Eric Whitacre. Have you heard of him? I hadn’t until last night when I went to see him in concert at the Robert Blackwood Hall at Monash University. He's a composer and conductor currently settled in London but originally from the U S of A.
Eric Whitacre is a man of extraordinary talents but to my mind almost too good to be true. It’s not his talents per se but the whole package. Between conducting his songs and music he talked briefly and wittily about his life, his wife, his passion for music and poetry. The audience loved him, encore after encore.
My daughter was singing in the choir and glorious singing, too, but Whitacre stole the night. His wife, he told us, was for once able to be there and she added to the overall allure. Here was a man in love with his wife, after a fifteen year marriage. In love too with his seven and half year old son who came along to the concert as well. His wife, Hila Plitmann, is a famed soprano with her own extensive following of admirers.
See how often I write the words 'also' and 'as well' here. These attributes pile up, one on top of the other.
Before the performance began the son scrambled past me with his beautiful mother as I flattened myself back into my seat to make room. I had noticed this young boy as he approached from one side of the theatre. I could not but notice him. As he slid past each person already seated he pointed to their programme on the front of which an image of his father took pride of place.
‘That’s my dad,’ he said. ‘That’s my dad,’ and he squeezed past me while his mother half apologised, half laughed at the antics of her proud and equally beautiful son.
All three were blond, the son, the darkest in hair colour. All three beautiful in that movie star way. Whitacre's hair reminded me of this advertisement: men using women's shampoo. Hilarious and almost surreal.
Ash, the son – Whitacre told us his name during the performance but I may have spelled it incorrectly – wore a grey suit not unlike the suit his father wore on stage. Ash featured in many of his father’s stories about how Whitacre came to compose this or that particular piece of music.
I'm not usually taken in by so much beauty but as I say it was the entire package. Not only the man’s ability as a composer but also his ability to present himself to the public, his warmth and generosity. It took me by storm.
A voice inside kept saying this cannot be. It cannot be so picture perfect. But why spoil it with my doubts? Am I envious? Why want to tone it down with a few hard edges? Even the overall effect for me became a hard edge, but why can I not trust to the appearances and enjoy the ride? Why so cynical?
I stood around afterwards for at least half an hour chatting to my daughter and her friends and when I left there was still a queue of people waiting to ask Whitacre to sign copies of his CD. The queue stretched the width of the Blackwood hall and I felt for this man who after the fifth round of applause had raised his hands to his mouth in a gesture of drinking. He then looked upwards as if to say to the audience, enough adulation no, let’s all go upstairs for a drink.
No drink for him I imagine till well after midnight, but I suppose it’s all part of the deal, the price of fame, and it sells CDs.
I gave a talk myself on Friday afternoon to a small group of psychology students at Swinburne. I’m not an accomplished speaker but I tried hard to present material in such a way that they might be interested.
From the onset, as I spoke, I noticed a man directly in front of me about five rows up who sat beside another man. Both were older men, older relative to many of the students, and they chatted openly to one another during the prepared part of my talk.
I had the impulse to stop speaking and to ask them if they had wanted to leave. For the first time in my limited lecturing experience I knew what it felt to be a teacher with unruly students.
At one point the instigator of the chats, at least as far as I could see, stopped chatting and turned to face the side of the small lecture theatre away from the other man. He sat that way for at least half of my talk. I kept waiting for him to leave. I wanted him to leave, however much it might have seemed like a public thumbs down from him.
This man gave me no sense of confidence in what I was saying but I ploughed on. I knew in time I would play some you tube versions of therapy and that we could discuss them altogether and that the event might become more alive, more alive than having me simply drone on.
Not that I droned on but I had worried that students these days do not value being lectured to. They prefer interaction. And indeed things came more alive after I had explained where I was coming from and launched into a discussion of other people’s performances as therapists as portrayed online.
To my surprise when it was all over the disruptive man came down to me at the podium and expressed his gratitude for my talk. He introduced himself and offered to show me his written feedback, which he must have written during my talk.
It was the strangest of feedback wherein he described the first part of my talk as like ‘Skyhooks - Living in the seventies', because I had described in some detail my origins in the field, and then he told me that the discussion part where I explained my position had completely changed his view on ‘this caper’, as he called it, this caper by which I presume he meant psychology.
He was fifty years old he told me and new to the field. How strange. I could not get him out of my mind for some time. I still do not know whether he was critical or pleased. He seemed to hear my words despite his chatter but what he has made of them I suppose I will never know.
The person organising the course made a fuss of distributing the feedback sheets before the talk and her intern collected them after the event. Somehow to me the collection of feedback sheets so close on the heels of my talk felt a little like people throwing money at me as if I had become a busker. The more money paid the more successful I would be. The better the feedback the more I deserved to be paid. Another strange feeling.
I do not intend to make a habit of these talks and so I tell myself the feedback is not of such huge consequence but of course I dread the thought I may have bored them silly.
I am no Eric Whitacre, such a talented man, but I thought I had something worthwhile to say. My only hope now is that I could be heard. Isn’t that why any of us do these things? To be heard?