Red Splash in a Grey Sea

1 January 2019

Looking around me, I see grey: wispy grey, straw-like grey, long grey, cropped grey, shades of grey. The hair of the elderly makes me feel out of place, awkward; my bright copper-toned hair makes me stand out like a clown at a wedding. I’m a streak of vibrant color on a canvas of grey. The color of my hair is not the only thing that singles me out, however. A quick glance about also reveals that I am the only person in the hall under the age of 50. Granted, it is 7:00 pm on a Friday night, but I was still expecting a few youth to attend the symphony. Why am I alone in my generation, often the sole representation of youthful vigor? Am I the only kid who appreciates the beauty of a magnificent painting in the sounds of music?
Week two of the Phoenix Symphony’s Rachmaninov Musical Festival started tonight and I have eagerly anticipated the performance. I am wearing my personal best: a slim black tie, white button-down, dark silk suspenders, tailored slacks, and polished leather shoes. “At least I don’t stand out with my attire,” I think as I take my seat. Almost everyone else has dressed up as well; even suit jackets are not uncommon despite the warm Arizona weather. Folding my seat down and sinking into its soft cushion, I cringe at the wrinkles I know I am making in my crisp, ironed clothes. Glancing at the program I was handed upon entrance, I learn that the pianist is a Russian female Olga Kern. In her early thirties, Olga is the closest person in age to me at the event. I chuckle to myself at how out of place I am, an 18-year-old kid, all dressed up and alone in a hall of thousands of senior citizens. This clown has nowhere to hide.
Applause fills the air as the members of the symphony and their conductor enter the hall. Every man is wearing a black tuxedo; the women are wearing tight-fitting, plain black dresses. As they take their seats and prepare their instruments, a crimson red dress flutters from the side door and the applause redoubles. The woman of the hour casually, yet purposefully, walks onto the stage. Her beaming smile, wavy blond hair, and violent red dress stand at sharp contrast with the rest of her surroundings. She is a ray of light and warmth, full of energy, a beautiful rose in a stoic courtroom. After bowing to the crowd and taking her seat at the piano, Olga nods her head at the conductor and the music begins.
Hands floating over the keyboard with effortless grace, the artist begins her artwork. Drawn into the world of the music, I close my eyes and relax, allowing the sounds to carry me wherever they please on their ever-changing waves. Music is like a painting. The sounds of music paint on my emotional canvas, just like a brush applies paint to a physical surface. As I watch the conductor wave his baton through the air I see Da Vinci sweeping his brush in equally elegant motions. The music score is Monet’s color palate. Music can be mixed, layered, and blotted on the canvas of your emotions. Just like a real painting has bright colors and smooth lines, so music uses major keys and sweeping melodies to convey a happy and gentle attitude. Similarly, shadows and sharp lines are found in the quiet minor harmonies and staccato rhythms.
As I recline in my seat and immerse myself in the three movements, I begin to focus on specific instruments instead of on the symphony as a whole. Zooming in on the brushstrokes, I examine the whole scene. The tympani in the back, I realize, is the depth of a shadow, percussion, the rhythmic framework of objects. The rise and fall of the violin bows produce a geographical setting for the piece, grassy fields, a gentle river, or a mountainous background. The flutes and wind instruments sound like birds and gusts of wind. The trumpets and tubas invoke a grand or royal attitude of powerful colors and bold shapes. Finally, the piano is the melody the rest of the performers focus on. In a concerto, the piano score is the main character or object of interest in a painting, the entity that all else revolves around.
It is nearing the end and Olga is sweating at the brow. The song builds from a quiet, slow melody into a violently vast and attacking cadenza. As she sweeps up and down the piano for her last run the concert crescendos into its finale. I jump to my feet and applaud with zeal along with the elderly. In the forty-five minutes that have slipped by in my rapt attention I had completely forgotten my awkward youthfulness.
Now I see why I am an exception to the rule. The youthful energy and color of life have drained from the elderly. Now they need the beauty and wonderful magic of music to paint that picture of passion and vibrant life they had in their youth. Their clothing may be black and white and their hair grey, but the seniors in the hall were not bland. They are taking the opportunity to continue painting the beauty of music on their life canvas.
My classical musical upbringing has taught me that music is a painting of emotions, essential to the well-rounded life of any human. Many youth miss this important aspect of existence until it is almost too late. Instead, we choose to pursue lower forms of pleasure: stick figure drawings instead of magnificent wall murals. Trendy pop songs are simple stick figures and classical works are the wonderful paintings we ignore. Although some will say that personal preference determines true beauty, there is no arguing that a Beethoven symphony is more beautiful than any rap song, maybe not as appreciated by some, but unquestionably more wonderfully complicated and awe-invoking.
Loud chatter ripples through the crowd as we stand up and exit the hall. Sore bodies groan as joints crack. I hear the shuffle of thousands of feet brushing on the carpet floor. The physical energy of the elderly has been vastly augmented. I see the youthful enjoyment of life in the eyes of the aged man bent over his cane. I see zeal in the face of a grandmother. I see the fire of love in an old couple. The music has invigorated them and stirred feelings and emotions of their younger days. I see it now. Music has rekindled their feelings of youth and strengthened their passion for beautiful art. Although their paintings have become worn out, bleached from exposure to life, their appreciation for classical music helps revive them. Music is one of the ways to repaint and refresh one’s canvas, regardless of one’s age. One day I will be a part of that sea of grey, where I hope to see many splashes of color all around me.

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