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Kirby: My turn to review the Utah Symphony performing 'Star Wars'

Published May 9, 2013 8:17 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

My grandson and I went on an adventure last week. We were riding TRAX downtown when a guy wearing a tuxedo got on. He was carrying a violin case.

"A hit man," I whispered to Gage. "Be careful. There's probably a machine gun in that case."

My grandson is only 9 but he's got some of me in him. He's just rude enough to ask complete strangers personal questions.

A few minutes later, Gage said, "He plays in the symphony. And it's a viola. Not a machine gun."

Our adventure began Saturday evening. We put on nice shirts and neckties and went downtown to Abravanel Hall. It was his idea that we go on an adventure to the symphony.

And because he asked me in front of his mother and grandmother, there was no way of talking him into staying home and shooting lug nuts out of a homemade cannon instead.

"You better make it exciting for him," my wife warned.

The Utah Symphony was performing the movie scores of famed composer John Williams, who's won something like 800 Oscars and Grammy awards for soundtracks to movies such as "Star Wars," "Valley of the Dolls," Raiders of the Lost Ark" and "The Cowboys."

I didn't know any of that before the symphony. Had I been asked, I would have said John Williams was Hank's younger brother.

I managed to work a little real excitement into our adventure by leaving our tickets at home. We had to stand in line to get new ones so we could go in.

We sat down in the orchestra pit. A symphony warming up sounds like a stockyard in Oz: hoot, squeal, thump, bleat, whine, honk. It's a cacophony of discordant noise but all of it magically in tune.

While we waited, I explained to Gage what I knew about the various musical instruments. That one was just plumbing with a mouthpiece. A mentally ill monkey could play that other one. And that one over there made my teeth hurt when it was played by itself.

I managed to impress Gage with the fact that I once played in an orchestra. I was third chair trombone in the fourth and fifth grades at Garfield Elementary.

When he asked if I still played, I admitted giving up music in sixth grade because I had discovered girls and didn't want to look like a dork lugging a trombone to school. Also, I wasn't very good. There were only two trombone chairs in our band.

I asked Gage which of all the instruments in the symphony he would most like to learn to play.

Gage: "The bass. That big one that stands up."

Me: "The bass? That's not a musical instrument. It's a canoe with a neck."

The disapproving looks of several nearby patrons invited me to shut up. Lucky for them, it was time for the symphony to start. The lights dimmed and the maestro appeared.

Jerry Steichen conducted the Utah Symphony Saturday. He marched in wearing some kind of "Star Wars" costume, and said, "Happy may the fourth be with you." (Hint: Saturday was May 4).

Some of the audience applauded the play on words. I told Gage that Jerry probably got chased home a lot from school.

Much as I was prepared to be bored by the symphony, I wasn't. There's something about watching music being played by people who REALLY know what they're doing. Gage was thrilled when we spotted our friend the hit man playing.

By the second song "Memoirs of a Geisha" I had forgotten all about cannons and was enthralled by the magic of blending 50 instruments into a single heartbreak. It was beautiful.

Two hours and a secret sack of candy later, it ended with Gage's favorite: the score from "E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial." On the way out, Gage said he liked the symphony even though it wasn't really all that dangerous.

But the adventure wasn't over yet. The symphony lasted so long that we missed the last train home. We had to call and get his grandmother out of bed to come and get us.

rkirby@sltrib.com