Tonight was the night! I dressed formal, vaguely remembering how to tie a Windsor knot. Then Renato and I headed to the London airport. Thirty white chairs sat in the concourse. Slowly they filled … with musicians from the former Orchestra London. When they lost their government funding, the organization went into bankruptcy, but many of the members continued playing as the We Play On Orchestra..
In front of the podium hung a red sign: “Conduct Us!” So we did. Young and old and medium. Musicians and novices. Those with confidence and those shaking in their boots.
When it was my turn, I took the baton from the concertmaster (the number one violinist), stepped onto the podium, tapped the music stand and raised my arms. Smiles from many of the players. Then we were off, into some fast Christmas piece whose name I can’t remember. I swirled my arms during the loud parts and pulled in my limbs during the tender sections. I was a conductor! And I was enthralled. A female violinist to my left kept grinning. Actually she did so for every one of the conductors, maybe thirty in all. Oh, bliss! I had so looked forward to tapping that stand and directing such immensely talented musicians. Dreams do come true.
Here are a few of my favourite moments:
- A little boy doesn’t want to take off his baseball cap off when conducting. A helpful adult turned it around so we could see his face. Then he gave ‘er.
- A young woman in a green down coat clearly had never done this before but soldiered on with a huge smile adorning her face throughout. Wild applause from her friends standing at the back.
- A 2-year-old girl wearing a pink toque is carried by her mom and together they lead the orchestra. Later, when another child was on the podium, the little one kept conducting in the wings, using a pink straw to great effect.
- A man in his twenties keeps a steady beat while his girlfriend films the whole thing. When the piece was over, he sat down beside her. They held hands and she leaned her head against his neck.
- As her young daughter conducts, mom holds her cell phone high and just beams love. An eternal smile … ecstasy beyond words.
- An elderly man gives it his all. His technique was muted, a little bit jerky, but the universe doesn’t care. He led. The musicians followed. It was good.
- A 10-year-old girl grabs the baton and jerks it up and down with gusto, then starts dancing mid-performance. The podium survived nicely.
Throughout, the concertmaster welcomed each conductor, encouraging the nervous ones, and letting the folks with more confidence do their thing. Instruments came alive in the hands of professional Christmas celebrators. Violin, cello, viola, double bass, trumpet, trombone, bassoon, clarinet, drums, and others not remembered – all were happy to be there. So were the throngs coming in on the latest flight and their loved ones there to pick them up. A fine time was had by all.
“God bless us, every one”