Some of my most vivid early memories are of squirming impatiently in the uncomfortable seats of the Community Center Theater. Why my mom, a violinist in the Sacramento Philharmonic, thought a 6-year-old would enjoy classical concerts, I am not sure.
But I was forced into being cultured, whether I appreciated it or not. I saw ballets, operas, soloists and every other kind of performance normally attended exclusively by people over 50.
Since my mom was usually playing, my companion at these excursions was my grandpa, a life-long musician. At intermissions and on the ride home, I was offered extensive and harsh critiques of every performance. No one, especially the singers, could ever be good enough for his exacting standards.
We’re talking about a man who would complain that Frank Sinatra knew nothing about phrasing, and then sit down at the piano to show me how to properly sing “The Way You Look Tonight.”
So, of course, I was left with the biased impression that the Sacramento classical music scene was distressingly subpar.
But the sights and sounds are still clearer than almost any other memory. Some of the performances were incredible, and some were second rate, but all stuck with me. I can remember the awe I felt when, meeting my mom backstage, I would catch glimpses of performers. I can picture the sparkling white costumes of the snowflake dancers in “The Nutcracker” and hear the (unfortunately shrill) voice of Desdemona in “Otello.” I rarely hear a piece of classical music that I don’t recognize from somewhere.
And since it’s the kind of music that gets more engaging the more you listen to it, I’m grateful that I had that early exposure. I might not have seen the best performances in the world, but I was incredibly lucky to have such a wide array of shows a short drive from my house.
And every year I enjoyed them a little more.
Now I’m old enough to truly appreciate the performances, though I doubt I’ll ever entirely get my grandpa’s critical voice out of my head.
But for those who enjoy classical music, it’s not a good time to live in Sacramento.
The opera and Philharmonic merged into one company called “Two in Tune,” and last season, there was not a single performance, though they will be returning this season.
The Sacramento Ballet abruptly halted its season and laid off 20 dancers, who formed their own company and will perform at the Crest Theater on May 30.
All performing arts groups in Sacramento are facing major budget problems and are in danger of going under permanently.
There may not be much high schoolers (or poor college students) can do, but keep an eye out for performances. Try going to an opera. Whether or not it’s up your alley, it will be a unique and fascinating experience.
And I don’t want to have to drive to San Francisco to hear classical music.