I Talked to a Stranger / Orchestra Season Announcement Season

I probably shouldn’t have yelled at the guy who gave me a free orchestra ticket.

It wasn’t aggressively. I was at my current favorite coffee shop (still trying to replace my favorite in Denver that replaced my favorite in Fort Smith) doing homework, the Monteverdi score I was annotating covering more than my share of the communal table, when a stranger leaned over and asked, “Do you like violin?”

What a vague question. I barely looked up to say, “I guess I don’t hate it.” He slid over a ticket for a concert two hours from then in Springfield, half an hour drive from that spot. I stared at it long enough for him to awkwardly explain what it’s for, and I interrupted to ask if he was just giving this to me. He said yes. I practically screamed but why?

In my memory, people ceased conversation, the coffee house playlist stopped, and everyone turned to look at the slightly deranged woman with Saturday Afternoon Homework Hair scream at a stranger. But he didn’t take the ticket back so I went to Springfield. (After posting a Snapchat video explaining where I was going and where to look if I go missing, just in case.)

Springfield itself doesn’t have much to report. Downtown was quaint in passing, but even the best cities look dreary in this muddy snow that will never melt, despite it being 50 degrees outside. It was a 5 pm concert, so I felt confident showing up in a dirty Subaru and jeans and just enough makeup to not look quarantined.

I found the guy I yelled at two hours before, and he directed me to our seats (I had wondered if he would be there or if he also gave away the other ticket in some odd ticketing roulette). We had four minutes left of small talk and I reveled in the beauty of local orchestras: I wasn’t a sore thumb in my painfully casual attire; ushers and box office workers and coat room attendants are all volunteers, and know many of the patrons personally and probably too well for people who only speak at concerts; there’s no awkward wait in the women’s restroom line when everyone chats about how lovely the orchestra sounds and how lucky they are to have this in their hometown. I think every audience member I was within earshot of knew a musician on stage — was their neighbor or went to church with them when they were kids. This orchestra is a fixture of their community.

It was in this bathroom line I was told the guest artists that night, the Shimasaki sisters, were Springfield natives. Only as a hometown affair could a small orchestra get not one but two talented musicians with impressive bios, and only at their own local concert hall could two sisters in their twenties play Bach’s double violin concerto in matching dresses (which was adorable).

When I was offered the ticket, I was in the middle of a two day-long text conversation about representation in orchestras (specifically, programming habits of both local and national organizations to only play music by dead white men, including the latest season announcement in my own back yard). As this ticket was handed to me, I was sent this photo:

Basically, we’re running out of excuses to play the same pieces on loop for centuries.

Because of this conversation, I was extremely aware of the audience demographics of the Springfield Symphony (which unfortunately reflects the demographics of most American concert-goers) and assumed the program in my lap would disappoint me. My ticket provider, oblivious to my snobbery, asked if I’d heard any of the composers before. I sighed and opened the program.

Of course Bach, preceded by Telemann. The conductor came on stage and made a joke about the government shutdown that day (another thing that can only be done in local orchestras). I looked ahead at the program, pleasantly surprised to see Piazzola’s Four Seasons of Buenos Aires. My ticket stranger loves tango, and said that’s what brought him to this concert.

“Especially the Golijov,” he said.

“The who?”

He looked at me blankly and pointed to the program in my hand.

Osvoldo Golijov, a living composer, who wrote Last Rounds for strings the year of Piazzola’s death. I wasn’t familiar. It was played standing, with the violins and violas intermingling in two columns to either side of the stage, the cellos and basses in rows in the back. The conductor said things like “sexy” and “lusty” and the audience chuckled.

It’s easy to know your audience when your audience is your hometown. The program survey insert seemed redundant.

They knew their audience and still made half a contemporary program: one composer was not white, and the other was not dead. What a far cry from the large orchestras with copy-and-paste masterworks concerts who claim Mozart and Beethoven are all their audience wants.

It’s not a cure to misrepresentation in classical music, but I left the concert hall feeling thankful and a little less cynical, opening the Snapchat replies to my potential call for help.

Don’t worry guys, I’m ok.

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