One of the things that was still in my violin case when I opened it the other day was my practice chart from high school orchestra – you know, I record how much I’ve practiced, my mom initials it, and I turn it in each week. It also contains my grades on tests and concert reports.
The concert reports were our orchestra director’s way of forcing us all – or at least those of us concerned with getting a good grade in the class, which was definitely a concern of mine – to attend live music performances at least twice a semester. I probably had it easier than some others because my mother was always willing to drive me to hear the Olympia Symphony or a local string quartet or whatever. (Later, when I had a car, one of the things I was allowed to be out late for on school nights was music.)
I always struggled to come up with something to say, though, other than things along the lines of “it was very nice. I liked the second movement the best.” I remember attending a concert once that involved the Olympia Flute Choir, of which Mom was a member, playing in the rotunda of the state capitol building in Olympia. This building is faced with some kind of stone or stone-substitute on the inside, and in acoustic terms is basically a ginormous echo chamber. I definitely had something to say after this concert: “it was very loud.”
I was thinking about all this because it occurred to me after Wednesday’s song recital that now, eighteen years after the Great Flute Choir Headache of ’95, one of my primary occupations after my real job is writing concert reports. (Our orchestra director was a bit pompous, and I have to resist the urge to capitalize it: Concert Reports.) Looking back, I wish our orchestra director had provided a little more guidance as to what might go into a Concert Report or what a person might listen for. Maybe he thought we knew, or didn’t actually consider it all that important as long as we heard the performance – I’m not sure. I do remember my First Ever Critical Opinion, though. I had a CD that contained among other things Peter Warlock’s Capriol Suite (we had played parts of it in orchestra, and I liked it). I heard a different recording of it later on and my immediate reaction to this later one was “the first movement is too fast.” Unfortunately, it was not a live performance, so I couldn’t write a Concert Report about it. Missed opportunity, that.
(It occurs to me that the children of famous music critics and directors might be given some sort of party to mark such a developmental milestone as a First Critical Opinion. I did not get a party. I got an amused look from my mother and a suggestion that if I didn’t like it, I should go back and listen to the first recording instead.)