sit still and follow the stick

Without fail, every single time I attend a city school concert — and I’ve attended lots and lots of concerts over the years, as it’s been lots and lots of years — two things smack me between the eyes or, depending on the sense being aroused and the direction I’m facing, the ears.

One is the sound of winds and strings and beatific voices playing and singing in tune, or damn near close to it. And that’s not nothing. No matter how often grown-ups crack jokes about the squeaks and squawks emitting from student instruments in the midst of practice — as though these sounds are any more aggravating or less mellifluous than any other noises emitting from a child at any point in his or her early life, like, say, whining, farting, shouting for cookies and marathon virtuosic tantrum-throwing  — the fact is, learning an instrument isn’t easy. If a kid is bold enough to wrap hands around a viola or a French horn or an oboe or some other ancient and altogether convoluted melody-making machine and actually create something akin to music, well, huzzah. Let us applaud loudly. Let us applaud the teachers, too.

This leads me to the other fact that smacks me in the face whenever I’m squished in the crowd at a school auditorium — as I was earlier tonight for my son’s middle-school winter concert. It’s the fact that APPROXIMATELY ONE MILLION KIDS are crowding the stage, sitting still, performing an insanely complex, cooperative task, doing so with total coordination, concentration and good nature, and — this is the best part — TAKING DIRECTION FROM A SINGLE ADULT HOLDING A STICK. And not even a big stick. TAKING DIRECTION FROM A SINGLE ADULT HOLDING A PATHETICALLY FLIMSY STICK. 

I watch this spectacle of civilization at its best, and I wonder: Why don’t schools encourage more of this shockingly effective crowd control disguised as art? Why don’t workplaces do it? Whole troubled neighborhoods? Congress? If a mob of squirmy children can get along for several long minutes to perform an arrangement of Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture,” then shouldn’t leaders of belligerent nations give it a whirl? Leaving out the cannons, maybe? If they have trouble with it, no probs. The kids can show them how.

2 thoughts on “sit still and follow the stick

  1. I love this. I worked for a conductor early in my career and he was able to “conduct” the entire organization with a small stick and a great deal of humor. It was a wonderful experience. Thank you for reminding us of the power of the arts outside the “arts”.

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