My older boy plays the trombone. I played the trombone when I was a child, and tried to talk him out of it when he proposed to do likewise. Social Services eavesdroppers please take note: I didn't actually threaten him with physical violence. Of course, me committing ritual suicide over it is a kind of violence, but still...
He went his own way by following in my footsteps -- if that's possible. And he stuck to it. And yesterday, he made his parents proud.
Relax, dear readers; I'm not going to tell you how my kid is a phenom, aren't I, um, I mean, isnt he swell? My boy participates, and does his best, which isn't bad; and through a combination of effort by him and his peers and the efforts of his musical teachers, he and his compatriots are pretty good. And without any ringers, or savants, or poor little charges chained to their pianos by their grasping grabby parents, they were among the forty or so gold medal winners in the Massachusetts Instrumental and Choral Conductors Association competition. They competed, and were chosen from among tens of thousands of children who participated, to play at either Boston Symphony Hall or Worcester's Mechanic's Hall. The parents were able to vote for which location they'd like to see their kids at, and the general consensus here in town was: Mechanics Hall.
At first blush, I was unimpressed. By "unimpressed," I mean that when four or five of my fellow parents were able to pry my fingers off the neck of the first person who wanted to skip the opportunity to have our children perform at BOSTON FREAKING SYMPHONY HALL, I calmed down and became interested in Mechanic's Hall in Worcester.
It's better. Here's why:
Mechanic's Hall is a magnificent and important place, but I'm not going to beat around the bush here: Worcester's a dump. Mechanic's Hall is one of the few things in it worth a mention. Worcester's not an exciting dump, even; you can walk right down the street with your wallet in your pocket and your children on your hand and not be particularly worried about being robbed or killed or something. It's really not interesting enough to be dangerous. And you can walk right down the street there literally too, right down the middle of the street if you felt like it, because there's no one there to run you over. Why would you go to Worcester?
Worcester is the second biggest city in Massachusetts, and New England too, I think; I don't care enough about it to find out if it's bigger than Hartford, Connecticut, because that's like saying you're the world's tallest midget anyway. Boston, The Hub, has about 650,000 people in it, and for perspective, one hundred years ago it had about 650,000 people in it. Worcester's likewise been running in place -- or backwards -- like most of New England and Boston since my ancestors ditched Ireland and the famine for the mail boat to Canada, and drifted down to Massachusetts.
But Worcester used to be an important place. It might be again; who knows? It's cleaner and has more activity that doesn't look like "Sodom and Gomorrah Light" than it did twenty years ago. And at least Worcester, in the aggregate, had the good sense to collect five million dollars or so to save Mechanic's Hall, when its former owners tired of simply humiliating its sterling memory by hosting professional wrestling and roller derby in its magnificent Great Hall and decided to tear it down to put up a pornographic bookstore/parking garage or something.
The word "mechanic" is not understood by the modern reader in its original form, and is usually identified solely with persons who tinker with cars for $125.00 per hour now. But the word originally encompassed the entire spectrum of tradesman and mechanical and artistic workers. People who deal in contracts for construction see the word often, referring to all sorts of people. I asked my ten year old, as we were walking down the street towards the hall, if he knew any mechanics. He pondered, and fooled his old man by not being fooled: "Yes, you Dad!"
Worcester is in the center of the Blackstone River Valley and was an early Industrial Revolution powerhouse. Various civic minded citizens decided to do more than just make money and live in Worcester. They thought in terms of the ennoblement of their city and their fellow man as well. Here's why they said they founded the association on November 27th, 1841, and decided to build the hall:
[The association espouses the principles of] "the moral, intellectual and social improvement of its members; the perfection of the mechanical arts, and the pecuniary assistance of the needy."
Who's against that, exactly? They wished to exalt and serve the men and women who had made them wealthy, and from whose ranks they had sprung themselves.
So they built the magnificent Mechanic's Hall, which cost over $100,000, which was a tidy sum back then, in the popular Italian Renaissance Revival style. And they filled it with music, and politics, (Teddy Roosevelt spoke from its stage, as did Elizabeth Cady Stanton,) and held trade shows and many other important and plebeian affairs alike. Charles Dickins himself held forth from that stage.
You can see a fabulous 360 degree view of the Great Hall by clicking here.
Hannah Moore, the music director in my son's elementary school, deserves a lot of credit for her efforts. She's not getting rich teaching her charges, after all. She is manifestly devoted to what she's doing, and shows great good sense in understanding that choosing music with an ear towards entertaining the audience -- not gratifying any cranky musical worldview of the music director -- is the way to go. My boy's three year old brother sat rapt in attention while his brother played his three selections, and clapped excitedly when it was done. We tried to stay and listen to as many of the following acts as his attention span would allow, but the very next orchestra drove him out of the hall by playing harsh, atonal, loud, and disturbing music, because I suppose the musical director thought it was edgy. I bet it does bring an edge to the proceedings for the children participants to see everybody but your relatives fleeing for the exits when you're twenty bars in. When three year olds have more sense than you, you need to reexamine your priorities, sir.
But my boy and his brethren's Sousa was marvelous and entertaining, and as we walked back to the car, giddy with bright sunshine after Music Hall lighting and the event itself, I reminded my boy that he trod the same stage as Enrico Caruso, and Ella Fitzgerald, and Yo Yo Ma, and uncounted others that made the world, and then made the world a brighter place too.
He was too busy watching a pigeon, or skipping just so to miss the cracks in the sidewalk, or gaping at a passing car, or a jet contrail, or wondering why a bookstore would have the windows all blacked out to hear me. No matter. He'll know what it means to have been on that stage, when he's old -- like his father.