The Nation's Pulse

Symphony Flags

An open letter to America's symphony conductors.

By 6.18.07

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An open letter to America's symphony conductors.

Dear Maestro,

I am a long-time devotee of the performing arts -- particularly classical music. Aside from talking, cell phones and coughing, nothing mars a performance more than applause between movements. And, other than cowboy hats and tractor hats, nothing marks a community more as a backwater of the beaux arts than such a robust expression of rubedom.

Fortunately, I have a solution for the applause faux pas. And, whichever symphony adopts it first would be recognized as most avant-garde in the music world. Think of it as Indy Car (or NASCAR) meets Mozart! The idea came to me at a recent concert by The Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra performing Brahms' Violin Concerto -- right after the applause for the first movement.

Instead of a baton, Maestro, you could have a rack of flags -- just like the starter at the Indy 500 or NASCAR races. The green flag to start is obvious. Less so would be the innovative use of the yellow flag to cue the orchestra into a lento passage or an adagio movement. Similarly, the flag with diagonal stripe would be used like its counterpart in auto racing and would mean, "move over, you are being passed," waved as a way of bringing on the featured soloist launching into his/her cadenza. Hopefully, Maestro, you would not have to use the black flag to tell an offending orchestra member "stop playing: you are dropping notes on the track."

The subtleties of the foregoing flags might be lost on all but the most sophisticated of race fans and classical devotees. But the true beauty of the symphony flags, beyond their color values, rests with the red, white and checkered! Imagine yourself, Maestro, with yellow and green flag in hand, reaching for the rack and gracefully retrieving the red flag. This you would then flourish (still unfurled) in a dramatic pause above your head, before a forceful rotational clockwise swirl, beginning and ending in the 12 o'clock position. You could even engage in a jete jump to add emphasis if you were so inclined. It would be a breathtaking moment -- free from the disruption of applause.

Moving on to the final movement, you could begin a grandioso waving of the white flag, together with the green to indicate the finale. This visual cue would allow those who don't know the music to truly appreciate the climax. The performance would have a dramatic conclusion as you brandished the checkered flag! Again, this would allow you every sort of ballet-inspired acrobatic expression -- perhaps a cabriole jump!

Such a finale would bring down the house, so to speak! In addition to the thunderous applause, the audience (fans) would feel free to indulge their new-found (and now knowledgeable) passion for the beaux arts by whistling and even assorted rebel yells. There might even be John Deere and Co-Op hats tossed in the air! Think of it, Maestro!

But please don't wait too long to implement this innovation. I am offering it first to the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra -- "the capital of auto racing." But I am also offering it to my hometown Grand Junction Symphony Orchestra (Colorado). Should they refuse to act, the idea is open to the first symphony to contact me.

As my civic contribution to whichever orchestra acts first, I will relinquish my intellectual property rights to the licensing and marketing of "Symphony Flags." I am convinced that desktop souvenir sets of Symphony Flags with the inscription on the base "I see'd 'n hear'd the music!" would be a blockbuster, helping to fund proper venues for great symphony orchestras throughout the country.

Eagerly awaiting your response.

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About the Author

Stephen M. Davis attended DePauw University and is a graduate of Indiana University. He has written a number of published articles. He is presently engaged in the disparate realms of farming 40 acres and dealing in 19th and 20th century paintings.