Saturday, August 8, 2009

The Jerk Rating System For Classical Music

My eyelids met like two old friends in a brief embrace before my head jerked back up to a position of supposed alertness. This was the third time that my chin hit my chest during a performance of the Canadian Opera Company's Verdi opera, La Forza Del Destino (the force of destiny). This performance gave rise to the 'Jerk Rating System' that I've carried with me to every classical concert or opera.

In the early days of my musical education, and by this I mean just after I married and moved to Toronto, there were a lot of jerk performances. My head hit the deck time after time, opera after opera. Nothing topped La Forza Del Destino, though. My record of three head jerks has stood for twenty years.

The head jerk, alternately known as the head dip, nod, or newborn head syndrome is nothing new to the classical musical world. Apparently my father used to fall asleep during Atlantic Symphony Orchestra performances in Fredericton's Playhouse theatre. Between pending baldness, the ability to get lost in thought, and symphonic snooziness, my dad passed along some genes for which I am thankful.

I don't see falling asleep at a concert or opera as being rude. I see it as a compliment to the performers that they were able to put me so at ease that I could simply drift off to my happy place. Of course, this is pure, unadulterated horse shit. The only reason I had three head jerks during Forza was because the seats were so GD uncomfortable. I should have nodded off once and stayed there, but when you're 6'3" with legs that are 6'4", you can't get comfortable in any theatre anywhere, except Reel Cinema in Bar Harbor (Maine).

Reel Cinema is a movie theatre and it, in my opinion, is the greatest theatre in the world. They've got couches and lazyboys, and pizza and beer, so every other theatre in the world can take a back seat to this place. This is the birthplace of theatrical entrepreneurism. I refuse to watch big screen movies in the theatres of North America, because they have no imagination, plus I'm too cheap to pay $12 for a fitful sleep.

Last evening I attended a concert in Indian River, Prince Edward Island. My wife, Wendy, along with tenor Stuart Howe and pianist Robert Kortgaard, gave a rousing concert of Broadway favourites that had the packed church on its feet for a standing ovation. No one fell asleep during this barn burner of a concert, and that says something because the concert ended at 9 p.m., well after the bedtime of the rather aged audience. I, myself, didn't nod off, or have and inkling of a head jerk. It was a great concert for me, light and upbeat....and short, unlike Verdi's dark and agonizingly long Forza.

The force of destiny, for me, is gravity. It is my destiny to fall asleep at classical music performances. It is destiny that my head hits my chest, sometimes like a yoyo. The greatest tribute that I can pay to any performer is to let them see the colour of my ocean blue eyes for the entire length of the concert.

Last night's concert was held in the beautiful St.Mary's church in Indian River. It's a stunning showpiece of French Gothic architecture, built in 1902. Some have called the church Atlantic Canada's most acoustically sound venue. It's true, the sound is superb. It's the location where Wendy and Robert recorded their Juno Award nominated album 'Forgotten Songs, Forgotten Loves'. Last night's concert could only have been better if they'd get rid of the horribly uncomfortable pews and replace them with something leisure-worthy, like lazyboys and couches. Beer and pizza wouldn't hurt either.

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