Thursday, August 30, 2007

Music Under the Stars

Last week we attended the Fredericksburg Community Concert Band’s annual “Music Under the Stars” concert, which at 7 pm on an August evening didn’t even come close to being under the stars. The band is a mix of musical talents, from more seasoned musicians (including a number of music teachers) to high school students, and the membership changes from concert to concert, so you never quite know what you’re going to get. They play a pretty accessible program without many surprises: marches, swing numbers, show tunes and theme songs.

The concert was pleasant enough, but not particularly noteworthy, so here I will digress a bit, and ponder about the meaning of the standing ovation. To me, a standing ovation is given when a performance exceeds all expectations. You stand when you are completely blown away. These days, I find that standing ovations are given at almost every performance, regardless of how good or not-so-good it was. The sixth grade string band, sawing painfully away at Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star, gets a standing ovation. Every high school play I’ve been to ends with a standing ovation. And yes, this concert ended with a standing ovation as well, which left me a bit perplexed. I thought at first that the audience was just standing up to leave, but no, this was a bonafide standing O. Now, the Fredericksburg Band is a fine group of musicians, and we enjoyed the entertainment. But although enjoyable, it did not really exceed expectations. The standing ovation has become completely devalued. It signifies nothing more than “Bravo–you finished.” We especially give standing ovations to anything our kids do, leading them to believe, I’m sure, that every single thing they do is extraordinary. Now sometimes, kids can legitimately surprise you. And I’m willing to give the standing O to any performer who exceeds expectations, even if it’s a 6th grade violinist who is the best 6th grade violinist I’ve ever heard—I don’t expect them to sound like pros. But people, please—stop standing for everything! It makes the standing ovation meaningless, and when you want to really reward an extraordinary performance, there will be no way to show it. And if you see an able-bodied couple at a Fredericksburg performance who stays seated at the end of the program, it’s a good bet it will be us.

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