Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Ode to a Fourth of July Past

Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Ode to a Fourth of July Past

Article excerpt

The rain destroyed the construction- paper replicas of the Statue of Liberty and soaked everyone and everything.

Beethoven and E.B. White have described thunderstorms -- dark clouds loom over dancing peasants and lakeside cottages and so on. So we'll skip most of that.

There's also prelude and coda. On the Fourth of July 1980 in the small Connecticut factory city where I grew up, the symphony played in the band shell in the park. It was a general-area orchestra: The musicians came from the general area, and whenever there was a high note, the violins landed in the general area.

The audience brought folding tables and chairs and had dinner. The tables were festooned with flowers and flags and construction- paper centerpieces. (There was a contest for best decoration.) Children were present, but it was more of an adult affair. In a city of that size, people of varying backgrounds mixed in the service clubs and on the lone golf course. On occasions like this, they came with friends and ran into other friends.

I was a reporter for the local paper assigned to write a feature story. That turned out to be easy.

My maternal grandmother, a pediatrician's widow, had helped found the symphony in the 1950s. In 1919, she had studied violin with Leopold Auer, who once had instructed Jascha Heifetz. For decades afterward she taught violin to the daughters of local factory workers. Some of her former students, including my mother, were on stage that night. They weren't among those who landed their notes in the general area, but the distinction wasn't important. The symphony was an inclusive ensemble. If you could hold your instrument more or less right side up and were willing to come cheerfully to rehearsals, you were welcome.

My grandmother and an elderly friend shared a table with my father. When the symphony played "The Blue Danube," my father danced with my grandmother.

It was obvious what was coming but too late to cancel the concert. The two dignified women, both over 80, crawled under the folding table, which then collapsed. The rain destroyed the construction-paper replicas of the Statue of Liberty, turned the brightly colored napkins to mush, and soaked everyone and everything. …

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