Monday, August 9, 2010

Bittersweet Symphony

Some words make parents of toddlers very, very happy. Several of these words were included in the advertising for last weekend's "Symphony in the Harbour". Words like "great for the whole family", "childrens' activities", "free", and "rain or shine". Since Chris was away at a martial arts retreat, this seemed like an excellent activity for Gwen and I to partake in. A total bonus: "Singer Nadya Blanchette returns to Nanaimo to perform "The Diva Dance", a spine-tingling song by Donizetti, made famous by the movie Fifth Element." Dude, I was stoked.

Saturday morning dawned rainy and gray, and Gwen and I took turns driving each other absolutely crazy. The day was really not going well. I promised her that if she had a good nap, we'd go out in the afternoon and do something really special and fun. The plan was that we would arrive sometime between 3 and 4pm - we could listen to the symphony's rehearsal and do the kids' activities ("make instruments out of recycled materials and have a puff on a horn or two in the Musical Instrument Zoo"), probably leaving before the actual performance started at 6pm.

Miraculously, Gwen took a great nap. Less miraculously (as it IS August, and the forecast had predicted same), the weather cleared up and by 2pm it was no longer raining. I busily readied snacks, diapers, blankets, jackets, a towel, and everything else I thought we might need for a two-hour stay in a damp park. Oh, and the camera to capture Gwen's first exposure to live classical music. Gwen woke up, had a snack, and I hustle-bustled her into the car. We were both really excited, although I still hadn't actually told Gwen where we were going.

We arrived at the park about 4pm and I noted the large Triple T Party Rentals truck and a great deal of equipment being moved and toted around. I didn't see where the symphony might be rehearsing - I wasn't sure if they'd be in the bandshell or down on the water (I have vague memories of Victoria's Symphony Splash involving the symphony on a barge in the harbour?) and I also noted that despite the subtle urging of the advertising to come early, I had landed a sweet parking spot and couldn't really see a lot of crowds. So we'd obviously arrived early enough to spend some time on the playground before things start - we hadn't even missed anything! Hooray!

Carrying our gigantic bag, I led Gwen down to the playground and got her settled into a swing. Just then, my cell phone rang. It was Lori, a friend I'd invited to possibly meet us at the park. "I just heard on the radio that it was cancelled," she told me. "No, that doesn't make any sense," I argued. "I can see the trucks, there are people busily doing stuff, and there's definitely something going on. Besides, the ads said rain or shine." As I pushed Gwen on the swing, I looked back at the entrance to the park and the bustling activities around the party rental trucks. It was then I saw that things were being loaded onto the trucks, not off of them. My heart sank.

I repeated this revelation to Lori and we said our goodbyes. I was irked and confused. I then remembered my friend Amber, whom I had also invited to the symphony. She lives about 40 minutes out of Nanaimo and has three kids under the age of four. She was also entertaining a visiting friend, Michelle, who has two kids of her own. Two women + 5 kids + 40 minute car ride on their way to a symphony that was now cancelled for unknown reasons = ANOTHER AWESOME REASON TO LOVE NANAIMO.

I called Amber & Michelle, who were just arriving at the parking lot, and told them the news. They said they would come down to the playground for a while anyway as they kids were definitely ready to get out of the car. We did visit briefly, but Amber's younger daughter was underdressed for the weather and they soon departed. I couldn't really blame them, as Gwen and I couldn't really offer any more fascinating social opportunities for the evening.

So Gwen and I played on the playground for about an hour and a half. I struck up conversations with a few other families who'd come for the symphony, all of whom were equally confused as to why it had been cancelled. At one point, I got really tired of lugging around the gigantic bag, and I took it back to the car, hanging on only to my cell phone and car keys. On this trip back through the park, I noticed that a few dozen people were sitting on their camp chairs, facing the bandshell, perhaps in a particularly stubborn form of denial. But no, there was a large poster advertising the show with the word "CANCELLED" written on it, and a solicitous woman (no idea who she was) apologizing to everyone who wandered by the sign and grumbled. She confirmed that it was completely and utterly cancelled, not postponed for a more summer-like day. What, then, were these people on chairs doing?

I finally got up the nerve to ask one of them, and she kindly told me that there was going to be "someone coming to play violin for half an hour". So all these people who had arrived to see a symphony would at least get something for their trouble.

(I also noticed that there was a definite demographic trend at work. I didn't see anyone else Gwen's age or anyone else my age. Everyone else seemed to be 60+. I'm not sure what to conclude from this, but I noticed it, so I'm throwing it out there.)

It just so happened that Gwen and I were about to head home and call it a night when this violin-playing someone showed up, in a tuxedo and all. What the hell, I thought, let's sit and listen for a few minutes, see if Gwen gets a bit of culture out of her day at the park. The first thing this lovely gentleman did was to invite all of us - there were maybe around 75 people by that time - to move in closer, which we did. "I have no microphone, and there is only one of me, so you might as well get close!" Gwen and I were sitting on the wet grass right in the very front (the towels and blanket originally intended for sitting had, of course, been put back in the car). We were perhaps 12 feet away from the performer.

Gwen and I whispered a little bit about what the man was doing. "He's got a violin. He's getting ready to play." The instant the bow glided across the strings, I saw a change in my little girl that I've never seen before. She was completely and utterly mesmerized, and a hundred times I cursed the fact that the damn camera was also in the car. While that man played, Gwen sat still and looked at nothing else; she was silent, open-mouthed, wide-eyed. It was magic.

Of course, he didn't play nonstop. He finished the first piece and then TALKED. Gwen was far less interested in the talking. He played another piece, and then the director of the non-performing symphony got up and talked a LOT. I couldn't hear everything he said, because I was struggling to keep Gwen quiet (psst! Talking is boring! PLAY THE VIOLIN MORE PLEASE, WANT A DIFFERENT SONG!) but I did learn this from a very adamant director: it was not rain that cancelled the show, but cold. When it's cold, he told us, it is very unpleasant to put a cold metal instrument on one's mouth. Thus, they were unable to rehearse at 3pm, and so they cancelled the 6pm show.

I have several things to say about this. And because it is my blog, I shall now say them!
- 18 degrees, which is what it was at 6pm yesterday, is not cold. It may be a little on the chilly side for an August evening, but it's not cold.
- My goodness, what a travesty for musicians who are paid hundreds of dollars per hour to have to put cold instruments on their lips. Apparently, they don't get paid enough to use Google, because it took me 0.27 seconds to find this, and I'm a complete symphony n00b.
- I'm told by other sources that in genuinely cold weather, it can be hard to keep instruments (particularly reeds and strings) in tune. But 18 degrees is not genuinely cold weather.
- The director made the point that at 3pm it was still "too cold to play", and that they didn't know it was going to warm up later, so they made the decision to cancel. Again, a tiny dose of Google (or perhaps just turning on your local radio!) might have informed you of this incredible thing we have called WEATHER FORECASTING. The forecast had been telling us all day that the afternoon would be warmer and drier than the morning.
- If you advertise that you are willing to put on an event in the rain, you might want to consider the strong correlation between "rain" and "cold". Defending yourself to a ripped-off crowd by saying you don't mind playing in the rain, but cold makes your lips uncomfortable, makes you sound like a whiner.
- I don't know all the ins and outs of who paid whom to make this concert happen. I know the symphony would have been paid a lot of money (by the city?) and they were also all put up in a hotel. All that money is now completely gone, because the show was cancelled (not postponed). Edit to add: Tricia pointed out to me that in fact, the symphony pays the city for the privilege of putting on this concert - though it is free for audiences, donations are collected and it is a huge fundraiser for the symphony. I feel slightly less bitter that my city (and thus my family) were not ripped off financially, only culturally.
- The director thoughtfully invited us to come to the symphony's regularly scheduled seasonal performances. I checked the symphony's website and did not see any of my favourite words ("free" or "great for the whole family" or "outdoor"), so I conclude that the rest of the regular season is either unwelcoming or unaffordable or both for a family that includes a toddler. One symphony performance is not actually as good as another, in this case.

After all this talking - and the fact that she had already been at the park for two hours - Gwen was starting to lose patience. She made it through one more song, and then it was time for us to go. But she talked about that violin for the rest of the evening - the way he held it under his chin and played the songs and we all clapped. The fact that she enjoyed the far too little, far too late performance so much just adds insult to injury as it underlines how much it would have blown her tiny mind to see the thing we were actually promised.

And man, I am REALLY annoyed that I missed hearing that Fifth Element song.


Tricia said...

The only flaw I can see in your rant -- which I think is a totally fair rant by the way -- is that the Symphony would have paid the city to be there and it's them who has the most to loose by not performing because it's one of their biggest fundraisers of the year. They have people go through the croud collecting donations for the privilage of a free concert.

I too was surprised when I drove by the sign on the fence yesterday and saw that it had been cancelled. We didn't even manage to make a stab at going because Reilley didn't wake up until just after 5 from his nap, so then it was dinner time and yadda yadda yadda. And I didn't even know I was missing that cool song from 5th Element. That would have KICKED ASS!!! Oh well, we can only lower our expectations to avoid dissapointment right?

And it sounds like Gwen enjoyed the violin as much as Reilley enjoys fireworks. He still asks to go see them every other night!

adequatemom said...

Thank you Tricia for shedding some light on the money issue. I've never been to this event before so I had no idea who was paying money to whom!

Amberism said...

well, I was thoroughly disappointed. Especially since there really is nothing to do in Nanaimo when it is raining... I mean, what do you do instead of seeing the free concert?

and I was annoyed we forgot all our coats - but having said that, if the symphany hadn't been cancelled Steve would have brought our coats (and a blanket!)!!

Dillen said...

I totally missed this post when it went up, but i'm sorry that Gwen and you missed out.

If she has a favorite kids song, and still loves to listen to the violin, I'd be happy to record it for her to listen to. ^^


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