We recently went to a concert of Valencia’s symphonic band that included several pieces from Bizet’s Carmen and Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, all very well done. As the concert began, it struck me that the performers on stage were not the only ones contributing to the soundscape. We as an audience had quite a lot going on, too. So I began to imagine a performance among the cushy seats to mirror the one happening up on the stage.
The professional musicians, in their fancy black concert clothes, had all manner of band instruments–trumpets, french horns, clarinets, oboes, flutes, piccolos, saxophones, tubas, the works. And their percussion section was well supplied with things that go crash, rattle and boom.
As an audience, you’d think we had nothing going for us, but there you would be wrong. Barely a minute into the first piece, the woman seated in front of me extracted from a pocket some sort of sweet or cough drop in a plastic wrapper. The amount of noise she was able to generate (and sustain!) was truly impressive. Her percussion was punctuated by an alto cough to my right. In a minute, throat clearing by a bass came in on cue, followed by–tissue paper, maybe? rustling further back. I pictured an imaginary conductor, back to back with the band’s maestro, conducting the rhythm with a phantom baton.
As a melody line flowed and swelled on stage, a counterpoint from a tenor cough would answer. There was the sound of someone shrugging off a coat followed by a snick whose source I couldn’t identify, and then a prolonged stomach grumble. The snap of eyeglasses being closed was met by the whisper of someone fanning herself with a program, and the scratching of a scalp. As a tuxedoed musician kept rhythm with a tambourine above us, we contributed the chink of keys, the unzipping of a bass zipper in a long coat and some purse rummaging.
As the musicians onstage began the section of Carmen that for me always brings to mind Gilligan’s Island, the Hamlet musical, and “neither a borrower, nor a lender be, do not forget–stay out of debt,” the woman sitting behind me began singing: “ya dut duh da da, ya di da di dah…”
In the pause between movements where silence and anticipation should reign, there came the forbidden premature clap of someone who got overeager, followed by a series of whispered shushings. Then a horn duet on stage was answered by an alto and a bass exchanging a few words behind us, after which the man in front of El Guapo actually answered his phone. Later came the soprano zipping of a purse, some chair creaking, the scratching of a knee, and a watch’s beep. Our imaginary conductor gave the cue for a chuckle, followed by page turns, the jangle of purse hardware, the theme’s reintroduction by way of a cough drop wrapper reprise, and finally a sigh.
We had not rehearsed together, and yet what a performance!
Alas, though our amateur production encompassed an impressive variety of sounds and techniques, it was an ephemeral thing, heard only by ourselves (and perhaps mildly resented by the professionals on stage that we were competing with). I cannot share it with you. But I did do some searching for music made with mundane items, and have a few of those to share. Here is Andrew Huang with a song made of water:
And here is Walking Off The Earth with a cover of Adele’s Hello, played with Whippy tubes, a surf board, some zippers, tap dancing and the dirt on the garage floor (the zippers are in jeans being worn, but there are no wardrobe malfunctions). Watch for the cymbal suspended from the ceiling that gets kicked a few times.
And, because I take opportunities to share clips from What’s Up Doc, here’s the possibility of Leonard Bernstein conducting, in e flat:
Now, don’t you want to get your hands on something, anything, and start making some music?
[Images: Yours truly, palaudevalencia.com]