner's "Ride of the Valkyries".
Early into the performance Miss L leaned into me and whispered in my ear. I thought she was going to say something provocative, or at least romantic, to go along with our anniversary. But it wasn't meant to be. Instead, she said, "Hey....take a look at that! What's he doing?"
She pointed a finger toward the center of the stage. Tucked in neatly between three cellists and three flautists was a lone man just sitting there. Slumped deep down into in his seat, we couldn't tell whether he sat in deep thought or just patiently waited for something to happen.
The man continued sitting there through each act, while inbetween he would interact a little with the musicians surrounding him. Who was this man? Why was he just sitting there doing nothing? My mind went wild with ideas. Maybe he was a star musician who broke his hand and couldn't play, but had enough clout to still sit on the stage. Maybe he was a janitor pulled in at the last minute to fill in an empty chair. Or maybe, just maybe, he was there to murder the conductor. The countless possibilities were driving me crazy.
And then we got to the finale of Beethoven's Ninth, a segment so recognizable even a dolt like me knows it. Full of wild variations on one central melodic theme and supported by a chorus and operatic solo singers this finale is more widely known as Beethoven's "Ode to Joy". About five minutes into it Beethoven's score shifts into a near military beat---the rat-a-tat-tat of drums kicked in and, finally, the lone do-nothing man finally did something.
He pulled a piccolo out from under his seat, lifted it to his lips and played. The sharp sound had links to small fifes used in military marches, so it worked quite well in the section. Being the lone player in that high-pitched sonic range, his little piccolo cut right through the music of the rest of the BSO and gave "Ode to Joy" a bit of color and character none of the other instruments could achieve.
I've been in some bands in my time. A couple of really crappy ones in high school, a couple that were a little better when I was at JMU, and a really crappy one after that. I would have been pissed if someone asked me as the bass player to sit out for 95% of show. But that piccolo player took in stride. He may have sat there and sat there and sat there through most of the performance, but when his moment finally came he did, in the end, shine. And that's all that really matters.