Would you attend a 10-minute concert where it’s just you and a solo musician? Emma Grey did, and called it a “sacred exchange”.
I’d had a ‘day’. One of my kids had passed out during a blood test, I’d had a work deadline to meet and had broken away from that to attend the kind of parent-teacher interview that makes you feel like you’re standing at the foot of Everest without a map.
I’d emailed the psych, driven with the third kid to pick up the fainter’s car outside the pathology collection place, dropped everyone home and turned around to drive from Googong to Gorman House to be the sole audience member in a 1:1 concert performed by a surprise artist.
A concert with only you and the performer in the room is not the sort of thing you can get out of at the last moment because you’re overstretched. What was one more person wanting a piece of my fractured attention, anyway? It was only for ten minutes.
I could do this, then race home, supervise homework, cook dinner, and so on, and so forth, until I’d inevitably crawl into bed, too late, for the eleventieth night in a row.
The intimate concert series, originally a German initiative, was organised in Australia by Canberra-raised flautist, Sally Walker. The series sends a sign of solidarity (and financial relief) to freelance musicians who lost their income once audiences were no longer allowed to gather.
You’re greeted at the venue by a host, who shows you into the recital space and to a chair two metres away from a musician whose identity has remained a surprise until that moment. Without exchanging a single word, the experience begins with one minute of silent, unbroken eye contact between the two of you.
Had I stared into the eyes of anyone at all for a full minute at any point in the last four and a half years since my husband died? I couldn’t remember. And these were the eyes of a complete stranger. Could he read my grief over Jeff’s upcoming fifth missed birthday? Was he intuiting the angst of my day? The health dramas? The rushing?
I don’t think so. He was calm. Centered. Fully present for the music. We were only a minute in. The music hadn’t even begun and already I realised this was a ‘sacred’ exchange.
Three instruments lay at the performer’s feet. Two types of guitar and something I later discovered was a ‘shakuhachi’ (a Japanese bamboo flute). He performed three pieces. An Iraqi Jewish Sabbath morning prayer, a composition for Canberra, and a tune that is 700-900 years old, celebrating Jewish liberation from Egypt.
The ten minutes we spent in that room felt disconnected from time. It was such an uncommon privilege to be the sole witness to someone honouring music, and fellow musicians, this deeply. The concept of 1:1 concerts is loaded with meaning from this moment in history: the social distancing we’ve been forced to adopt; the support for musicians whose work fell through once audiences could no longer gather.
The identity of the performer is revealed after the concert has ended. I had been entertained by Associate Professor Kim Cunio, Head of the ANU School of Music, and an extraordinarily accomplished research composer. Professor Cunio’s music has been played around the world — at the Whitehouse, the United Nations, the Olympics … and for me.
Speaking with the host after the event, she explained that a woman in the concert before mine had left in tears. She wasn’t going to come, she was so busy with work, and the experience was so special it undid her.
One day, my future grandchildren might ask for my top pandemic memories. I’ll talk of teddy bears in windows and having ‘bonus time’ with adult children at home. I’ll speak of dancing to ABBA, the kitchen table swamped with jigsaw pieces and TAFE hairdressing mannequins, and my work and home learning from Year 4 and 3rd-year uni. I’ll tell them of autumn rambles five kilometres from home, of nursing home visits to wave at my parents on their balcony. And I’ll tell them about the time a world-renowned composer gave me a concert for one, and rescued a difficult day.
While the concert series is almost complete, donations are welcome to the fund for Freelance Artist Relief.
Feature image: Peter Hislop