Front Row Reviewers

Mar 18, 2020 | Extras, Musings

The Arts: A Call to Adventure

Front Row Reviewers

Front Row Reviewers

By Kathryn Olsen

One memorable summer, I auditioned for a musical theater revue. It was a fundraiser for the Huntsman Cancer Institute and featured everything from Disney to Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II. I thought it would be a nice way to fill my evenings after work and I even got to play the genie from Aladdin.

By the time the show went on, things had changed. They needed a concertmistress for the pit orchestra and someone who already knew the music for The Music Man who could also dance. I was violinist, library dancer, town gossip, genie, bar wench, chimney sweep, and the choreographer/backup singer/dancer for the “Benjamin Calypso” from Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. It was the most fun I’d had in years keeping it all straight.

More importantly, it was a life-saver that summer. A few weeks into rehearsals, I was laid off and spent several weeks trying to find a job. The time-filler gave me a reason to leave the house and the support that kept me feeling appreciated until I was hired again.

This personal anecdote reminds me of people in far worse circumstances. It’s reported that during the Siege of Leningrad, which lasted over two years and is the longest siege in recorded history, life came to a standstill as starvation took its toll and daily bombing raids killed many of the citizens. Still, the radio stations continued broadcasting recordings of orchestral works. Dmitri Shostakovich, whose Symphony No. 7 (“Leningrad”) was used to rally aid for the imperiled Soviets during the war, made markings in that symphony’s score of every time his composition was interrupted by an air raid. It was played while the city was still surrounded by German troops.

It can’t be denied that there are many degrees of separation between my need for a pick-me-up and Shostakovich’s symphony for a besieged city, just as there are many levels of skill between the first note a child plays on a piano and the level at which they can play Rachmaninoff concertos. As a reviewer, I often say that my reviews sound like I’m being graded on my ability to analyze whatever was performed that evening and the simple reason is that I grew up with a mother who taught piano and have taken classes in which I was graded on my analysis of a piece of music.

The Arts never demand an advanced degree or even any training to participate in their enjoyment. It’s true that when I go to the ballet, I often bring a friend who got her degree in dance. The friend I have season tickets to the symphony is a violinist and soprano. But I don’t bring them because of their ability to geek out over a properly-done fouette or Thierry Fischer‘s interpretation of Antonin Dvorak‘s “New World” Symphony.

The reason why I always bring a +1 to the events I attend is that it is an inherently community experience to enjoy the Arts. Several years ago, I got two tickets to Swan Lake and my friend admitted that she had never been to the ballet before. Flabbergasted, I apologized for never thinking to share it with her and we now go to The Nutcracker every year. Because I will never stop finding new things to enjoy in the Arts, I am grateful to friends who invite me to step outside of my comfort zone and go to a photography exhibit showing rescue dogs or an a capella country concert.

Participation in and enjoyment of the Arts is a call to adventure. My mother says she once woke me up to watch the Israeli Philharmonic perform Ludwig van Beethoven‘s Symphony No. 9 on TV. I more clearly remember the day that I sat in the car in my own driveway for fourteen minutes because a piece had just come on WCRB (Boston’s classical radio station) and Mom insisted that I not miss it. It was the Symphony No. 5 by Shostakovich and I now can’t remember the last time she and I didn’t get tickets to hear it. She’s also the one who drove me to piano and violin lessons, got me into community theater, and once tricked me into being a better pianist by teaching me a difficult technique that turned out to be a valuable skill.

The Arts are often sublime and thought-provoking, but there is joy to be found in absurdity and comedy. It’s a joy to see an elementary school student get notes wrong in their first recital and have them take your breath away when they’ve found their voice years later. No matter how you participate in them, there is something magical in the Arts and magic is best used when it’s shared.

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