Editor’s note: This column was one of three entries that won 1st place last month at the Society for Features Journalism’s national conference at the Poynter Institute in St. Petersburg, Fla. The column has been praised for its honesty – the Arsht Center in Miami even sent a CD autographed by Yo-Yo Ma in appreciation. It seems especially relevant to revisit it again this issue, as a new season of the arts in South Florida begins to unfold.
I’ve never shared this story with anyone. No one knows it except my family, and they’ve kept my secret well.
They know how I feel about people who make noise during concerts and shows. How I’ve written editor’s letters, complaining about the inconsiderate few who talk, or crackle candy wrappers, or answer cell phones, or actually appear to be operating light machinery – up to and including leaf blowers – during concerts and shows. They know how I get when people bolt for the exit before a curtain falls, or light up dark movie theaters with text messages that apparently just can’t wait until the movie’s over.
They know how I get when I experience these disruptions, how I can go on for hours about how the inconsiderate few are ruining the concert and show experience, how we all might as well just stay home and listen to music on the radio, or watch movies on TV, or operate our own light machinery.
So my family was understandably surprised when I bought tickets to the season debut of the Cleveland Orchestra’s Miami Residency last January.
“Dad,’’ my teen-aged son said. “Aren’t you going to just flip out again when people in the audience make noise?”
“Are you sure?” he said. “You know it’s going to happen.”
“There isn’t going to be any noise this time,” I said. “I wrote an editor’s letter asking people not to make any.’’
We took our seats in the first row of the Arsht Center. Close enough to see the minute hand ticking on the cellists’ wrist watches. I checked my own watch to see if we were synchronized. We were.
The lights dimmed, the big house assembled for the season debut fell silent, and Franz Welser-Möst – conductor of the Cleveland Orchestra – lifted his baton on a program that began with Debussy’s Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun.
It was a sublime performance. The audience was spellbound and, amazingly for South Florida, silent.
The piece ended to thunderous applause, and Pierre-Laurent Aimard took his place at the piano next for the evening’s second offering, Schumann’s Piano Concerto in A minor.
I scrunched down in my seat, in the first row of the Arsht Center, listening to the first movement of one of my favorite pieces of music segue into the delicate second, when I heard it.
You have got to be kidding me, I thought. Here we are listening to a piece of music that depends as much on silence as sound to work its magic, and the inconsiderate few are making noise again. I started to feel sorry for my family, because I was going to be talking about this in the car on the way home and for hours afterwards.
People started to shift in their seats. They turned their heads to see where the beep was coming from, and who was corrupting the music. I turned my head, too – ready to lock a laser-stare of disapproval on the outrageous, inconsiderate offender.
More heads turned. The cellists looked down, the violinists glanced in our direction. I was pretty sure I saw Franz Welser-Möst shoot a look over his shoulder, too.
“Dad,” my son whispered, tugging at my sleeve.
“Is that you?”
I looked down at the sleeve he was tugging, at the watch I’d synchronized minutes before with the cellists.
LOW BATT, it blinked in the dark.
It was me.
In a panic, I stripped the watch from my wrist, and – for reasons I still can’t explain – handed it to my teen-aged son.
“Sit on it,” I whispered.
At the end of the Schumann piece, before the next piece by Strauss, I bolted for the exit and dropped my watch into bushes around the base of a tree outside the Arsht Center.
A man passing by in the street watched me. He shook his head, and turned away.
“I’m so sorry,” I said, “I didn’t mean it. Really!”
I’ve never shared this sad story with anyone, and I hope you’ll consider it a cautionary tale to keep your watches fully charged as you look over the many fine shows coming up this season in our annual Guide to the Arts.
I know that I will.