The Hot Seat – Part II

The flute music soars into the cavernous reaches of the air terminal. It’s not the precursor to a flash mob: That would be so last January. It’s not any kind of mob at all. I observe two people — the flautist and a lone audience member — and I infer the presence of at least one other — a videographer.

For the duration of the three-minute solo, while the black-gowned flautist performs, the audience member sits unnaturally still on a folding chair. Is she self-conscious? The audience member, I mean. I would be. Actually, at the end of the clip it looks as if they both are. I’m not surprised. It’s an unusual situation.

In response to the current COVID-19 constraints on public performances, members of four local orchestras have been performing one-on-one for people all over Stuttgart throughout May. There have been 12 performances in the air terminal — at least one as long as 10 minutes. The mind boggles, don’t it?

Well, mine does. Usually these musicians maintain their professional distance by being part of an orchestra, just as each audience member finds the sanctuary of anonymity in their own crowd. There is something exceedingly intimate about this private performance.There is no place for either to hide: The interaction is uncomfortably direct. Unfiltered. Raw.

As a non-musician, I identify with the audience member and think how difficult it would be to graciously accept what is, really, a gift — a gift of the musician’s years of training and practice. Not just to accept, but to give nothing back. For some reason, the rules of engagement preclude pretty much any standard interaction: no hi-how-are-ya-thanks-for-doing-this at the outset, no clapping at the conclusion.

Yet it’s clear from the article that the musicians have their difficulties too. Notwithstanding their professionalism, in this unusual performance format their self-consciousness, even their insecurity, is real.

So it’s an interesting exercise: one performs with no certainty of finding a receptive listener, and one receives that performance without paying for it in any way.

I’m more comfortable with reciprocity and think it’s more long-term sustainable, but it might be a better world if we could all just give and receive as a matter of course. As if we were worthy, in either role. As if it weren’t really about us at all, but about the effort. The care. The beauty.


Thanks to Wayne Holst for the link to this article in his blog, Colleagues List.


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12 Responses to The Hot Seat – Part II

  1. Tom Watson says:

    Lessons can be learned anywhere. All it requires is for us to pay attention.

  2. Jim Taylor says:

    I try to imagine some of the audience member’s (singular, possessive) possible responses:
    — You call that music? Don’t you know anything by the Grateful Dead?
    — What fingering do you use for that upper A-flat?
    — Does it make a difference to the sound if your flute is gold-plated, or just silver?
    — I remember taking recorder in Grade Seven. I hated it.
    — I had a friend once who made flutes out of green willow saplings.
    Maybe it’s better not to imagine. Just to enjoy. What was it Joni Mitchell sang, “And we’ll talk in present tenses”?
    Jim T

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Jim – Considering that they had entered a contest to win the opportunity (as opposed, say, to being press-ganged) I expect their responses would have been of a slightly higher order. 🙂 But maybe equally centered on self . . .

  3. Tom Watson says:

    Isabel and Jim
    Have either of you seen the TED Talk of the guy making a clarinet out of a carrot?
    It’s quite incredible. And it plays! And sounds good too.

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Tom – I haven’t. Here’s a YouTube link to a short version for anyone who has an extra carrot . . .

      • barbara says:

        How the sound change as the carrot dries out? Does it improve with age? like Cremona violin?

        The addition of the funnel on the end is priceless. LOL

        • Isabel Gibson says:

          Barbara – LOL Can they tell how old the carrot is/was by its timbre? What really gets me about all these sorts of things (you know, carrots into clarinets) is that someone thought to try it.

  4. Being a solitary audience member would be extremely difficult. Part of being an audience is the joining together as a group to enjoy (or not) the performance. At least the musician would used to practicing alone. Subverting conventions is the mode of these times.

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Judith – Yes, I guess so. Who’s in charge, anyway? I’d like to register a complaint. (You make an excellent point about audience-ness. Full theatres laugh louder and longer than mere scatters.)

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