Saturday, October 28, 2006

from May 2004:

We went on a junior high orchestra field trip last week. Lucky us, you're thinking. But you know, it was actually pretty cool. First of all, there was the destination: Yo-Yo Ma was playing with one of the "local" symphony orchestras (where I live, "local" is anywhere you can drive to in a day). And that, you must admit, is pretty cool.

Secondly, there were the kids. I was expecting awkward, immature, over-dramatized barely-teens. And... well, OK, there was some of all of that. But there was also sweet. And funny. And courageous. And well-behaved. They sat through a two and a half hour rehearsal without talking. Let me say that again in case you missed it: WITHOUT TALKING. These are not sophisticated kids from a urban arts magnet school. These are kids from a small town in the middle of nowhere (though you can't tell them that). I would be surprised if any of them outside a couple of the cello players had ever heard of Yo-Yo Ma before this opportunity came up.

Mr. Ma was far more of a show-boater than I was expecting. I've heard several of his recordings, but never seen him in person. I was expecting an intense, serious musician. And while he is clearly very serious about his music, he was friendly, casual, and outgoing to the point of almost overdoing it. His first piece, a Saint-Saens concerto for cello and orchestra, was full of lots of what I'm sure passes for pyrotechnics in the cello world-- lots of very colorful music with notes going by very fast. Extremely fast. But he played it all while smiling, winking, looking around, almost as if someone else were playing the cello and he was just there to glad-hand the locals. It was a little eerie. And amazing to watch.

The piece, I'm told by those who know more about these things, is sort of looked down on by serious musicians-- sort of like Scherezade-- all flash and dash and easily accessible gorgeousness, great fun to play and listen to ('scuse the dangling preposition), but not very complex. OK by me. And he played it with a "Look, Ma, no hands!" combination of nonchalance and daredevilry. (pun sort-of intended) It was fascinating.

And then there was the drive home. It was loud and kept getting louder. The bus was equipped with a VCR and the kids that didn't want to watch the movie kept talking louder and the kids that did want to watch the movie kept turning it up. Ack. After an hour or so I put down my book to watch the mountains. We were driving west across the plains, and the Rockies seem almost to leap up out of the ground at a certain point. The kids barely even noticed. I guess if you grow up around here, mountains out the window are hardly cause for taking a break in non-stop junior high gossip. They may not know much about classical music, but snow capped peaks out the window, they've got down.

But me, I'm a transplanted southerner and the sight of the Rocky Mountain front looming up in front of a car windshield (or bus, as the case may be) still leaves me mesmerized, even after living here for a decade. I watched till it was too dark (and we were too close) to see anything anymore. I wonder if I'll ever get tired of it.

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