The band was massive, around 70 players crammed onto the stage. Between pieces, I shifted my clarinet from one hand to the other and stretched in the uncomfortable chair, the unfamiliar clothing, stockings, shoes. The stage lights were hot, but it was winter, and the heat felt weird. The baton went up and we dove in again. The All County Band played Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition. It has twittering high notes in one section, brassy clamor in another, and the final movement, the bombastic, fabulous “Great Gate of Kiev” has horns, timpani, cymbals. I was surrounded by sound, contributing to a solid wall of music, concentrating, listening, playing all-out. You don’t feel it if you’re in the audience, and this feeling has to be why musicians love live performance. That concert and ones like it repaid me for all my hours of practice.
Band: Field Trip!
Starting in fourth grade, I played clarinet. I began taking private lessons after school once a week, and by the time I got to high school, I was a band kid, marching band in the fall, concert band in the winter, marching in the Memorial Day Parade at the end of the school year. Despite our blue and white uniforms and many hours of practice, we were never going to win a band competition, but we played on. Our reward finally arrived when the band snagged a slot playing at the Montreal World’s Fair in 1967. My first taste of international travel involved jouncing up and down on a school bus full of other noisy teens going to Montreal. The whole group of us performed a couple of times and had a chance to spend the rest of the day at the fair. I remember nothing of the interminable bus ride that would have been at least six hours each way, but I remember being impressed by Montreal and the fairgrounds on an island accessed via the deepest subway I’d ever seen. It was exciting to play in public in front of an audience that wasn’t our parents. We may not have loved our music director, Mr. Force, (too many rules, too many new steps on the field), but he got us to do something great.
An unexpected award my senior year presented me with a ticket to see a play, a concert, an opera, and a ballet at Lincoln Center. By this time, my parents were comfortable with my going into the city alone, after all, my sister Paula had been going to weekend math classes at Columbia for years. Part of the fun was going alone, knowing that once at Lincoln Center, the audience would be full of high school students from all over the New York area.
Leonard Bernstein conducted the NY Philharmonic, and I’d watched his Young People’s Concerts on TV since we got a TV. The opera was a dress rehearsal of Faust, with red and black costumes and fabulous singers. It was captivating, even from the balcony.
The final event in the series was a ballet, and mom offered to come along. She’d buy a last-minute ticket when we got there. It was February, and when we emerged from the subway at Lincoln Center, a few flakes floated down on us as we hurried inside. The American Ballet Theater is always impressive, but on this day, I was assigned a seat in the third row, so close that I could see the dancers’ madeup rosy cheeks and hear their slippers squeak on the floor of the stage. Sitting up front, I paid rapt attention to every move of the program, listening to the orchestra that was seated just beyond my feet. Afterward, transported by our experience, we stepped outside and were shocked to find that it was really snowing. Mom and I hustled onto the subway and to Grand Central, boarding our train for home as usual. When the train emerged from the tunnels beneath the city, the sky was dark, and the snow was coming down even faster as we headed for the suburbs. About fifteen minutes out, the train jerked to a halt. We sat, and sat. The conductor came through and told us there was heavy snow on the tracks that needed clearing. Eventually we started moving again, very slowly making our way north. The trip that usually took an hour took almost three hours. We stepped off the train into more than a foot of snow. There was no eviidence of dad come to pick us up.
For some reason, mom was unable to call home from the train station. In the days before cell phones, we had to guess what to do. Whether or not dad was supposed to be there, he could have come to collect us. Neither of our cars could go through snow a foot deep, and no local streets had been plowed yet.
We had to walk home, something I’d never done before. The distance wasn’t that great, a couple of miles, but the road was narrow and winding, with no sidewalks, a route expressly forbidden to us for casual walks. On this night, there was no traffic and a foot of unplowed snow. We trudged from the station through downtown Thornwood, turning uphill past the elementary school and along the highway. I’d worn boots more suitable for dress-up than hiking that were wet through before we were halfway home. My feet felt frozen, my cheeks were wet with melted snow, and the tip of my nose was an iceberg. At the big circle intersection, we headed up the final mile of narrow road. No snowplow came by, no cars or trucks, no one to give us a lift. It was still snowing hard; periodically one of the few streetlights illuminated a patch of snow before we walked back into the darkness. We finally reached the top of the hill, heading down into our neighborhood and home. Approaching the bus stop, gateway to the neighborhood and just a few blocks from home, we saw a dark figure. Someone bundled up for the weather was out at this late hour. When he got close, we saw it was dad. We were overcome with relief. How he knew we were coming, and how he decided to venture out to meet us, I don’t know. We were so happy to see him, to have someone to hang on to for those last few blocks. It was an adventure we never forgot.