a Symphony to Applaud

The noise of practice. Chaos. Everyone at once. None with the same time or place. No conductor. Chatter. Movement. From the audience. They gather. From the musicians. They plod their way through sections of music. Violins. Brass. Cellos. Harps. Drums.

This is the performance until the conductor walks out onto the stage, stilling the people assembled on stage and off of it. A wave of his hands and the bows of the strings are held up and then fall down like blades of grass blown at the wind. They rise and fall, obeying the waves of the hand but always one beat behind. Further back from the strings are flutes and clarinets and bassoons. They stand up like the trunks of trees, or lie sideways like fallen logs. Back from these are avalanches of sounds from the percussions. Their strikes are fast, then slow, then silent or loud or like the sounds of footsteps on snowy peaks. The drums are mountains of sounds, rockslides of beats. Even they move at the conductor's hand.

Until the conductor stops and leaves. The sound of applaud quickly overtakes any memory of the orchestra. It is an ugly sound without an idling of order. Like raindrops hitting the roof of a car in a storm, continuing so that soon the driver must pull over and wait. The conductor returns alongside the cellist who's solo has accompanied the work. They leave again. The clappers clap on. Once more, the cellist returns, alone this time. He says something to the audience. By Bach. He plays.

He says something to the audience. By Bach. He plays.

It is stirring, the motion of his shoulders pushing back and forth against the strings, his blade pushing against them and ejecting sounds that are clear and defiant against the watching faces who sit in wait. Ready to applaud again. Waiting for the moment. It is a performance of sound and vision, and the cellist doesn't disappoint. It looks like he is dancing with the instrument, dancing with the sound that he caresses out of her. The last, long draw of the bow lets a final note of her and into the air and into our ears. As the note withdraws, hanging for a moment as it disappears into the air. It dissipates like —

It's gone. The applaud is here. The moment has been snapped up by sound.

An interval.

Then chaos again. Tuning. Chatting. Finding a seat. An array of coloured clothes and white faces arrange themselves on red chairs until the light dims. The sound finds a tune. The conductor does it all with his two hands that flutter around in the air.

Music hits the floors and walls and ceiling and bounces back. It's trapped within this box of a concert hall. Nothing records and we sit as the only alibi to it ever being.

Five movements. Starting slow.

Five movements. Starting slow. Dreams, Passions. The dream is awake. A Ball. The passion is alive. Scene in the Fields. The arc has reached its turning point and things begin to fall. Yet the action rises, and the dream descends into a nightmare. March to the Scaffolds. Dream of the Witches' Sabbath.

Somebody lets out a 'woop' and the audience thanks the orchestra well before the percussion has faded. We clap. It's a monstrous sound without structure; with no scaffolding to hold it up and no cornerstone to hold it down. Clap. Conductor takes the stage. Clap. Points. Stands. Exits. Stage. Points. Clap. Stand. Stand. Point. Clap. It continues. Clap. Struck. Striking. Continuing. Whack. Snap. Strap. Clap.

A few minutes later and the audience has ceased its applause and the musicians have stood up to leave and they have all begin to file out. We are done here now that the performance is gone.

JR


Photo of my Week

Where I post a photo that sums up an aspect of my week.

This image was taken on the walk to the event that I just described, my first West Australian Symphony Orchestra (WASO) concert. It was quite a night and much of what you've read I wrote during the interval and just before and after the concert on my phone, which may give reason to the short and jagged quality of some of the sentences — who writes long sentences on their phones? I was able to capture some scenes outside the concert hall before and after the piece, but the challenge for me was to be able to capture the event with words. I'm usually a visual person, both in my writing and (obviously) with my photography. Perhaps you can tell that with what you've just read, as I've mostly avoided descriptions of the actual music that was played (the grand finale being 'Symphonie Fantastique'). Anyway, the reason I've posted this image is A) because I like it and B) because it's my first Instagram picture to have reached 100 likes on my own profile. So it seems I'm not the only one to A) because I like it.

Joel Gibson

Read more posts by this author.

Perth, Western Australia

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