Simultaneously, my 13 year old daughter was up at UMO for the MSYM music camp, playing oboe, and being away from home for the first time. Yesterday, we drove up to pick her up and see the two end-of-camp concerts performed at Collins Performing Arts Center on campus. There were 178 middle-school students in the camp. Hannah was one of the only two oboe players.
Those of you who know me well know that I am a HUGE fan of music of most forms, including 80s through modern pop/rock, jazz, classical, opera and about 70% of Broadway showtunes. I been to a lot of live concerts by symphony orchestras, jazz bands, and chamber music ensembles.
I've also been to a lot of amateur and school performances, where the outcome is not exactly the finest performance you'll ever hear, but the value to be celebrated is the courage and determination of the performers, who although they may never be famous, are giving it their all and exhibiting the bravery required to expose yourself before a group of strangers.
So for the MSYM concerts I was expecting something better than the school junior high band, but probably still a lot of sour notes and less than "fully-committed" artistry - which I always describe to Hannah as "playing or singing with a question mark at the end." In contrast, at the beginning of the camp the director prophesied that we would witness a miracle. Sure, I thought, I'm sure there will be a lot of progress and we'd be proud of the students and such.
But he was right, and I was BLOWN AWAY. I have no idea how they got 178 middle-schoolers, who were sleeping in hot, humid dorms on plastic mattresses, sleep-deprived and with poor diets, to do what they did, but it was absolutely, positively astounding. All the kids were confident, fully projecting, and performing with not just technical proficiency, but passion. I was astonished when the string ensemble took on Rossini's Barber of Seville overture, Scheherazade, Bach Brandenburg Concerto #5, Vivaldi "Alla Rustica" concerto, and Brahms' Hungarian Dances. Then the Concert Band came onstage and played five numbers. They were great. I thought "that is amazing." Then the conductor said, "Here's the Symphonic Band" - of which I'm proud to say Hannah was a part. He said the goal for the Concert Band players was to make it into the Symphonic Band next year. Then they played five numbers.
It was truly un-be-f*****-lievable. The performances hit all the hallmarks that mark really great musical performances for me. (1) the orchestra managed dynamics expertly, playing sometimes quietly and then surging louder, rising in volume until you're afraid they'll never top out and that you may be in sonic danger; (2) it made me sweat, my body physically reacting to the sounds; and (3) the music seemed to be coming from beyond the performers, as if they were channeling something or were a conduit for something spiritual to enter our world - a gestalt effect in which the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. That is the kind of performance that I usually only get from full-time professional musicians. To see my daughter sitting in the midst of that orchestra, participating in that "channeling" of magic in the auditorium was one of the proudest moments of my life. And the fact that a group of middle-schoolers, suffering all the awkwardness of adolescence - the uncertainties, frailties, and fears of growing up - could come together for four days and produce such transcendent beauty fully restored my faith that humans are something pretty special after all.
I am not a standing ovation pushover, but I gave them one. And not because I was a parent of one of the performers. Because they were really damned good.