Sunday, November 21, 2004

The British Amateur 2: The Music Society

It's one of those funny things about Britain: the only thing you can take for granted when you go anywhere smallish to give a concert is that it will be cold. And that nobody will have thought to put heating on earlier in the day to warm the place up in time. Yesterday was one of the coldest days we've had in Britain this year. We turned up for Beloved Clara to find that in the school hall a bottle of champagne could have chilled itself to perfection unaided on the piano keyboard. Lucy and the actors were huddling backstage in the Geography Room, wearing their coats, when Tom and I arrived - and their initial, tentative inquiry 'Any chance of a cup of tea?' had been met with the bizarre response: 'NO.' (One did turn up, mysteriously, later on.)

Tom is his orchestra's health and safety representative: it's his job, when the LPO meets chilly conditions, to do something about it. Old habits die hard, so he turned the full force of which he is capable on the poor, unsuspecting person who was supposed to have dealt with this earlier but hadn't. It's not for nothing that they nickname our Tom "General Eisnerhower"... First they brought down several blowy heaters and put them near the piano, which was fine for 30 seconds until the fuse blew. And only then, somehow, somewhere, somebody was finally raised, I think through sheer terror of Tom, to flick the switch that put the heating on in the hall. By the interval, I was just about ready to remove my gloves - and I was only listening. I don't know how Lucy managed to move her fingers - but somehow she did, and, I'm glad to say, very beautifully indeed.

When Tom and I go anywhere to do a concert, we take the following kit with us:

2 lamps, one to sit on the piano, one for Tom's music stand
An extension lead
At least one adapter
A small blowy or two-bar heater
A thermos flask of coffee

I think we may need to add draught excluder and fingerless gloves to the list.

Over in the States, what is the comparable situation - if it is indeed comparable? Over in Germany, Norway, France, Lithuania, Holland, indeed everywhere where you, dear readers, may be, how do things match up? Is the mentality the same - nobody takes responsibility and f-ups occur at every intervening stage before things prove, as they always miraculously seem to, all right on the night? Here there seems to be a predominant sense that if you insist something is done properly, you are somehow not terribly British. I am not trying to malign amateur music-making itself, which is a fine and life-enhancing tradition. Amateurish organisation, however, stops only just short of sabotage - and is really rather silly.