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Monday, February 23, 2009

The Case for Auditorium Marshals

Em had a vocal music concert this evening, a combo deal where they put both middle schools with the high school choir. Hand chimes, too.

Which is great. Got a good seat in the third row. Right behind a guy who uses a NexTel walkie-talkie type cell phone and across the aisle from a guy with an Aerosmith ring tone.

How do I know one stranger uses NexTel and another has Walk This Way as his ring tone?

Their phones went off during the concert. Well, the NexTel dork's phone just made that stupid submarine ping, which is mercifully brief but louder than a bomb. The Aerosmith fan, on the other hand, had to dig for his phone to turn the ringer off.

Now, I'm forgetful: the artist formerly known as Frau Lobster called me twice today because she's sick and needed me to take Em home after the show. I was grateful to get these messages because I had forgotten their was a show and would have missed it.

I missed the calls because I turned my phone on silent when I realized I still had it in my pocket on the way in to church yesterday.

Here's the deal: church, a concert, a job interview, etc. These are venues were I do not want to be reached by phone. Ever. I don't care if it's the President of the United States and a flying saucer has just landed in Central Park. It can wait.

September 10, 2001 is almost as firmly etched in my mind as the following day because I was at Starlight Theater listening to Tony Bennett and K.D. Lang. Good show, but that's not why it's such a vivid memory. No, Tony was doing his unamplified, a cappella thing, singing a medley of ballads without sound reinforcement or a band.

For the uninitiated, Starlight is an outdoor amphitheater. Tony's getting up there, but he has some pipes.

He's in the middle of Somewhere Over the Rainbow, and he's got us eating out of his hand—he made Starlight the only 8,000 seat night club I've ever been in—and some defective asshead's cell phone rings. And the guy takes the call, goes walking up the aisle with the phone to his ear.

If my disgust were a bomb, the death toll would have topped the next day's Al Queda blockbuster.

So here's the thing: when I'm heading into a concert, any concert, don't even bring the phone in. Leave it in the damn car, anyone who calls you can be called back after the show. When I turn mine to silent on the way into church, it's because I forgot to leave it in the car. I'm not asking for any special recognition, I do this because I'm not an inconsiderate prick.

My fantasy is to institute a system like the Air Marshals. Whether you're taking a cell phone into a concert or taking a gun on an airplane, we just don't need you anymore. I'm not sure if we need summary executions or gulags, but we are in dire need of some sort of deterrent. Maybe cut off the ears on a first offense, which should make a cell phone less vital to someone's lifestyle. Take the hands of recidivists. Three strikes and it's your feet, too.

Or if the new regime wasn't trying to shut down Gitmo, we could show those goons what real terrorists look like.

The concert was otherwise fun. The accompanist struggled with the boogie thing on the high school's 1950's rock thing. She was playing it as if it were classical music, putting the acCENT on the wrong syllABle. Which didn't ruin things, really, because I got the sense that the high schoolers dug it all the more for her bass, which should have been driving it, struggling to keep up.

It was also cute to see middle-school kids trying to relate to reggae, which was the other middle school's gig for one number. Reggae is astonishingly complex and nuanced, particularly with regard to rhythm. I often wonder how a bunch of potheads came up with something that elaborate. I'm pretty sure, as far as real reggae, or even ska-core, nobody in this choir has ever heard Bob Marley and the Whalers.

The high school choir had a subset, the Madrigals. I wonder what this was when I read the program. I learned it is their elite squad. They sang an a cappella number with the kinds of harmony singing I never managed to do. I did okay with Gregorian chants when I was doing the Russian Orthodox thing back in high school, but I had a really strong lead bass to follow (Basil had some sort of organic subwoofer in his throat, I swear), and a lot of that music moves in parallel fifths and unison.

I can never quit listening to the other singers long enough to sing sophisticated harmony, just as I can't sing and play the guitar at the same time even if it's an ultra-simple three chord song. At least not if strumming can't be restricted to during inhales. The Madrigals had no problem with these harmonies, and were obviously the strongest projectors on the stage, as well.

Em did great even if she did look bored during part of the show her choir wasn't part of. I asked her if she wanted to sing with the Madrigals when she gets to high school in a couple of minutes (years, I know, but they seem like minutes to me). 'Yeah, probably!'

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