Last week I did something that I hadn’t done since February of 2020; I conducted a live-to-film concert. (ie, a movie shown with a live orchestra playing the entire soundtrack. For those of you who have never been, I can’t recommend it enough – it adds immeasurably to the movie experience!)
Live-to-film is my specialty as a conductor, and if 20-21 were a normal performance season, I would most likely have spent 10-12 weeks on these kinds of shows. They are my bread and butter. I can’t express to you how much I’ve missed doing them.
While I really enjoy these concerts as a performer, what brings me true gratification is seeing audience members in the concert hall (or in this case an outdoor amphitheater) who have had little or no previous exposure to live orchestral music. The whole orchestra experience is foreign, and they aren’t entirely sure what to expect. But invariably, when we start to play, people are absolutely thrilled by the glorious sounds emanating from the stage.
And the audience that night was thrilled. The movie was Toy Story, with an absolute delight of a score by Randy Newman. And as I glimpsed the elated faces as the orchestra and I faced the applause, I was struck how much I missed creating moments of joy for others.
Humans are communal creatures, yet 21st century culture has us spending less and less time gathering in person – I often say that religion, sports and music are the last communal activities left to us. And of course the social isolation of the pandemic has exacerbated this separation from each other. We need to be together to thrive.
I’m often told “oh it must be so wonderful to do something you love”, and I don’t deny that making music is deeply fulfilling for myself, personally! But it is also an act of service, because our charge as musicians is to craft moving and meaningful experiences for our audiences. Live music provides the space for celebration, for contemplation, for illumination, and creating this space is both the most essential function and the greatest satisfaction of us artists.
These last 18 months have been an extraordinary challenge on so many levels, but losing these moments of joy and reflection and connection has been by far the most crushing. And to witness this possibility again last week – it’s impossible to express how exhilarating it was for everyone present, both onstage and in the amphitheater. The evening was clear and cool, the film tugged at our hearts, the music was full of life, the energy was palpable. We were together, and for those two hours, everything was right with the world.