Facing the Music

Season by season the listener sits
In the fifteenth row and just to the left
Where frowns, bowing, fingerings, the conductor’s
Downbeats, nods and attenuated slurs
Slip easily into the eye,
Where above all
The acoustics of the refurbished downtown hall
Bring hearing, heartbeat and a bi-monthly program
Into one consonance.

When did the prodigy mature, when
Did the virtuoso lose his edge?
Nights in focus blurred from year to year.
Sadly easier to pin down
The concertmaster’s new beard, a cellists’s chair
Rigged for a back problem, a huge bassoonist
Replaced by kid with moustache, the harpist’s hair
Gone natural. Dizzyingly, the strings
Getting younger and younger. The influx
Of women, Latins, Asians, the first blacks,
The orchestra becoming the crowd in the street.

Change certified within the civic shell!
One guest conductor all theater and sweat,
Next month a mannikin. Still worse
The flawed appointment, perfectionist martinet
Endured a half-decade. Truly grave
The year of the strike, the season nearly canceled.
Musicians and flight attendants or firemen?
Music as service or product? The listener gave
And gave again.

Time changed itself so differently each time.
The baroque chug, the impressionist swoon,
The yearly cold dip
Into twelve tone, the classical shrine’s
Overblown façade. And somewhere in every line-up
A deeply involving theme
Withstood its trial by ravishment to return
In such pure celebration it was time
Itself, two nights in thirty, that swam upstream,
Branched, unfolded, spawned, evolved,
Renewed itself in a universe running down.

Outsitting three conductors, five concertmasters,
An orchestra replenishing itself
Like a body changing cells, the listener,
Clutching at last a younger elbow
To reach, just to the left, the fifteenth row,
Besieges time that blurs from year to year,
Until the inevitable night
No player, under the stage lights’ glare,
Senses the absent hearing, heartbeat and sight
That filled a particular chair.
The baton rises for the next listener there.

(first published in Poetry, title poem of Facing the Music)