Day 394, April 15, 2021

Liminal Space 

Tonight's soundtrack: Beethoven, Symphony No.7, Boston Symphony Orchestra, 1989, Tokyo, Japan

I cannot remember the first time I heard a symphony because I was always immersed in the sounds, smells, and flavors of the orchestra. I grew up with Tanglewood and Symphony Hall as my playground. It was a liminal childhood experience passing back and forth from musicians and audience. 

My dad, circa 1989.

Walking in the musician's entrance at Symphony Hall, once you passed the friendly guard, it felt like when you used to be able to visit the Statue of Liberty and climb the insides up to the crown, or the similar vintage subway stations for the T. Backstage was cavernous and filled with giant dark storerooms filled with sarcophagi-like flight cases for basses and harps, starkly lit fluorescent snack rooms with vending machines and ashtrays, and in the upper levels, rows and rows of lockers tucked in every passage and landing. Some lockers were decorated with stickers of Bud Man and such things. It felt every bit like the gym locker room of a sports team with similar ribald conversation that was hushed, or not, when a small child traipsed by climbing the endless maze of stairs that rose like scaffolding through the naked steel girders of the building. 

Emerging from back stage to the halls leading into the audience seating was always such a surprising shift.  It felt like stepping into hallowed ground where the floors were suddenly carpeted and the heavy doors were lined with padded leather to cut down on the sound. There were the ushers who were always wary of an unaccompanied child, and of course all the patrons who exhibited every degree of stodginess, completely unaware that just behind the door at the end of the hall, the musicians were trading naughty jokes or eating egg salad sandwiches.

I loved sitting in that hallowed hall, the velvet and leather textures, the gold leaf plaster, the marble sculptures, the grandeur of one of the best sounding spaces that exists on this planet. As much as I looked at the musicians, I would also stare up at the balconies, down at the floor, at the television camera operators, all the microphones dangling in mid-air, each microphone one connected via cable to bigger cables, ultimately running through cables thick as my arm out into a satellite truck out on the side street off of Huntington Ave. 

Usually, I was also very nervous. My seat was usually a contingent one, where if someone came with a ticket, I would hop up and apologize and try to shuffle off to another unoccupied space. In some regards, I suppose I was a stowaway, riding away on Beethoven's 7th, until cornered and moved along, then I'd duck back out into the hallway and move up a level, or across the way to find another open seat while mumbling my way past ushers. 

Back then, things were different, and I suppose people shrugged off a small child slipping in alone amidst the balcony seats. 

Somewhere along the way, the metal lockers were replaced with more elegant wood lockers and the carpeting extended back stage. It is much brighter back there now too and feels more elegant, like there is a different degree of respect for the musicians. I imagine there are still egg sandwiches and funny stories, but there is a part of me that misses that grittiness of smoke and grease stained steel beams, exposed asbestos, and Bud Man stickers.

My father is back at work now, in one of his final years before he retires. They play for an empty hall except for the cameras while they wait out the pandemic. I hope to accompany him at least few more times back through the side street entrance and into the bowels of Symphony Hall. I want to peer through the stage doors out at the great hall, and watch as my father and his friends change from their street clothes to tuxedos and transform from ordinary people who go fishing, watch stars through telescopes, drink too much wine, go mushroom hunting, eat fine sushi, garden, and then, in stepping through the doorway onto the stage are transformed into an incredible musicians performing in an incredible symphony.

Take care and be well,


Franklin stretching by the new bike.


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