My church presents an annual concert series called the “First Sundays at Four.” Last year it offered a variety of performances including piano, organ, percussion, sacred music, chanted night prayers and, just for something completely different, South American folk rhythms. The first concert kicked off the season with a popular young pianist, a former child prodigy who returns often and always commands a good crowd, being noted for her poetic musicality, fiery presence at the keyboard and versatility with repertoire. That Sunday she was playing an awesome collection of Beethoven and Russian composer Modest Mussorgsky’s iconic “Pictures at an Exhibition.”
I serve as the back-end manager, standing at the door, greeting and handing out programs. At the conclusion, I am the one bartending — popping corks for a sparkling reception in the back of the church. Early on, we discovered that most concert-goers appreciate a toast of Champagne to celebrate the music and the meet-the-musician opportunity. We also keep a large bottle of sparkling mineral water on ‘the bar’ for youngsters and anyone else, although it’s rarely requested.
Near the end of that first program, the pianist may have been in the middle of “The Hut on Hen’s Legs,” which replicates the fast and furious scurrying of chickens, or “The Heroes’ Gate at Kiev,” described variously in reviews as fierce, strange and with revolutionary starkness, when a deafening sound reverberated in the near-perfect acoustics of the church and turned heads in my direction. It took me a few seconds to find the origin of the noise — one of the Champagne bottles blew its cork, spewing its contents on the stone floor. Pro that she is, the pianist kept playing without a blink, but then she has often performed in New York cathedrals where outdoor loud noises are de rigueur. The audience, however, thought we were under fire, and I had to reassure them all was under control.
When the crowd gathered around the table set up in the back of the church, I began pouring a new Champagne bottle into plastic glasses. There was laughter and happy chatter about the virtuoso performance. When an elderly woman asked for a non-alcoholic drink, I pulled out the Pellegrino, twisting off the top with a flourish, and one-third of the bottle’s contents sprayed over my cashmere sweater and the entire table. I had no choice at that point except to join in the laughter, and thank one kind-hearted soul who ran to get paper towels.
That first concert was the most dramatic for several reasons, and would definitely be hard to top. But now I’m looking forward to the Alturas Duo playing guitar, viola and charango, a small Andean stringed instrument of the lute family, traditionally made with the shell from the back of an armadillo. Hopefully, nothing blows up.