Wednesday, October 22, 2008

keeping score at the symphony

I have a dream: it's the end of the 2nd period at a Calgary Flames home game in late November. Some people in the crowd start to get up to stretch or use the washroom, but they stop and turn as the scoreboard lights up with a huge logo:

People return to their seats as a voice announces: "We now take you live to the Jack Singer Concert Hall, where the Calgary Philharmonic under Roberto Minczuk are midway through the 3rd movement of Beethoven's 5th Symphony..."

The sound of a somber A-flat chord rises on the PA system, as the screen goes to video of a violin section playing a hesitant figure, then the conductor sculpting a questioning phrase. There's a palpable air of suspense, as the screen moves to a close-up shot of the timpanist's hand, playing a repeated low G. Hockey players from both teams are skating onto the ice to get a better view, as the harmony shifts to a dominant chord and with an incredible swell, finally arrives at a big beautiful C Major chord -- the finale has begun! -- the crowd is on their feet, cheering wildly, as all the hockey players exchange high-fives.

Okay, so it's not very likely -- still, it's nice to fantasize. Orchestra concerts inevitable go head-to-head against major sporting events, and so we face a conundrum: should we announce the score from the stage, and risk alienating the people who came to the concert specifically to avoid hearing about sports? Or should we ignore the big game, and let the sports addicts pull out their BlackBerries and portable radios?

I personally don't mind if a conductor wants to give the score after intermission, though I'd rather not hear updates after every piece. Members of the orchestra are often just as interested -- I've heard anecdotes about musicians playing with ear-bud headphones in, or radios attached to tuning pegs, and whispering across the stage after a home run or goal. I hope I never get that obsessive about a sporting event, though I can't begrudge others their addictions.

What I would really like to see, though, is some equity -- why not give hockey or baseball fans a little taste of what they're missing, or a preview of what they could hear tomorrow night? I think Beethoven could hold his own against one of those silly mascot races any day.

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