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Just Thinking: Outdoor recital was music to pandemic ears

Margo Bartlett
Guest Columnist

Emerging from a pandemic is not the same as going into one.  

Going in was like jumping off the high dive into cold water: Sudden and shocking, but easier than entering the water a toe at a time.  

Now, it seems, we’re leaving the water a toe at a time.  

Margo Bartlett

At the YMCA, the changes are incremental and exciting in their significance: the removal of the drinking cups taped over the water fountains; the disappearance of the sliding signs that indicated whether a shower was Clean or Dirty. (Going forward, I’m guessing, we’re to assume all the showers are Dirty, but not, you know, dirty dirty.) 

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From one shopping trip to the next, face masks went from covering the majority of faces to covering only a handful. At the library, a person could sit in chairs again. Browsing no longer is discouraged. 

And as if to celebrate our cautious return to social gatherings, my granddaughter performed in her first piano recital. Not a virtual recital. Not a Zoom event or a series of individual videos, but a real-life, backyard gathering with other people and everything. 

My husband and I dressed as much for a garden recital as our existing closets allowed, meaning my outfit would have been suitable for a baby shower, a refinancing meeting at the bank or a pre-planning appointment with a funeral home, as well as for an outdoor recital. 

We arrived before everyone else, no doubt because many of the performers and their families were seen emerging from nearby houses 30 seconds before the program was to begin.  

“We get the prize for traveling the farthest,” my daughter murmured. We chose chairs that offered a generous view of the Yamaha keyboard in front of the garage, from whose bench a student could have made an easy 3-pointer into the basketball rim on the driveway.  

Because my granddaughter was the first student to arrive, her teacher asked her to pass out the programs. She fulfilled this task so enthusiastically I was reminded of process servers in the movies.  

“You have been served!” I imagined her saying, as she thrust sheets at each new arrival.  

Later, my granddaughter would confess that she’d had no idea what a recital was. She’d thought she’d be playing only for her teacher, her parents and us. (This misunderstanding was minor, compared to my belief as a 5-year-old that school fire drills were when the teachers dug a deep pit, put all the students in it and lit a fire to see who escaped and who didn’t.) 

In spite of having an unexpected audience, my granddaughter, who performed fourth on the program, walked to the Yamaha without prompting, took her seat on the bench and looked at her music with the frowning concentration of a judge listening to disturbing testimony.  

Her feet dangled above the pavement. She crossed her ankles, played her three pieces while maintaining her stern expression and then took her bow. Her teacher, chatting to the audience between performances, said she’d encouraged the students to bend at the waist and to either count to three or look at their feet and say silently, “Nice shoes!” As my granddaughter performed this ritual, I could almost hear her thinking, “Nice shoes!” 

She returned to her seat, visibly relieved, and announced aloud that she now would go get a snack, an idea that was immediately and silently shot down by her mother.  

We listened to the other performers play songs about animals, outer space, bluebirds and sunsets. The pianists were solemn and earnest, the audience appreciative.  

Briefly, I daydreamed about sitting at the piano myself to play “Alley Cat,” the only piece I have memorized, at least as far as the bridge. Wisely, I immediately and silently abandoned this daydream.  

After the program, guests milled around, chatting while the recital performers cooled themselves with Popsicles. It was warm but not broiling; the company was fine and the entertainment had been as clear and fresh as innocence itself.  

If the start of the pandemic was like plunging into cold water, the end of it was as natural as waves rolling back into the sea. Let’s hope we don’t experience an encore. 

Write to Margo Bartlett at margo.bartlett@gmail.com.