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Everything I Know About Life, I Learned From My Conductor

Symphony Expletive

The Sydney Opera House. 

A world renown architectural icon, symbol of the pinnacle of human creativity and achievement; snow-white sails on a sky-blue harbour.  The epitome of refinement, discipline and perfection. 

And class.  Pure class.

It’s a genteel morning out for the classically-inclined, particularly those of the more established demographic who prefer not to drive at night.  The blue-rinse crowd.  They fill the concert hall for a Sunday morning performance of the Saint Saens Organ Symphony.  Afterwards, they anticipate luncheon at a restaurant on the Quay.  Then home, perhaps via ferry.  Or Mercedes.

The orchestra is arrayed on stage about 50 feet below the 10,000 pipes of the magnificent Grand Organ, the world’s largest known mechanical tracker-action pipe organ.  The soloist-on-high crouches over his manuals, suspended on a tiny balcony like a diminutive, over-empowered spider at the sweet spot of his gargantuan web. 

The first chord is a massive wall of reverberant sound.  The orchestra responds with a business-like fugue.  Another colossal chord, another response.  Then the organ proposes its final tonic argument and the orchestra agrees.  Together they cooperate in the pretty theme made famous by a talking pig; a shimmering, glassy melody punctuated by the organ’s regular sage assent.  Round two, and the organ holds the floor on no uncertain terms, while the orchestra agrees.

That’s when it happens.

At a distance of half a suburb from the orchestra, and with a considerable delay between key depression and ‘speak’ time, the organist cannot rely on what he hears to remain in time with the ensemble.  To make matters more challenging, his back is to the conductor and the other players.  His life-ring is a discreet rear-vision mirror... and a conductor with enough humility to occasionally give the organist the right-of-way.

Not today.

The organ is in full, awe-inspiring, forward moving flight, but Maestro – mute, distant, unheeded – tarries on ponderous ground.  To his peril.  The dialogue slides apart.

There is a moment which hangs on a precipice.  Half a second either side of Maestro’s hard-headed insistence will make or irrevocably break this performance.

The orchestra can serve only one master. 

Many lifetimes of finely-honed orchestral instinct combine and make the telepathic decision to prioritise the performance over expected professional obligation.  They stay with the organist.  Maestro is deserted as the music sweeps along, all parts in perfect step.  He flaps impotently.  It takes a full three bars before he is suddenly struck by a keen sense of loss.  He is not aware that the performance is gloriously, brilliantly intact; only that he has been amputated from it.  He panics.  He makes one last mighty, thrusting gesture with both arms, which then remain forgotten in the air above his head.  His beetroot face is drenched with sweat, and quivering.

“Shit!” he shouts.

 A polite, bewildered titter cascades through the auditorium.  ...sounded a bit like ... did he say ... is that part of the ...

Fortunately, the organ’s rock solid authority camouflages the convulsive shudderings and snorts from the nation’s highest quality symphony elites as they play on.  Maestro mimes the remainder of the movement, limp and trembling.   



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“Be stubborn on vision, but flexible on details.”


                                              Jeff Bezos

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