The first time it happened was in Vienna. I was attending a performance in one of the city’s many jewel box theaters with a colleague from the University of Tampa. I was tagging along on an Honor’s Trip of Germany, Austria, and the Czech Republic in the summer of 2001, three months before jets would smash our perception of global harmony.
Turns out Vienna is chock-full of intimate performances by classical music greats every May and June. We bought tickets without thought of performers or performances. A Stravinsky quartet bloomed across the velvet seats, breezed through the crystal chandeliers, caressed the heads that were bowed to receive. The beauty brought me to tears. Everyone else was listening with their eyes tightly closed, many with arms folded stiff across their waists, curling deep into an intimate experience. I felt like a violator to watch. I noted – admired – the cultural mores that encouraged raw appreciation of the gift of live music.
The next summer, I returned to Vienna with my late husband. The concierge arranged our tickets and told us how to navigate the twisting streets. Another velvet and crystal bauble of a venue. And just our luck: world famous violinist Jaime Larado in a quartet playing, for their finale, one of Shostakovitch’s string masterpieces. I listened with head bowed and eyes screwed shut, until the end, when the audience looked up in stunned silence to see Jaime Larado pantomime flicking a tear from his eye with the tip of his bow. We erupted in applause that pulled us to our feet and shook the gilded rafters.
The other night, I went to the Hideaway Cafe on the edge of downtown St. Petersburg, where Rebekah Pulley was holding a party to celebrate her new CD, The Sea of Everything. Lynn and I arrived 20 minutes early but were only able to nab a two-top directly in front. As in, our table met the stage. At first, it felt awkward and isolating. But when Rebekah began to sing, the magic took hold. The Hideaway is a listening room and when I sneaked a glance at the couple to our left, I saw both with their heads down and their eyes closed, listening with every molecule. Even Lynn closed her eyes, her hands tapping out joy on the shellacked tabletop.
The alchemy that happens when music transcends, transforms, and transmutes is not solely the providence of Vienna. It might be waiting on the edge of downtown.