Going to a concert
Those who know that I renew my subscription to the KBS Symphony Orchestra every year and receive its program every month by mail may well presume that I have a very fine ear, ardent love and deep appreciation for classical music.
But no. I wish I had, but unfortunately, I don't. Although I try not to miss the monthly performance at Seoul Arts Center, I go to it for reasons other than music itself. I do not deny the fact that I have been a regular concertgoer for the last two decades or so.
It all started with the great and immortal names in the world of music, such as Beethoven, Schubert, Brahms and Mozart, but not with their works. I look back at the time with a bitter smile when it was physical torture for me to sit quietly and still to the end of a long symphonic work that usually consists of four movements. It was simply too long. Fortunately I have gone through the ordeal and arrived at the present level of a pleasant endurance and mild enjoyment.
I know well that I was born with very little musical talent to begin with. I had a good opportunity to learn to play the piano when I was young, but I failed. I could not read the musical notes, nor could I make my two hands play together harmoniously and simultaneously on the keyboard. Each played separately. I quit. Often I deeply regret the fact. What a comfort or an asset it would be now for me, if I could play the piano for myself! Old age, like children, needs something to play with alone.
Music, especially symphonic works for a large orchestra, is the most difficult subject for me to comprehend. Unlike other arts, such as literature, painting or sculpture, music is a permanent puzzle to me. I try to understand and appreciate it more deeply, but it constantly escapes my grasp. All works of art of any kind are a mystery and wonder, I know, but this invisible art of sounds, I find, comes first and foremost. It lies beyond my understanding.
To my admiration and envy, some say that they not only hear, but see, feel and imagine anything or everything in and through melodies - the flowing of the river, susurration of the wind through the woods, songs of the birds in springtime, azure skies, joy, sorrow, and fear. But to my despair and disappointment, I have not yet attained that state of enlightenment. I feel I am still far out of the world of music and have a long way to go to be in it.
As I said above, there is something other than music itself that drives me to the concert once a month. I like the place and the ambience the classical concert has and creates with the people gathering there. There is peace and order. I see quite another world and meet different people there. They look so leisurely in this busy world. They look soft and gentle and courteous. During the performance I even experience some religious piety there. I feel happy and proud to be one of them.
The procedure of a classical concert, especially the performance of a symphonic orchestra, has much in common with a religious ceremony. The conductor in the orchestra is like the high and renowned minister or priest who leads or presides over the religious rites. He seems to wield absolute authority and power in performing the day's rite or ceremony. It is a miracle to see so many hands and instruments act and move in unison following his direction.
I like the ritualistic elements and aspects of the concert. On the day of its monthly performance I take all pains and troubles to go to the concert properly. Even in hot summer I dress myself up in a white shirt and tie for the occasion, accompany my wife without fail and drive my car there. I do not forget to take the program with me as churchgoers carry a Bible with them.
I arrive early enough to eat dinner at the Mozart Hall, a fancy Western restaurant at the art center. I order and pay with my credit card, which is a very rare and unusual act. Usually my wife is supposed to pay all the expenses with her credit card at other occasions and places, simply because all the money I have earned belongs to her now and all the financial transactions are carried out by her, but I insist on paying here for the day because it is a special day for us.
No one knows except us two why we always have our seats reserved at the end of the ground floor of the performance hall, farthest from the orchestra but closest to the exit at the back. The seats are not only good and ideal for easy access and exit, but also for resting and relaxing. We can doze off with closed eyes, even sleep during the performance without disturbing or being noticed by other serious audience members.
The other advantage in our seats lies elsewhere. I know it is against common courtesy and decorum of concertgoers to leave the place in haste immediately after the last movement of the piece ends. It is like leaving a religious service before it has finished. I know I should remain in my seat applauding the conductor and the orchestra members and asking for encores until finally they all leave the stage, but usually I leave the place as quickly as possible, earlier than others, to take my car out first and fast from the underground parking lot. Often, nay, almost always, I commit this breach of etiquette due to the privilege of our seats at the back. Shame on me!