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Sydney Menees

Joshua Bell Concert: Vanishing Voice, Audacious Audience, and Pilfered Pupils

January 30, 2007 at 2:01 AM


As some of you know, I fell ill on Thursday January 25; a mere two days before I was supposed to attend a concert of Joshua Bell in Cedar Falls, Iowa. Ironically I hadn’t been sick in over six months. I didn’t think it would be a big deal as I normally get over colds within a day or two, but this cold was malevolent. I stayed home from school on Thursday thinking that, I would be going to school on Friday, but I was much worse Friday. My mother was sicker too and we were contemplating not going because Iowa is over five hours from Kansas (where I live). I ate triple servings of fruit that day and drank lots of tea. That night, bedtime was 8:00 pm. On Saturday morning I woke up and felt miraculously better! My stuffy nose had vanished, my headache was gone, and my fever was nonexistent! I leaped out of bed with vitality I hadn’t felt since Christmas and got ready for the car ride up to Iowa. As I was getting ready, the phone rang. ‘Heck, I’m feeling so good, I’ll just answer it!’ With a smile and deep breath, I picked up the phone. “Helllooooo?” I croaked. Something was terribly wrong. My voice! What happened to my voice? I didn’t sound excited or energetic, but rather, the opposite: death personified. My poor voice had become scratchy and broken. ‘Ah,’ I thought ‘And there’s the caveat.’

Because my only ailment was my voice, my mom and I drove to Iowa as planned. I really owe my mom; she was still feeling lousy. In the most extreme attempt I have ever made to achieve a speedy recovery, I drank: 4 juice boxes, 2 bottles of water, and a Frapuccino. At about 4:00 pm when we were almost there and I had given up all hope of the return of my voice, my voice began to creep back! If I continued to suck on throat lozenges and drink my weight in liquids, maybe, just maybe, it would be back by the evening….


My voice was, for the most part, back. It was very touchy, though. Too much talking or too little liquid and it reverted to its raspy, froggy state. Colleen, her mom, my mom, and I had eaten dinner and were in the lobby of Gallagher-Bluedorn Hall. Colleen and I ordered tickets for this concert in July, but neither of us remembered where they were. Colleen came back with the tickets from Will-Call. “Uh, Syd? Are you going to kill me if they are too close?” She said cautiously. “Psh, no.” I said. I remembered something about the 6th or 7th row, which was fine. “We’re in the second row!” Colleen said. As we made our way to our seats, I began to get nervous. Closer…closer…closer… Ten feet from the stage were our seats. Good gravy.

All of a sudden, Joshua Bell and Jeremy Denk stride onto the stage! Whenever this happens with most famous artists, I can’t keep myself from thinking “Wow! They’re actually real!!” I guess I’m relieved that they aren’t just people of legend. After they acknowledge the applause, they wait a little to prepare for the piece.

With a breath, the turbulent Schumann Sonata No. 1 begins. For the first minute or so, I am trying to get accustomed to how much Bell and Denk move. I am amazed at Bell’s ability to move so much without producing extraneous noises. Nonetheless, they are a lot of fun to watch! At the end of the first movement, I restrain myself from applauding only because I know it’s not good concert etiquette. Apparently the audience doesn’t know that, though. Applause echoes throughout the hall and Bell stares across the audience, his bow in the air and even mouths the word “No”, but to no avail. It’s very obvious that he doesn’t want a break between movements, but the audience can’t grasp that concept. But the sonata continues with a more peaceful second movement. After that movement ends and the audience applauds again. Bell again tries to quiet them, but the audience is totally clueless! The third movement really showcases the intensity the duo plays with. It actually looked as though they might attack each other! The sonata ends brilliantly and, this time, the audience is correct in their applause efforts. I’m really glad that they chose to program the Schumann. I had never heard of it before, but it’s just beautiful.

The carefree first movement of the Beethoven Sonata No. 10 begins. It’s much less intense than the Schumann, but very aesthetically pleasing. Bell and Denk play it with such lyricism and it’s quite relaxing to listen to. At the end of the first movement, I’m brought back to reality by the audience’s enthusiastic applause. Colleen gives me a very alarmed look and I double over in silent laughter because I can’t believe the audience still hasn’t caught on. Bell is smiling too. The rest of the sonata is wonderful, but one thing sticks out in particular: The ability Bell has to make every note count. I heard this great quote once “Artistry is measured by the number of notes one cares about.” And this was manifested in Bell's performance.

At intermission, nothing much happens. The only thing is, my voice is fading fast after being deprived of liquids for almost an hour.

Back in our seats, I notice a huge piece of cardboard sitting on the stand. It’s covered in about seven pages of music! Bell and Denk return to the stage. It’s time to hear the 6-month-old Meyer Sonata! It’s a very intricate sonata quite exhilarating. And the cardboard of music? That was just the fourth movement! The fourth movement… that was amazing. Only a true virtuoso would be able to play – or write – that. It’s just awesome and I loved it. Any of you who are going to see it are in for a real treat. And, Bell trained the audience in this one! Between the second and third movement, Bell waves his bow while holding it in the air and the applause stops.

Bell briefly announced the next piece on the program – Vocalise. As he plays, it seems the audience is lulled into a dreamlike state. The tone lingers a while in the air before the clapping begins. The next VOTV piece is Estrellita. The notes shimmer through the hall like stars. My mom is convinced that it sounds like something Kreisler copied. I’m very grateful about the selection of the final piece, Introduction and Tarantella by Sarasate, because he played this at the last concert of his I was at. At that concert, I hadn’t even heard of I&T, but I was blown away by it. Since then (September 2005), I have become a classical music junkie. How does he play so fast? It looks easy when he does it, but obviously it’s not. The audience gives him a standing ovation almost immediately and we are granted an encore – None But the Lonely Heart. The tones are so rich and warm that I would have been content just sitting in my seat the rest of the night thinking about them. Alas, it’s over too soon and the audience is filtering into the foyer.


One person is in front of us – a kid, but he’s having some trouble getting the wrapping off the CD and gets out of line. Colleen rushes up to Bell partially pushing me along. She introduces herself reminding him of how they met backstage in Chicago and then Colleen says, “And this is…” referring to me. Bell turns his attention to me. I take a deep breath, hoping my voice will not act up. “I’m Sydney. I was trying to get you on Oprah.” The cloud of confusion gives way to dawning comprehension and a smile. “Oh!” He exclaims, hugging me. “Thanks.” Then we talk about the audience’s clapping problems a little as he signs our CDs. “They didn’t clap.” My mom says, referring to Colleen and me (although she failed to say “between movements”). I suddenly notice Denk sitting next to Bell. ‘Oh my gosh!’ I think, feeling terrible. ‘How did I forget him?’ “You guys play really well together.” I say. “Thanks.” They both respond in unison. “I really liked the Meyer piece.” I continue. “Yeah, it’s great isn’t it?” Bell responds. “I especially liked the fourth movement.” I reply. Bell and Denk both laugh at this and I think this is because it was deathly difficult. Then it was time for a picture:


It never fails. I always lose my pupils in pictures with Joshua Bell. Colleen had a theory: “His playing is so amazing that your pupils just vanish!”

As we’re leaving, Josh says “It was nice having you guys in the audience.” Colleen says something about seeing him in 2008 which makes me remember one of my questions. “Oh yeah!” I say, turning around. “Do you know what you’re playing for that?” I actually don’t expect him to know, but it’s worth a shot. “Uh, the Corigliano Chaconne…” He names some more works, but I don’t remember because I’m taken by surprise. I was expecting him to say _____ Concerto. At any rate, it doesn’t sound like a normal concert and I’m looking forward to it!

From Elizabeth R
Posted on January 30, 2007 at 2:11 AM
hahhah that was such a short thing of our convo w/ him!! we said alot more and he did too.. i feel bad now about how long we took hehe.. if everyone took that long then the line woulda been there all night! oh well.. we're special ;) hehe

you left out how i got down on my knees begging im to play zigeunerweisen in 08!!!

oh and u left out how i got yummy pecan pie at intermission.. that was like a huge highlight of th evening!! .. (the sad part is im not even kidding!!) caeli woudl understand.. we have the same love for food ;) hehehe

From Elizabeth R
Posted on January 30, 2007 at 2:13 AM
oh and u also left out how he was looking at us during the concert alot... and when people were clapping he woudl look at us and smile as we were like AHHH hahhaha
From Bilbo Prattle
Posted on January 30, 2007 at 2:22 AM
The Dynamic Duo! Or, er, trio!
From Karin Lin
Posted on January 30, 2007 at 2:31 AM
Glad you and Colleen had a good time. When I heard the phone ring at 10:15 pm I was like, "What the ^$%#? This better be important..." and, I suppose it was. I told Cade afterwards. "That was Sydney and Colleen. They're all excited because they just saw Josh" and he responded, "Oh, like YOU wouldn't be?" That guy knows me too well.
From Bram Heemskerk
Posted on January 30, 2007 at 12:00 PM
You forget to ask Josh what his opinion was over my 10 cd's of rare violinconcerto's (I also sent them to Pauline L.)He did not know that Ysaye had also recorded a violinconcerto, which I also gave to him.
From Patty Rutins
Posted on January 30, 2007 at 2:51 PM
Pupils? Photoshop can take care of that for you. Would you prefer demonic red, or alien green pupils?

Those are nice photos, though. Probably better without demonic eyes. :)

From Linda Lerskier
Posted on January 30, 2007 at 8:22 PM
LOL Sydney!

Karin I was telling Colleen just the other day that when she called with Sydney I didn't pick up because "What crackhead who call now?" =D Turns out, there were two of them!

From Terez Mertes
Posted on January 31, 2007 at 1:46 AM
Hey, very cool blog to read! And love the more dignified (read: breakfast-less) pics. Pupils or no pupils.
From Man Wong
Posted on January 31, 2007 at 3:40 AM
Try using a different camera w/ the flash farther away from the lens to help prevent the red eye problem. OR if it's digital, just fix it on the computer w/ editing software. :-)


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