As much as I wanted to stay in last night as I was drifting to sleep at 6:30pm on a cold, dark, rainy, windy eve… I put on pants, left the house, got on the orange line, met my friend Scott on the Berri Uqam platform, traveled together on the green line to Homa, got off and walked up the empty street and into what seemed like a big deserted stone building.
A couple of people check our vaccine passports, and then usher us into a big, dark, smokey room- where black stools are arranged in a single line around the perimeter of an empty pool. We hear musicians warming up, but can’t see them. We’re told by the usher, “If you want to go to the bathroom, it’s now or never!” so Scott wanders off while I twiddle around on my phone. I get a text from my friend Andrea: “I am right across from you!” I look up and see nothing but smoke- but I smile and do a big wave, assuming she’ll see it, her eyes having adjusted to the low light before mine.
Scott comes back from the bathroom and says, “there are more seats over this way, come on!” So I kindof shuffle my feet along the floor to make sure if some unexpected drop-off happens, I won’t blindly fall into it. At the far end of the pool, there is a platform with more light so I can see that there are maybe 10-12 people already sitting here- we keep going, and pass some more single file stools, and see Amy! And Jenn, and Yubin! And ah there’s Andrea and Thibeault! Suddenly I feel a rush of happiness and warmth and gratitude and belonging- how could I ever have stayed home when THIS was here!!
We talk for a few minutes about my new apartment- they all know Greg, the person who owns the place and lived there up until a few weeks ago, when he moved to Nova Scotia for a job in the same orchestra as my mom. “You have to have us over soon! We’re so curious what the place looks like now, what you’ve done with it!” But Scott and I have classically gotten here 2 minutes before the show was set to start, and have to cut the catch-ups short to take our seats as the music starts.
For the first 5 minutes, it’s just sounds- different harmonies and textures and timbres- different combinations of instruments- violin with horn with oboe, bass with clarinet, cello with flute with viola with bassoon. Then slowly just enough light fades in to vaguely make out the outlines of the musicians standing in a semi-circle at the bottom of the empty pool. We’ve got a (relatively) good view of our friends TJ, Amina and Anna. You can see the markers for length on the faded white brick: 5m, 10m, 15m, 20m… and I wonder when the last time this was used as an actual pool.
Nobody applauds after the first piece, we all implicitly know we must maintain the atmosphere- it’s too unique to cheapen with tradition. Each piece transitions seamlessly into the next, all creating a different soundscape for our imaginations to wander into- though, I’m only human and I can’t help but spend a fair amount of time analyzing what each musician is wearing- ooh sparkles!
The clarinetist blows some air through their instrument and Scott and I look at each other, smirking, wondering if it’s part of the music or just a clearing of spit- you never really know with contemporary music. But then later in the concert, we hear air blown very purposefully through the french horn, repeatedly in waves of three- starting loud and getting soft, like a mother SHH Shhh shhhhhshing a baby; or as a friend said after the show, a whale exhaling water out of its blowhole, giving us the feeling that we’re in the ocean.
After a long held chord, the lights go fully down, and then up- signalling that it is the end (we think?) of the show, and we are now allowed to clap! The musicians take their bows as we show them our appreciation- but then suddenly they’ve picked up their instruments and are playing the same piece that began the show. We fall into silence again- and the thought crosses my mind that maybe this is like one of those weird video games where they are going to keep cycling through the whole show, playing it over and over, until we figure out that we have to pull some lever or sing along to the melody in order for the concert to end- but then I think, no way the union would allow that.
I hear some thumps across the room and see that two people have gotten up and begun to leave the room- the concert isn’t over- how rude!! One of them takes their KEYS out and starts to jangle them around, like, repeatedly and loudly until the door slams behind them… what you couldn’t wait until you got outside to locate the key for you car that’s parked 6 blocks away?!? I look at Scott and do an exaggerated face-palm. Then another couple gets up to leave, tripping over a stool, mumbling loudly- and then another couple gets up and then another and it’s like a SLOW PROCESSION OF RUDENESS and we see the ushers going around to each person still sitting in the audience, silently motioning for them to leave… ohhhhhh. It’s part of the show. Okay now it’s cool!!! As Scott and I leave, I take my keys out and obnoxiously rattle them.
We’ve left the room but can still hear music wafting out from the door- and I get this image of the musicians being animatronic- mechanical puppets that don’t stop playing but rather, are unplugged- the engineer doesn’t want us to see that part. Scott and I stand in the front entry with all our friends and wait for the musicians to surface. All of the people who may have wandered into the show without knowing any of the musicians have left because of the strange procedure, and we comment on what a kindof bummer that is. But we remain: their friends, their fan-club; and we clap and woop loudly for every musician as they slowly trickle back out into real life.
A bunch of us end up getting a beer at a pub after, sharing smoked almonds and wasabi peas (all that was available to eat, unfortunately…) and we laugh and talk about writing and podcasts and auditions and moving and self-awareness and pets and chamber music and gay brunches and cross-continental long-distance relationships… and it’s wonderful. TJ drives Scott and I to the metro afterwards, and I catch maybe the 2nd last train home of the night, feeling like a badass for being out so late.
I never used to think twice about this kindof night before the pandemic, but now, I realize it’s nights like this- that make me feel alive.