A couple of years ago, a Bay Atlantic Symphony board member was attending our final subscription concert of the year at the Stockton Performing Arts Center. She was sitting next to a Stockton student.
Our board member noticed the student was both transfixed, and also in tears. She asked the student if everything was OK.
The student had no idea her neighbor was associated with the orchestra. Her response was, “I just did not ever expect it could be so beautiful.”
Our concerts offer a transformative experience, an evening or afternoon that may well remain in your memory and consciousness forever. Much of this music was written with this idea in mind, that you would leave having an emotional truth uncovered, a powerful statement brought home about our place on the planet.
Perhaps it is for this reason, in addition to our education and community outreach, that I have so often heard the symphony called a rare treasure for the people of Cape May County.
In Avalon, this August, the response to Beethoven Symphony No. 5 and Mozart’s Second Flute concerto was over the top. Words like “riveted,” “transfixed,” and “goose bumps” were used by people throughout the Avalon audience for this music that has spoken to so many, so personally, over continents and hundreds of years.
This music reaches beyond entertainment. It is one experience to hear a five-minute catchy tune or a figure that reminds you of a scene, era, or moment in life. It is another to listen to a piece that works on your emotions and senses over the timespan of 30 or more minutes.
A great symphony will take you on an emotional odyssey, with ups and downs. By the time the final triumphant melody bursts forth in Beethoven’s 5th Symphony, as just an instance, we have collectively been through powerful musical ideas and emotional states that form a whole narrative with incredible impact.
Why should I come to the symphony? Those 30 minutes or more of sustained musical experience are acutely craved in today’s distracted world.
Cell phones are turned off, the hall is dark, and we have the chance to tend our individual souls through the senses; yet, we do so collectively as an audience. After all, we could just plug into our solipsistic gizmos, go on YouTube, and hear any great symphony desired. But, the act of coming together as a community to share this live moment is powerful.
It is why we visit with friends and don’t just call, why people go to houses of worship, why we are so happy to have children come home to see us.
Bay Atlantic Symphony concerts are performed within our communities, in relatively intimate halls (125 - 900 seats). With these proximities, the presence of the orchestra is powerful for the audience, and reciprocally the orchestra keenly senses the audience.
In a live performance, the exhilaration on stage comes from interacting with the attention and engagement from the audience. We respond subconsciously and instantaneously to that emotional state in the room.
Performers feel most alive when this shared music takes on a life of its own on that day, in a very specific and uncharted way. In this sense, you are part of the act of creation when you come to a live performance.
Afterward, the next day, members of the community, whether it is the Borough of Avalon after a concert at the free public library or after a Cape May music festival concert, share their feelings with each other. We establish a deep bond, wordless in its way, even though spoken about, that cements a community and gives us empathy for our fellow human beings.
What could be more powerful, more thrilling, and more worthwhile? Come hear and see for yourself, we look forward to meeting you.
Jed Gaylin is music director of Bay Atlantic Symphony and artist in residence at Stockton University. He also serves as music director of Johns Hopkins Symphony Orchestra and music director of Two Rivers Chamber Orchestra in West Virginia.