I had the good fortune to attend the annual Middle School spring concert of one of our neighborhood single-sex prep schools. This was a telescoped version of Beatlemania adapted to a group of maybe 160 girls ranging from 10 to 13 years old. Dressed in preppy khaki pants and brightly colored shirts, the young Beatles were arranged on risers front-facing an audience of parents and siblings, conducted by a hugely energetic music director. The show was emceed by an overzealous Fab-four ‘host’ who told slightly off-color jokes obviously aimed at the adults, and who more than once mentioned Paul McCarthy.
I was thrilled to be seated beside my 5-year old ultra-charming new friend Jane who is in pre-K and assured me she’d never heard of the Beatles. Liverpool, she calmly explained, is a fish. In fact she was expecting a kind of Wind in The Willows sing-along about insects. But she was not disappointed, because during the choral medleys the girls did a sort of choreographed hula with their hands, occasionally punctuated by a ‘swim’ type move which was anachronistic in its resemblance to the standard 21st century pole-dancer ‘dip and sway’ Jane might have recognized from sneak peeks of ‘Dancing with the Stars’.
The girls made up in enthusiasm for any musical disappointment, and we could really only blame the hired little troop of musicians for occasionally failing to nail the chords we have all come to hear as ‘canon’. They were tired, maybe—between gigs… and they had to read the parts, and failed to listen to one another or the drummer who seemed to go from 1st to high gear every 8 bars or so.
In the end there was the omnipresent little appeal-for-arts-support for the school. After all, it is not Nightingale or Spence or Chapin, and not Penny Lane but still Park Avenue. This was just a little more pathetic because the program was obviously created to please the adults. Or else it was simply a faded tradition, because while Baby Boomer kids were well-versed in Beatlemania, this generation seemed a little clueless. Maybe Michael Jackson… ? It just seemed a mis-match.
Personally I missed the Vivaldi and Handel of my own school concerts and I wondered who would teach these to the girls. I also wondered whether they were reading Bruce Springsteen and Dylan lyrics in their poetry class.
Most of all I kept scanning the rows for the ones in pain, the ones who hated performing for their parents, the ones whose parents were sadly on business trips, the ones whose cheerful round mouths concealed a hidden eating disorder, adolescent shame, the humiliation of not needing a bra, needing one too much, the one overweight one who scrambled for the 3rd row where she was buried, the ones who were nervous, the ones who weren’t, the ones who’d already had their first drink or first joint, their first blow-job, the ones who secretly sliced delicate hairline webs into their upper thighs and wrists… maybe one or two who had already been mishandled by a perverse parent…the one who would statistically die of some strange disease—one from an overdose, one from a car or plane accident, anorexia….
Maybe I’ve read too much Joyce Carol Oates. Or maybe I was a girl once myself.
Oh, and that TV Housewife ex-model….her secret paparazzi crew was there outside because her daughter was among the rows… no predictions for her, but I’ll put money on the mother being diagnosed bulimic before the end of the summer. She’s just too damn dramatic at mealtimes.
The 2nd trumpet player nailed the Penny Lane solo. It was in my ears and my eyes for a good half hour afterward. My friend who is a mother gave the girls a C. One undersized 5th grader with a pink headband and a tiny soft voice actually sang her line on key— had the intelligence to sacrifice volume for pitch. I had high hopes for the one black girl who did a little Aretha-esque trill and then went off. But they were all so perfectly polite and lovely, and no one threw up or disgraced themselves.
On the way home I watched a 20-ish couple on the 6 train. She was pasty-faced and overweight, with ill-fitting clothes and dull style-less hair. Her boyfriend was a handsome Latin man who looked at her as though she was Megan Fox. Thank God for New Yorkers who adopt and love ugly dogs, who choose the fat girl first.
And for my son… the one who sang proudest just 8 years ago with shining eyes and glistening hair in his khakis in the polished concerts of an ultra-privileged boys' school... clever madrigals and period pieces with masterful accompanists...who’s maybe smoking a joint, holed up in a room unable to feel the joy of a choral performance or anything except the fleeting thrill of an internet gambling victory or the numbing distraction of the NBA playoffs---- take a sad song and make it better.