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Fifteen Minutes of Fame

A man lowers himself into a large armchair and adjusts his glasses.  He is mid-fifties, clean-shaven, and wearing a charcoal suit and blue paisley tie.  He places his hands on the seat cushion, then on his knees, then folds them together in his lap and tries to keep them still.  He looks around and smiles, nervously.  Behind his armchair, 1,500 people wait expectantly.  One of them coughs. 


Harold Sutton has won a lottery, of sorts.  A systems analyst from Moggill, he sent a letter to the Queensland Symphony Orchestra last March, naming his favourite piece of music and explaining what it meant to him.  A few minutes ago, he told a full house at QPAC about how his dad used to play the piano when he was a kid, and bring him along to the symphony.  How dad would lower the needle onto his favourite LP of Dvorak’s ninth symphony, the “New World”, after dinner if Harry had finished his homework, and they'd listen to it while his dad washed the dishes and Harry dried.  How the record had succumbed to a fatal abrasion one afternoon when Harry was roughhousing indoors with his cousin.  How he’d found a copy last year for his dad’s 80th birthday, and his dad said it was the best gift of his life.  How his dad lost the battle with cancer three months later.


Harold, now seated point blank before about 80 musicians - as one might find oneself in a somewhat alarming dream - is one of five audience members chosen to join the QSO on stage this evening.  Each will share the story of his or her relationship to a piece of music, offering the audience a glimpse of personal poignancy, a fragment of meaning.  The stories might be funny, or decidedly odd, or deeply moving.  The music in question will then be played by the orchestra. 


The stories of audience members are rarely shared, but they are always there.  Tonight there are fifteen hundred unrelated stories in the concert hall.   


But are they unrelated?  As the baton comes down and the first movement of the New World symphony gathers momentum, Harold uses his unusual proximity to the orchestra to examine the instruments in action at close range; flashing fingers and bows, the expressions and cues of the conductor, the communication and choreography of musicians. An achingly familiar architecture of melody and rhythm builds around him and he finds himself drying the dishes with his dad, feeling the loss and the longing of the composer, and now, too, his own.  He, and the audience behind him, have entered Dvorak’s story.  For ten glorious minutes, stories blend and align, and hundreds of strangers identify with each other.


It is a commonplace magic, and Harold is deeply grateful to his dad for acquainting him with it.  He gets up from the armchair to long and thunderous applause from both the theatre and the stage.  His story has been added to theirs. 


As he wipes his eyes, Harold Sutton, systems analyst, thanks his late father and the QSO for what is, in his words, the best gift of his life.    

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