No, I’m Not a Musician. Now Shut Up.

I went to the Balmer Symphony’s concert at Strathmore on June 6, the one featuring Hilary Hahn playing the concerto Jennifer Higdon wrote for her and Marin Alsop conducting, because J-Higgy’s music consistently moves me, Hahn  always has something interesting to say, Alsop excels as an advocate for contemporary music she likes, and I was able to buy an eighth-row seat to soak it all in. At the end of the violin concerto, with all three women out front taking their bows, emotion moved me sufficiently to stand and applaud.

When I sat back down, to gather my program and whatnot for intermission, the gentleman next to me said, smiling, “You must have some connection with someone up there on stage.”

A little taken aback, I paused and said, “No, I just really like music.” And then, sniffing condescension, I launched into a few compound-complex sentences about Alsop and the advocacy mentioned earlier, which made him shy away and head for the can (or wherever people hide from people who took a conversational cue incorrectly).

This was the most extreme of a type of remark I hear often as a single, young (for a classical fan), male concertgoer, which normally comes out as “Are you a musician?” (Though one other memorable time, I was asked, “Are you a composer?” After my negative response, the asker commented, “There sure are a lot of composers here,” the only response to which I could think of was “Well, I’m not one of them.”) The question my interlocutors actually want to ask is “What the hell are you doing here?” And, based on the forms the question takes, I’m guessing the interlocutors don’t think music itself is enough of a draw.  (Which is sad in and of itself, but that’s another complaint.)

As I typed the last paragraph, I heard the voices of my parents in my head, telling me “Those people are just trying to be pleasant and make conversation with someone who’s alone.” Well, first thing, the fact that I’m alone does not mean that I am starved for conversation. But granting our society’s deep-rooted prejudice against introversion, the fact remains that, most of the time, I would be perfectly happy to have an at-concert conversation about the concert. (For an example, check out the awesome convo I had at the last concert I went to, which reminded me to write about this.) I’m not sure why half of the elderly couple next to me wants my background info instead of talking about what’s in the foreground.

Perhaps I could stop these questions by coming to more concerts with someone else, but the small pool of friends I have who enjoy classical music and the difficulty of convincing non-fans that you really need to hear these specific people play 200-year-old music mean that’s not going to happen. So, people who are thinking about asking single-looking people sitting next to them whether they are musicians, try asking about the concert instead. Unless you happen to be a single young woman, in which case you can ask me whatever you want.

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6 Comments on “No, I’m Not a Musician. Now Shut Up.”

  1. Michael Divino Says:

    I was at this concert too! Unfortunately, I was in the nosebleeds. Hilary was great, wasn’t she?

  2. John Dixon Says:

    I signed on because of Midgette’s recommendation. The first thing I get is a rant about audiences, not a review of music. Was I wrong in expecting the latter? I would have liked to know why you like “J-Higgy”. What about the piece you heard that night as well as other pieces heard earlier. And if you know, what recordings of her music you would recommend.

  3. Andrew Lindemann Malone Says:

    Mr. Divino – Yes, Hilary really got inside the work, as far as I could tell (that being the D.C. premiere and all). Like Anne said in her review, Higdon wrote a work very suited to the person who comissioned it. The other good thing that came out of it for me was that I actually finally bought Hilary’s CD of the Schoenberg and Sibelius violin concerti, which is exceptional.

    Mr. Dixon – I’m doing reviews here as well. In fact, directly below this post is a review (a couple in a row, actually). This blog will be a mix of reviews and me commenting on other stuff about classical music (including the occasional rant).

    I’m always impressed by how Higdon’s music unfolds in surprising ways, individual moments that surprise, yet feel sturdy and balanced within their larger form. She also uses orchestral color in ways that feel not only novel but meaningful – she’s not just playing with gorgeous sonorities, they also play a part in advancing her musical argument. With the violin concerto, I had the weird, heady feeling after the piece was complete of the individual moments I liked suddenly snapping into focus. Of course, that was in part due to Hahn and Alsop!

    Of the recordings of music of hers that I’ve heard, I really like Robert Spano and the Atlanta Symphony doing her Concerto for Orchestra and CityScape – I’d start there if you’re interested.

  4. Walt Nissen Says:

    It’s just the odds, Andrew. Most people interested enough to come to a concert at least played in high school. Is there such a thing as a full-time music critic who doesn’t play an instrument?

  5. V.Martheimer Says:

    Noooooooo, John Dixon! Be not asking for music reviews! Don’t encourage that. He’s a genius compared (super-hack) Brookes and (less offensive) Estren, but it’s still very, very nice not to read those reviews anymore.

  6. SN Says:

    I found Andrew’s non-review actually very funny, and agree that the gentleman next to him was wondering “what the hell” he was doing there. I was once in the Berlin Philharmonie at a concert and was eying a particularly stunning girl the whole evening thinking, why doesn’t this happen in the US? I negotiated my way over to her as we were filing out before intermission and managed a “herrvoragendes Konzert, oder?” which means “great concert, huh?” but my American accent was apparently to strong and she didn’t understand me. This was a blow to my ego and so I stopped being my charming self and got defensive about my accent. So much for that… she said she had to go to the bathroom and I didn’t say anything more to her. I honestly can’t remember which concert that was. Hot girl, though.

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