“…people talking, people laughing, a man selling ice cream, singing Italian songs…” [skrrrraaa-tccchhhh] Lift the needle on the turntable, there’s no need to continue down this golden oldie path from 1972 paved with the lilting sounds of Robert Lamm and Peter Cetera. People weren’t singing Italian songs, but were speaking in French. And it wasn’t the fourth of July. It was the twenty-fifth of May, and I got stuck in a fierce and windy rain walking through the Jardin du Luxembourg. But it was Saturday, and I was in a park. Can you dig it? Yes you can…
Like the countless other people who were in the same predicament I was in, I took cover under a collection of trees, most of which are by now bushy with lots of leaf-coverage and providing some respite from the numerous spring rains in Paris. After ten minutes loitering under some trees on the westside, admiring two tennis players play through the torrent, I darted across the garden, in front of the senate building and the soaking wet security guards, with my umbrella flipping inside-out repeatedly, until I got to the eastside.
There, I cosied up to another group of people who were waiting out the rain, when I noticed a group of people gathering around a nearby gazebo. I checked it out, and discovered an orchestra tuning up for a concert. It was cold, about 40 degrees Fahrenheit, and still raining. Nevertheless folks of all ages were there, umbrellas in hand, waiting for the music.
In an ironic gesture to the winter-like weather enveloping Paris right now, I expected to hear Stravinsky’s Le Sacre du printemps (in any case, the song is ubiquitous in this city in the springtime, written as it was for the 1913 Paris season of S. Diaghilev’s “Ballets Russes” dance company).
It turns out, however, the orchestra was short a few players. They were waiting on a trombonist, whom I saw hurriedly arrive by bus, and a couple other players (of which instruments, I don’t know). I couldn’t wait around to see the show unfortunately. But I was able to capture a few minutes of the players warming up and the conductor checking the tune of each section of his team. I actually enjoy this part of a symphony quite a lot, almost as much as the performance itself: all of the players blurting out sounds discordantly, and yet it’s never painful or irritating to hear. It’s especially satisfying when, after listening to the musicians tuning up individually, a collective silence abruptly descends on the group, and then the formal start of the first piece commences; the conductor’s carriage becomes composed, determined, and decidedly indicative; sonic discordance becomes congruous and harmonious music. It’s magical, really.
In the end, I caught only the warm up. So I neither saw nor heard the transition to the musical score. I don’t even know what program the distinguished looking group eventually played. But perhaps you’ll enjoy this critical prelude to the show as much as I did.