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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