March 2, 2008 at 1:48 PMAround noon, the signs on the I-90 are looking promising. I'll be home in half an hour. Plenty of time for a 1:30 warm-up and a 3:00 concert, or so I thought. But then my 4-yo son says again, "I really, really have to go to the bathroom." He said 10 minutes ago that he could hold it until we got home. But not anymore. So, we get off the Mass Pike into a traffic jam in Framingham. We're on a divided highway with no obvious gas station on our side. At last, a Dunkin Donuts! And since you can't leave a Dunkin Donuts without buying some Donuts . . .
We drive up to our house around 1. We unload the car and my husband makes some lunch. This makes me, as I promised, late for the warm-up, but I don't think performing on an empty stomach is a good idea. The last time I wore my long black tunic with the Mandarin collar was to my grandmother's funeral. Nonetheless, I bought it for orchestra concerts at Caltech; it's old but it still looks nice. It's sleeveless.
And the Arlington Town Hall is freezing cold. I walk in at 2, and the only other person not wearing any sleeves is the soloist. My friend the principal 2nd whispers "you look lovely--would you like some sleeves?" My stand partner, in his jacket and tie, says "you're brave." I'm still running on adrenaline, so it's not too bad during the warm-up, but after that a bunch of us, including the soloist, Pei-Wen, are hanging around in the back room in long white parkas. Pei-Wen keeps her fingers warm by walking around the room playing 3-octave scales with vibrato. This seems like a very good idea in theory, but I leave her to it.
After all that build-up, the concert itself is something of a blur. The principal 2nd's husband brings her a couple of black velvet sweaters; she wears one and offers me the other. It's quite beautiful, I should buy one like it. My husband and kids are there, and two of my co-workers are even there. I invited one of them, but the other is a surprise. The hall is surprisingly packed full, of families. The conductor is wearing a cowboy hat for the William Tell.
The kids are a good audience, but I find the environment pretty distracting, especially during the concerto solo. The cadenza, which blew us all away during rehearsal, sort of gets covered by random noises and kids running around. Pei-Wen is, as always, unflappable. Afterwards kids come up and look at our instruments and even try them out. My daughter says to me, about Pei-Wen, "Is she the best violinist in the world? Is she better than YOU?" I tell her that Pei-Wen is much, much better than I am, but it is impossible to say who is the "best violinist in the world." I say I think that Pei-Wen has a chance to be one of the best when she grows up. My daughter thinks about that for a while and says "I don't want to be that good." I know already that she doesn't want to practice that hard, but I also get the sense that she wasn't entirely comfortable with the vision of a sweet, beautiful, preternaturally mature, little girl playing Beethoven with an orchestra of adults in front of a large, packed hall of people.
As I'm leaving, Pei-Wen and her mother ask for a picture with me. My husband has already taken the kids to the car, and my camera with them. But Pei-Wen's mother has one and snaps a picture with both of us. I tell her that I loved playing with her and it was a real honor, and then we all leave.
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