2001 Pulitzer nominee Fables

Fidgeting or Sleeping, At a Musical Galop

Loose Leaves, 1st run Tuesday 8 February 2000 in The Morning News of Northwest Arkansas

By Ben Pollock
Copyright 2000 Donrey Media Group

We gained a second ticket for the Philharmonic when the missis was asked to work late. Who would want to go, I wondered, when my thought was intercepted by my stick horse, Dowel Jones, who called out in a soft whinny from the mansion’s riding, er, writing wing.

I don’t take Dowel Jones out as often as I should. The Walton Arts Center would be perfect. They will let anything in with a ticket.

“It’s an instrumental concert, faithful steed, but we can’t quite call this classical music. We will hear 20th-century works, lots of percussion.”

With the hobby horse there naturally was no need for a car, despite the hills of Fayetteville.

“Why is it, Dowel, that, when I ride you, I am the one who gets tired? You never seem winded.”

Dowel Jones snorted, in his laughing way.

Dowel may seem a toy for a child, but he is one of my dearest chums. He was imagined up at least a year before I found him circa 1989 for sale at the Prairie Grove Battlefield Labor Day Clothesline Fair.

His head is blue fabric striped with white. His mane is bright red yarn. His outer ears are red cloth, but the inner ears have big and little blue stars on white. The reins are sisal. Dowel’s torso is an unfinished oak rod.

Outside the performing-arts complex I dismounted. We were going inside. Mom may be 50 miles away in Fort Smith, but she could get word if we galloped through the center’s art-gallery lobby.

For an evening of serious music we saw an unusual number of children. Some pointed at Dowel, who blushed.

Riding a horse on the sidewalk was much quicker than driving and parking along Dickson Street. We had time for a pit stop.

The men’s room was, as usual, immaculate. Even so, I did not want to lean Dowel Jones against a wall, so I kept him crooked under my arm. The other patrons certainly hurried out, even though it was 10 minutes until curtain.

That was a good thing, we learned, for a sheet of laminated typing paper was taped up telling patrons to mind the time because none of the restrooms has loudspeakers. Lights will not blink, either.

The sign states further that latecomers will not be seated until the first break, perhaps about 15 minutes after the curtain has risen.

I should donate a million dollars to the Walton Arts Center to pay to pull speaker wire through restroom walls so we can hear the tinkling bell and to rig the lights so they can blink on the house manager’s cue.

This was a moot point, a good thing since I don’t have a million dollars. As usual in this hall, latecomers were seated as they arrived. Everyone was as quiet as could be, but you still had rustling and removing of coats along with muffled “pardon me’s” and “excuse me’s.”

From our balcony seats, Dowel Jones and I could see some of the children. Most were a good deal younger than high-school musicians who would have gained greatly from the experience.

This Philharmonic concert was not intended for children, although the Walton Arts Center presents several young people’s shows every season. No program I have attended over the last year was targeted for youngsters, yet they all had a fair number of listless children.

Listless? Children at grown-up events are either fidgety or asleep, or approaching either state. In neither state can they absorb or appreciate what their mommies and daddies paid $12 to $30 for each seat to behold.

Of course, I may not be up on the latest research. Before anyone thinks I am a cranky duff, I do forgive restless adults. An occasional throat clearing and a rare whisper should be tolerated by patron and performer.

If one wants an ideal listening or viewing experience, one should stay home with stereo and TV. People are people.

Even so, the Walton Arts Center offers trays of cough drops to patrons as they enter.

My tolerance leaves no room, however, for cell phones and pagers. I have not heard one yet at the arts center.

The children who sat around Dowel Jones and myself at the Philharmonic were well behaved.

The second-grade and fourth-grade sisters on the front row of the balcony hardly spoke. They kicked the little wall every so often, despite their chaperones’ mild admonishments, but they seemed to pay attention to the program.

A baby had a booster seat in the row above, but he spent most of his time on his mother’s lap. The infant dropped his sippy cup twice, rolling under my seat each time. The second time, the mother just left it until the show ended. She apologized as I picked it up for her. I just smiled.

What was I to say? The covered sippy cup did not spill. Besides, next to the booster seat sat a teen-ager. He drank a can of soda during the concert.

I had strapped a feed bag around Dowel’s neck before the program began. My concert companion neither fidgeted nor slept.

Throughout the show, an intermittent stream of people flowed out. Adults were carrying or tugging their charges through many pairs of knees and then up the aisles.

They carried their bags; they were not coming back. Don’t folks know how children behave, even at their best?

I enjoyed the show. My tail-less stallion did not let the distractions bother him, either. As we trotted out the door, Dowel Jones whinnied and bared his teeth in a laugh, as if to say, horseys are optimists, too.


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