SF Symphony: Music for Ordinary Citizens

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Today's outdoor SF Symphony concert in Justin Herman Plaza was fun and exciting, but for vastly different reasons than their usual concerts. The amplified sound quality was impeccable, and the playing was great, but - most importantly - the Symphony got to share their music with a much wider audience than they normally access.

The concert was markedly informal, even for famously-lax conductor Michael Tilson Thomas, and its outdoor nature added a fresh flavor of unpredictability. At one point, Tilson Thomas held a particular note for 15 seconds when the wind flipped a page in his score. A few moments later, he continued conducting with his right hand, while reaching over and grabbing a binder clip from the concertmaster's music stand.

The general atmosphere of the concert was also dramatically unpredictable. Sirens and horns mixed periodically with Beethoven and Berlioz, and bells from the Ferry Building delayed the start of two separate pieces (at the hour and half-hour). Add that to the mixed audience of families, businesspeople on their lunch breaks, schoolchildren, homeless people, and one guy in a baseball cap tap-dancing along to the music, and you've got yourself a cross-section of San Francisco's population.

Still, I'm not sure that the schoolchildren were a good choice for this event. While I (obviously) encourage schools to involve students in the arts, especially music, these students were utterly uninterested in the concert. Instead, the students - from the Edison Charter Academy - amused themselves by pushing each other and walking back and forth across the pathway. I don't blame them, sitting in direct sun in the broiling heat, but I do blame their teachers, clicking away on their Blackberries and completely ignoring both the concert and their students. Perhaps the Edison Charter Academy should do a better job of choosing locations for their field trips, and the teachers (do you need a credential to teach at a charter school?) should pay more attention to their kids' experience. It's never a bad thing to admit that a field trip isn't working, and take the kids to go look at the water instead...

(Cross-posted with an alternate ending at the East Bay Arts and Culture Review.)

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