According to the unvarying schedule of my life, the first weekend in May means Im the master of ceremonies for the Minnesota Youth Symphonies concert at Orchestra Hall. Ive written about this before, at length. Since this was the third show of my fourth season, I think we can all sing along by now: big huge hall packed to the rafters, the daunting expanse of the stage, trepidation quickly yielding to ease, Awe at the Talent of Americas Earnest Youth, transitory elation, and an ironic coda where I end up at the grocery store in formalwear, buying cannned chili for a quick supper, proving I put my tux on one leg at a time like the next guy. Dont get me wrong - I love doing this, but what more can I say?
I wouldnt even bring it up except to note that it happened, but this time was different. I usually get the script the day before; I edit it down to key phrases and introduction lines. Theres no point writing my comments out, since I usually come up with what Im going to say five minutes before I go on stage. All I really need to know is what theyre playing. And when I looked at the playlist I was dumbfounded.
So I show up on Sunday. Miserable rainy day - good. Means a full house, perhaps. The first segment of the program went a bladder-taxing two hours; I think the collective force of all those patrons hitting the yawning porcelain maws must have moved the building half an inch to the south. But it had been a good show so far - the orchestras played well, the interstitial bits were short, and there was a nice little presentation for Manny and Claudette on their 15th anniversary with the MYS. Intermission.
Then came the second half.
There were over 400 people on stage. The Symphony Orchestra and two choirs, all arrayed to perform the last movement of Mahler #2, the Resurrection. That alone would have been an honor to introduce, since Mahler has always been my favorite composer. When I was in high school I used to dream of conducting this piece - well, standing on stage with all its raw materials in repose was close enough. But first was a new piece, a premier of a work written by a local composer Carl Schroeder. A piece called Christines Lullaby.
Christine was the two-year old girl who got on a plane with her Mommy and Daddy. They were going to Disneyland. Off to see Mickey.
The plane was hijacked and driven into the south tower of the World Trade Center.
Ive written about her before - of all the horrible tales of that day, this one affects me the most. Its almost unbearable to consider. Your mind gets close to what happened, to what the parents and their daughter felt, and you cant help but push it away. The fear, the sorrow, the love, the rage - a ghastly fugue played at a volume you could have never imagined. Many of us have a small burned corner of our hearts where its always 9/11; its where we keep the stories forged in that foundry of evil and pain. I dont know what yours is, but Cristines story is the story that defines that day, and makes me unable to speak.
My job today was to introduce this piece of music.
Dedicate it to Christine.
Dedicate the performance to her grandparents, who were in the audience.
Then introduce the Resurrection symphony.
You get handed these duties, these moments of honor that tremble in your hands like a soap bubble, and its your role to show it to everyone else, to keep your hands steady, to make sure it doesnt shudder and vanish before its time. I went on stage, said what I had to say, didnt lose it, then sat in a corner and listened to the piece. The composer used the Barney music, which Christine loved, which Gnat sings distractedly some days.
I love you. You love me. Were a happy family.
I dont think the audience breathed until it was over.
After the show I met the grandparents. Sweet, decent people. I carry that music here now said her grandmother.
And she put her hand over her heart.
The Strib's article on this composition can be found here. Go.