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My night at the Jackson symphony

Our friends B. and R. invited us on a double date recently. Thirty years have passed since the last time my husband and I tried one of those, and that particular double date, which involved dinner at the Cock of the Walk and a dance somewhere off campus (Mississippi College did not allow dances), resulted in a trip to the altar. I wondered how these friends could top that.

R. texted me a week in advance with the plan: pickup at 4, ritzy dinner at 5, symphony at 7:30. Not a bad plan, I had to admit, especially the ritzy part, which translated into veal parmesan for my date and a cappuccino brownie a la mode for me.

The best, however, was yet to come.

Let me clarify up front that I am far from being an arts elitist, nor am I well-versed in the original works of Romanticism. Truth be told, the closest I’ve ever been to a great composer was 20th row, center stage at a Barry Manilow concert in the 1980s. But I can appreciate live music as well as the next person who took five years of piano lessons, and the Mississippi Symphony Orchestra’s performance on this evening in question, dear readers, was the sound of solace.

It began with the entrance of Conductor Crafton Beck, long and lean in a classic tux and horn-rimmed glasses. (Now if Crafton Beck isn’t the perfect name for a conductor, I don’t know what is.) The first piece to be played was the national anthem, so we all rose to our feet. No one, as far as I could tell, took the knee.

Next came an overture, a scherzo and a march. “Symphonie Fantastique” followed. All were the works of 19th century composer Hector Berlioz, who was, it seems, a tortured soul. We knew this because the program notes told us of “fevered emotions” and opium-induced visions. Ok, so I could’ve done without the background story. But that didn’t stop the strains of Berlioz’s masterpiece from awakening my senses, measure by delicious measure.

By all accounts, it was a tender, yet wrenching, performance. As the musicians finally held their stance and the maestro slowly lowered his arms, I could not help but wonder: Why is it that music can cut to the soul so?

Maestro Manfred Honeck, who leads the Pittsburgh Symphony, points out the effect can be double-edged. “I know it’s a little bit politically not correct what I say, but I believe there is a part of music which does not heal,” he once told reporters. “I believe if you consume a certain type of music, the danger to get depressions is very high. If Mozart and Bach have a positive influence on the healing process, then we might also consider the other part.”

Yes, yes, and amen.

And I found that the sound of positive music is especially nice when its performers are just yards away, or perhaps I should polish my words in accord with the setting: the acoustic superiority I observed in relation to my proximity to the instrumentalists was undeniable.

I also found that it is very good to go to the symphony with those in the know about things like acoustics. B. and R. are season ticket holders, and as such, understand when it is appropriate to clap. They wore black, too, like 95 percent of those in attendance at Thalia Mara Hall. “Black makes you disappear, leaving only the music,” R. explained to me in a whisper, her eyes scanning the audience.    

I admit I had been concerned about the being-still-for-two-hours part. I don’t do still very well. But neither does the trombone player at the back of the stage, who could be seen stomping his foot to the rhythm. The guy with the cymbals did his fair share of rocking back and forth, too, and near the end, the violinists were almost violent with motion. With such things to watch, who would notice if I slipped off my stilettos for a moment’s reprieve?

Who indeed, because when the lights came back up, my heels were back on, and I realized that we had not only been privy to an excellent performance, but we had shared something that could never be repeated. The sounds of a symphony become history as they die away, but not so unlike a double date that lingers long in the memory and sweetens over time.

Wesson resident Kim Henderson is a freelance writer who writes for The Daily Leader. Contact her at kimhenderson319@gmail.com.