Written by Carrie Beth Wallace
A few years ago, I clearly remember writing to you from a hammock in my backyard in the middle of the day. The sun was shining, and a neon Nerf football flew over my head for the one-hundredth time while about a million and a half iridescent bubbles cascaded through the air in an endearingly, yet irritating fashion as they simply few away. The whole scene plays in my memory often, backed by a soundtrack comprised primarily of the laughter of my then five year old daughter.
As hard as it is to admit, I most clearly remember being irritated by the bubbles. Not because of their presence in my workspace – I welcome my children into my space joyfully and often – but the bubbles especially irked me that day because of the freedom they found on the wind as they... so simply... just flew away.
You see, those were much slower days.
The pandemic halted everything. There was nowhere to go, and nothing to do but wait. We didn't know how long, and we didn't know exactly what we were waiting for, but the entire world waited. Apart, certainly, but indisputably and universally together in circumstances none of us chose, and certainly never saw coming. And yet, there we were. Amidst a season of global trauma with no predictable relief in sight.
Do you remember what it was like? Do you recall the weight of the realization that the world had completely shut down practically overnight? The unfathomable idea that planes had been grounded and simply didn't take to the sky again? To even try to comprehend it at first was entirely disorienting, and yet there we were, together.
Do you think about it anymore? Do you revisit your memories of that uncomfortable and bizarre time? Or have you blocked it entirely and refuse to consider the things we lost by simply being unable to be together?
Perhaps my most vivid memory of the pandemic is the depth of which I missed the ability to gather with others. It should perhaps come as no surprise that the thing I longed for most was an evening spent as a member in the audience at a Columbus Symphony Orchestra concert again. As a classically-trained musician and lifelong (avid) arts patron, I found that during that time there was simply nothing that could match the inspiration and solace experiencing orchestral music with others brings me.
I will never forget the way I felt the first time I heard the Columbus Symphony Orchestra again after the quarantine was lifted. Silent, hot, soul-relieving tears fell down my face from the instant the first wave of sound reached my ears. We were by no means out of the woods with the virus at that time. Everyone was masked, there were absolutely no wind or brass instruments allowed on stage, and the audience was kept socially-distanced at all times. It wasn't over. It wasn't even a full orchestra again yet.
Not hardly. But for me, it was the first time I knew at my core we'd have a full orchestra back on the RiverCenter's stage someday.
Don't get me wrong. I never lost Hope during the pandemic. Not in the least. But my confidence in a return to what I'd known and loved most from "before?" My belief in a return to those things was shaken just as much as everyone else's.
You see, I know now hearing the CSO perform live again was the first time I really believed my children would get to hear Beethoven's Fifth in-person someday. I didn't even realize I had been unsure they would ever be able to experience the thrill of an opening number of a musical in a packed house at the Springer, or have a chance to stand with the audience and sing the 'Hallelujah' chorus at the end of Handel's Messiah.
The world was different. Changed forever. There was no arguing that. But for me, the moment I heard a symphony play live again changed everything.
From the very first downbeat played by our beloved Columbus Symphony Orchestra that night, something in the music made me realize there were still going to be experiences from "before" that we'd all get to share again together. I knew the arts would survive, but I'd expected massive changes to what the audience's experience would be longterm.
Yet suddenly, because of our hometown orchestra's return, a little piece of me that had grown dim began to brighten again. To this day, within that moment is held a measure of gratitude I'll never be able to adequately express. Even now while writing this, I'm dreadfully aware of how little I can convey here about the actual experience and impact it had on that season in my life.
I suppose the best explanation I have to offer is the honest truth that it felt like a turning point. It was as if, finally, the darkest most haunting chapter in the book holding our collective memory had begun to wane, and for the first time in what felt like an eternity, there were new pages to read again.
Dramatic? Perhaps. But it is the truth, and the experience only deepened my belief in the importance of the arts in the lives of human beings.
There is simply nothing like the shared experience of being in an audience while enjoying a live performance together. The arts touch our brains and hearts in places nothing else can. During the pandemic, I learned at the symphony that there's a reason the arts have been valued as a core part of cultures all over the world since the dawn of time. The arts are essential. They always have been, and always will be.
Soobeen Lee, featured soloist at the 2023-24 CSO opening concert on Saturday, October 8, 2023.
So, why do I believe everyone should go to the symphony now? Because we can! (And if you can't because you no longer drive at night, or you can't find childcare, or you are immune-compromised, etc. the CSO has an incredibly accessible (and free!) open rehearsal Saturday at 12:30 that's designed just for you!)
This weekend, the Columbus Symphony Orchestra opens its 2023-24 season with a concert designed for listeners of all backgrounds and levels of classical music exposure. (You can read all about the concert, repertiore, and the featured violinist here.) Personally, I think the biggest thing to know is that the Columbus Symphony Orchestra is the second oldest orchestra in the nation, and has a legacy of excellence that continues today. I can assure you the CSO has something exceptional to offer – even and especially if you've never been to one of their concerts before.
If you've never been to the symphony and the idea intimidates you, please know that you're not alone. We actually hear this all of the time at The Columbusite. Over the last six years, we've gotten more questions about what's required when going to arts events than just about anything else. Common questions are: "What is the attire?" "I haven't been before and I don't know what to expect." "I don't know anything about classical music." (etc.)
The good news is that all of the answers to those questions/concerns are easily answered. Especially in regards to the CSO.
Attire is typically business casual, but you can wear anything you like. Gone are the days that required ballgowns and tuxedos at the symphony. If that's your impression and reason not to go, cast it aside!
If you've never been because you're not interested in classical music, I can assure you there are zero prerequisites to sitting in the audience.
What to expect is simple. You'll drive to the RiverCenter and present your tickets to a friendly usher who will guide you to your seat. Then, the orchestra will play and all you'll be expected to do is sit back and relax and listen. There's an intermission half way through the concert where you'll get to stretch your legs, use the restroom, and purchase a drink or snack to enjoy for the remainder of the concert. Then, when the concert concludes, you'll exit with the rest of the audience and return home. That's it. That's what to expect. I promise. You have my word.
Finally, if I may, I implore you to find your seat in the audience this season because of the simple science that it's good for you. A quick Google search will bring up a zillion articles on the positive effects of classical music on the brain. If that doesn't spark your interest, consider researching the impact of the arts on the brain. (The latest science on neuroplasticity when engaged in the arts is astounding. Here's a great book on that if you're interested.)
Questions? Reach out any time and either myself or a member of our team will be happy to share our stories with you. Each of us has been profoundly impacted by the arts in one way or another, and we'd love to talk with you about why we believe the arts could make a positive impact on your life as well. Remember, we're in the audience with you.
Ever onward, together.
Carrie Beth Wallace
P.S. Tickets to the Columbus Symphony Orchestra can be purchased here or through the RiverCenter Box office.