On Culture

My wife and I performed a small experiment this weekend when we took our three children to the symphony.  According to Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner’s book, Freakonomics, children who are taken to concerts and art museums are not statistically advantaged by this activity.  However, in an interesting twist on the theological debate between justification by faith and justification by works, the authors claim that children who are parented by the sort of people who take their progeny to cultural events and fill their homes with books are indeed statistically advantaged.  Taking this to mean that good intentions are at least of equal value to good works (and what more can you ask of the parents of three children), we exercised our good intentions at the ASO’s performance with Jennifer Koh.

Sasha, the oldest (10), found the whole performance to be a waste of time.  Paul (8) and Sophia (6) were quite taken with Wagner’s Liebestod from Tristan and Isolde.  They found Jennifer Higdon’s The Singing Rooms to be considerably more challenging, however, as did their father. 

Ms. Koh’s performance was magnificent, of course, but the center of attraction for us was the Stradivarius on which she played.  I’ve never heard one live before.  Paul kept asking why it was so special and all I could think to say was that the ex-General Dupont is almost three hundred years old.  This duly impressed my son.  What speaks more on culture’s behalf, after all, than it’s gray-haired hoariness.

Perhaps it is an indication of my low-tastes, but as I watched this performance I kept thinking about how much I enjoyed the last performance I had seen at Atlanta Symphony Hall, Cirque de la Symphonie.  The music at that concert tended towards the romantic, from Saint-Saëns to Ravel.  While the orchestra performed on their instruments, the acrobats plied their art on their bodies by defying gravity in the air as well as defying basic physiology through acts of contortion.  Two acts stood out especially. 

Jaroslaw Marciniak and Dariusz Wronski entered the stage bald, in loin-cloths, and painted gold from head to toe.  They proceeded to lift, pin and balance off of each other in what I took to be an extended demonstration of Euclid’s 47th proposition, with each brief suspension being a prelude to the final revelation. 

Even more impressive was Elena Tsarkova’s contortion and balancing act.  All of it was remarkable, but at one point she stood on her head with her legs extended upward.  She then spread her legs out to be almost perfectly perpendicular to the rest of her body.  At this point something uncanny happened, but so quickly that I had to ask my wife if she had just seen something.  We couldn’t quite put words to what we had witnessed, and the best I could come up with was “ululation”.  There was an ululation in her legs which looked like the small wave some people can make with their shoulders.  It was breathtaking.

Following the Higdon performance came the intermission.  We took advantage of this natural break to sneak out and hunt for a decent milkshake in Atlanta.  The kids had earned it.  They behaved extremely well at the symphony.

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