Now That Was a Moment
A rare, unscheduled, and emotional perfomance that we will never forget.
Posted Aug 28, 2018
Just occasionally, rarely in our lives, this is how we feel, what we know. A Moment is more than the best performance, more than a standing ovation, a moment that takes you over, takes everyone listening over, changes your life for that moment. A moment you’ll never forget, a moment you share with everyone else—tens, or hundreds or thousands of strangers who are there experiencing that Moment at the same time.
Even if you go to hundreds of live shows, music, operas, plays, writers’ festivals, dance performances—there may be many great ones, but there will be only that very rare occasion when everyone knows they have been privileged to share a Moment.
I think Moments have certain factors in common: they are live performances to a live audience, and at some point, unexpectedly, the artist performs a song, reads from their novel, plays their musical instrument, dances a dance, and their performance is transcendent for them and for every single person listening and watching them. Everyone in the audience is captured in that moment, and feeling it with all their being, together. Often the song or that specific part of the performance has a special meaning over and above its usual meaning; the artist perhaps introduces it in such a way that it is already clear that this is emotional for them and it is clear that because of this they are taking a risk sharing it with the audience.
There are Moments in televised live performances that you can feel sitting in your living room watching, but they can never be quite the same as that Moment when you are there and part of it.
Moments are by definition never predicted, or planned, or scheduled; the same artist can sing the same song to a crowd as large, but on one night it is a Moment and the next night a great performance, a standing ovation, but not a Moment.
I looked up ‘Moments’ online in preparation for writing this and for a Moment I experienced quite recently I put ‘Joan Baez’ and the date of her concert in the search field. Up came a review of the very same concert I had been at, and there it was, a description of the Moment, the very same one I had experienced, by a reviewer who commented that she had been to 70 or 80 gigs a year for the past many years and she rarely experienced a Moment. And that this was one. Joan Baez singing a Maori waiata in her New Zealand concert was a Moment for the 2000 people in the theatre, and it was quite clear it was a Moment for her as well.
Often Moments, perhaps most Moments, go unrecorded, because they are unexpected and no-one thought ahead of time to record them, and of course in the moment the last thing anyone is thinking about is taking out their camera or phone and taking a recording, because if they did they would lose the moment and why would anyone want to do that when it happens so very rarely? If they are in the Moment they are not thinking of anything else, but are immersed in it.
I have been privileged to be in an audience for a number of Moments in my life; the first that I remember and therefore the first that I ever experienced was when I was seventeen and in a packed theatre listened to the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Zubin Mehta. To this day I swear that as he conducted the closing chords Mehta rose in the air above the podium. I am a scientist and don’t believe in such things, and didn’t even as a teenager, but I saw it that night—and that was a Moment. After the concert, I went backstage and Mehta came out in his cranberry velvet smoking jacket and signed my program (and I kept his pen!) and asked me if I played an instrument. I said I played the double bass and luckily he didn’t ask me to play for him! (I strangely didn’t say I played the guitar which was my main instrument and one that I could play about 100 times better than the double bass.) This was a very long time ago and he was young— indeed I just searched for that concert and he was only 29, and had taken over the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra Australian and NZ tour because of illness of their usual conductor. This was only the third time he’d conducted that orchestra, and a few years later he became their Music Director and has conducted around 3500 concerts with them since. In 2019 he retires as their Director, 54 years after that performance when he floated off the podium. I wonder if that was a Moment for him. At the time I am sure it was, but he has likely had a fair number of Moments in his long career… I have seen him twice since and always his concerts have been wonderful, but in neither of them was there a Moment.
One year I was at a farewell retirement dinner for a medical colleague who happened to be close friends of one of New Zealand’s greatest woman opera singers, and he and his family had supported her in difficult times. Between the main and dessert courses, she stood up, unannounced, behind his chair, and sang. The doctors sitting around their tables, every one of us, who had, a few minutes earlier had been having a riotous time, experienced a Moment that I am sure none of us will ever forget.
Another Moment was when The East Pointers, a Canadian Celtic folk group from Prince Edward Island was performing for the last time in that festival on the last night of WOMAD in New Plymouth, New Zealand in 2017. Thousands of people were packed foot-tapping-and-body-swaying-close on the grass in front of the stage; the word had spread from those who had been at their previous performances. Then fiddler, guitarist, and banjoist put down their instruments and with a moving introduction about the fisherman the ballad they were about to sing honored, they sang, a capella. And time stopped. The cliché “You could have heard a pin drop” has never been so true. That was a Moment.
Snug Harbor Jazz Club in New Orleans on August, 29th, 2016, and Jazz icon, Charmaine Neville is singing; by chance it is the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina (as it will be again tomorrow in 2018). After telling the intimate audience in that historic club a little about her own tragic experiences during Katrina (she is from the Ninth Ward) she prefaced her final song with the comment that New Orleans has never been the same, and this song has a different meaning to her now. By the end of Do You Know What It Means To Miss New Orleans she was in tears and walked off the stage and out of the club as her band, stunned, played the final notes. Unrehearsed, genuine, and brave. That was a Moment.
And then there was the Sebastian Barry Moment in the incredible Auckland Writers’ Festival in 2012. Barry is one of Ireland’s best-known writers; two of his novels have been shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize. I am addicted to this festival and there are so many highlights, but every now and then there is something more than a highlight. Many of the main sessions are video-taped and put up on the Festival website later, and thus, this is a Moment anyone can watch. If you are a writer, reader, actor, poet or lover of the Irish accent, do watch this one. Eight or so minutes into the hour-long interview, Sebastian Barry reads from his novel “On Canaan’s Side.” It is usual for writers to read from their novels at festivals like this, and many are good, but never have I heard a reading as wonderful as this. When he stopped reading, the Irish interviewer said, “Well, that was a Festival Highlight right there.” Yes, that was a Moment.
What have been the Moments in your life?