Friday was Ava’s violin concert. All of the students are required to learn the violin as part of the music program at her school. When I toured the school for the first time, this was a real selling point for me. They told me all about how it helps children with the tones in Chinese and it exposes them to reading music. At Ava’s previous school, Music was connected with Math (along with everything else—yeah integrated curriculum!) and I am a firm believer in the benefit of learning to play an instrument. Studying music is really a no brainer, in my opinion. That said, I have tried to learn to play several instruments and have been wildly unsuccessful at all of them. Still, I think music is important.
Apparently, the other parents at this school agree with me. At least they agree on the importance of attending the Spring violin concert. The concert took place on two days in order to accommodate all of the special guests who needed to see their little virtuosos perform. You had to request tickets or go to the main office to get them. Each child was only allowed two tickets when they were first made available but there was the possibility of obtaining more tickets if there were any left after round one. Yes, two rounds of tickets for an elementary school violin concert. You need tickets but then it is general admission. No assigned seats! First come, first served! We have only two adults that might possibly endure such a concert, so this all seemed unnecessary to me. This wasn’t U2, right? Was Paul McCartney going to make a guest appearance? No? Then why all the fuss, people?
I would soon find out that the violin concert is no trivial matter. Mark was late and so I waited outside the school gym until the very last minute. I lined up with some other concert goers, but really, “lined up” doesn’t describe what we were doing. In China, no one makes an actual line, and there isn’t this recognition of who is first, then second, and so on. People clump together and push. They will walk to the front and demand answers to their important questions as if they are the only person in the room. This happens everywhere—the bank, the grocery store, restaurants. I hadn’t expected it at the elementary school violin concert, but, well, there you go. It is an international school, so you have the interesting cultural combinations that result when you mix some Chinese parents with other nationalities. Some of us were lining up and handing our tickets to the teachers at the door, and some of us were clumping together or trying to ignore the ticket idea altogether and just push into the concert. A group of Scandinavians in front of me had only two tickets for four people. No, no, they were told. All the seats were claimed and they would need to have two people wait to see if they could come in. This was serious business, this concert. Behind me a gaggle of Chinese parents and relatives were starting to groan and push. It was of the utmost importance that they get into the concert! Immediately! Never mind that the rest of us were going to the exact same place and we could literally see into the gym. Finally they could take it no more and several of them pushed past the rest of us. The teacher in charge made a tight-lipped grimace and continued checking the tickets of the five or so of us remaining at the door. Then she put someone else in charge, left her post, and began hunting down the gate crashers. At first I thought this was a little over the top. I mean, who would try to sneak into a school concert without a ticket, especially when the tickets were free? Well, apparently, all of those pushy parents would, that’s who! One had a ticket for the performance the day before. She wasn’t Chinese, and made a big show of not understanding enough English to realize the date on her ticket was not the date of the concert she was trying to attend. Tellingly she had crumpled the ticket and shoved it deep in her pocket in an effort to make it more difficult to read. The rest acted shocked—truly shocked- that they were required to have tickets! The teacher drug them all back out to the hallway to wait for available seats.
Mark arrived during the first squeaky number. I had selected seats near the door so he could find me. Unfortunately, an aisle had been made in front of us for traffic going to the other side of the gym. As soon as the kids came on stage, this space filled up with doting family members holding their cameras. No one looked around to see if they were obstructing someone else’s view. We reluctantly stood up to be able to see the top of Ava’s head. This continued throughout the concert, combined with a constant hum of conversation coming from parents whose children were not performing at that moment. People were videotaping the event and I am sure that rather than the beautiful (ahem.) sound of violins, they primarily captured the personal conversations of those around them. The woman sitting next to me whipped out her phone and unabashedly played Angry Birds. A talkative kid in front of us took candid shots of Mark with her mother’s camera.
Would you like to see some pictures? I would love to show you some, but the combination of my small crappy camera and the other overzealous parents resulted in all my photos including the back of other people’s heads. Eventually, I started taking pictures of the other parents taking pictures of their children.
The concert had been a big deal for Ava and she was very nervous about her performance. She hasn’t been playing violin long and her entire experience has been about getting ready for this concert. She smiled when she saw us, though, and she couldn’t have been any worse than the kid who kept putting his violin down and letting out repeated sighs of exasperation. Or the kid who held his violin pointing straight up so that his bow wasn’t really touching the strings. Or the smaller kids who kept wiggling so much that it was impossible for them to hit the right notes. There were a few solo numbers from some kids who took lessons outside of school and these included some baffling dance moves. For visual interest, I guess? Who can say, really. And then it was over and we all pushed our way out of the gym as if there were Black Friday sales in the lobby. I managed to get a few photos of Ava as she made her exit. Notice the stylish uniform. Which she hates.