Macon is a cultural town. It’s just a different kind of culture. Even with all of the oddball politics, occasional malaise, and general backwardness of a small city, the one claim Macon has always been able to make is a sincere devotion to the arts. Macon, GA supports the arts. We have two very active and vibrant theatre companies, a great choice of venues for shows, 6 Broadway touring companies at the Grand Opera House, the Concert Association, the Opera Guild, Mercer’s Townsend School of Music, Wesleyan College, and the Macon Symphony. It’s the Symphony that’s the subject of today’s post.
Macon supports the arts. We think it’s great! My wife’s birthday present this year was two season tickets to the Symphony. With five kids and two grandparents in the house, it’s tough to get a date. I thought that this was a great way to guarantee at least six nights out during the year. Last night was the first concert. So far, so good.
We arrived on time and after listening to a great jazz combo in front of the Grand Opera House for a couple of minutes, proceeded inside to get away from the gnats. (We’re having a wonderful gnat season in Middle Georgia, but that’s another story). We found our seats in the front row of the balcony. I knew that we had chosen good seats when the arts critic from the Macon Telegraph and his date sat beside us. We had a great view of the stage and of a tremendous Steinway grand piano.
We’ve been to occasional Macon Symphony performances over the years and our expectations were high. We weren’t disappointed. But the lady who sat behind us was.
It was kind of like a gnat. I don’t know if you’d call it a drone or a whine. It was loud enough to be irritating, but I was so wrapped up in the preparation for the performance that I didn’t really connect it with words. I think I just catalogued it as a foreign accent; not from the UK or Australia, but just not from around here.
I’m no classical highbrow, but from my Middle Georgia perspective, the performance was wonderful. Berlioz’ Hungarian March with lots of percussion, and a Russian pianist, Oleg Marshev, who gave a remarkable performance of a Shostakovich piano concerto. Marshev’s encore was a short piece that required four hands to play . . . and he did it all by himself.
At intermission, the whine behind me became louder. Indeed it became so audible that I was able to identify it clearly as words, emanating from a somewhat rotund woman who, also clearly, was not from around here. It had become a little stuffy in the balcony and she was uncomfortable. The rows were too close together for her liking. “I’m sure,” she stated, “that the rows down there (below us in the Orchestra level) are at least a centimeter further apart.” I contemplated this and accepted it, supposing that (like the Princess and the pea) a centimeter more of legroom could really make a difference to a person of refined taste.
“When I was last in London,” she continued, ” we went to this theatre that had to have been over 400 years old. We ended up in the fourth balcony or somewhere, way up above the stage.” I’m picturing the Globe Theatre.
“It was built before people grew much,” she continued. “You know, no one was ever over even five feet then. So we all sat with our legs over the seats in front of us.” By this time, I’d turned around to steal a glance at her, so now I’m picturing rows of slightly rotund women with dyed red hair and their legs and heels over the seats in front of them.
“And it was so dusty up there that my nose started running. I know I was disturbing the people around me, but I couldn’t help it.” My wife later observed that had she sneezed, she might have produced a historical artifact from Shakespearean times.
Her problems with playhouses didn’t stop there. When she went on to recount (in great detail) the plot of a foreign film that she had seen the previous week, I thought the topic had changed. The film had been about three travelers in Patagonia, all headed on a bus to the same town. But I digress. And so had our whiner, because the subject of her discourse was really the seats at the Douglass Theatre.
The Douglass is another historic Macon theatre. During the days of segregation, the Douglass was the venue for many famous black artists. From vaudeville acts to Count Basie, Duke Ellington, and later Little Richard and Otis Redding; the Douglass was the host to some real Macon history. It’s been completely restored and is now used for special showings of movies, conferences, and smaller acts that come through town.
“You know the Douglass theatre,” our whiner continued with a conspiratorial tone to her companion. “You know the seats there. Well, after that movie, my daughter Sarah came down with the strangest rash on the backs of her legs. She was wearing shorts and contracted ‘contact dermatitis.'” She actually said “contact dermatitis.” I had to wonder what kind of strange prejudice could link “contact dermatitis” to viewing a movie at a historical African American theatre.
I was on the verge of losing it completely and the newspaper critic’s date was smiling in nervous embarassment for the woman when the second half of the concert (mercifully) began. The symphony began with a Weber overture I had never heard of followed by Schubert’s Symphony #8, the “Unfinished” Symphony.
Adrian Gnam is the MSO conductor. His name is spelled similarly to the word “gnat,” but to my knowledge he has no connection or causal relationship with this year’s productive insect season. Before beginning the Schubert piece, Gnam had explained that it was indeed unfinished, consisting of only two movements. The symphony would play them both.
The performance was (again) wonderful. So wonderful, in fact, that the audience applauded after the first movement. Turning with a smile and natural charm, Gnam quipped, “It’s not that unfinished.” Everyone laughed, including the orchestra, and Gnam proceeded to conduct the second movement.
The concert ended. As we stood to leave, most of the audience around us was smiling in reflection of the enjoyable experience we’d all had. She really didn’t spoil it, and I just had to laugh when the annoying voice commented, “you know he’s really not much of a conductor. He didn’t move around too much. I just don’t think he’s very dynamic.”
I was glad that she wasn’t from “around here” and I was. We left, hoping that our musical tastes never become that refined and wondering if the slightly rotund woman had season tickets.