Agora or Temple? by George Slade

Agora or Temple?

A lobby used to be a transitional space, an overgrown mud-room, an air-lock you traverse expeditiously to access the main event. You check your coat, use the rest room, get a quick drink of water, linger only long enough to reconnoiter with a date, and head for the hall proper. A ticket-taker approves your entry and beseeches you to enjoy the performance.

Gaining the consecrated interior is the goal. There’s where the action is. A second usher offers you a program and asks if you know where to find your place. Seated, you take a few minutes to acclimate. Your working day recedes as you read program notes, smell the perfumes and recently consumed dinners that surround you, and settle. Your pulse eases into a suitable rhythm, of a piece, perhaps, with your fellow audience members, all anticipating an evening’s transport.

Once in your seat, the ritual varies little. The motion is inevitable, enticing, universal, and timeless. Slowly the stage populates with darkly elegant silhouettes bearing instruments of all sorts. The mingling crowd’s murmur yields to the warming orchestra’s enigmatic cacophony. Finally, a blush of light, a subtle, sudden shift as the evening’s principals, just offstage, ready for their appearance. The atmosphere adjusts from idle equanimity to imminent exaltation, the light of attention fills the stage and commands the balance of the evening.

The performance is all—the communion between musician, music, and listener the sacred and irreplaceable triumvirate inspiriting this unique moment. Everything else is trimming. The Dove bars, the money changing hands for discs, deals, and ducats, the jabbering marketplace of the outside world; once you enter the temple, excellence drives out the quotidian. (Ironically, when the Minnesota Orchestra musicians played their Gala Opening at the Convention Center in October, the lobby came alive after the performance, when musicians joined audience members in the afterglow of a uniquely spirited program.) All the portico posers and agora agonists must concede their presumptions and face the music; no, you don’t get time to finish your drink. The performance, not the periphery, is the sine qua non. Someone must have fiddled with the balance sheets to make anyone think otherwise.

—George Slade, November 2012

George Slade played piano, flutophone, guitar, and recorder until his mid-teens, when his artistic focus shifted to photography. He first experienced the Minnesota Orchestra during grade school field trips to Northrop Auditorium. His appreciation for classical music grew in his twenties, when his mother ran a record store in downtown St. Paul’s Landmark Center. Since 2005 he has lived with a violinist, whose music fills his life. 

Slade’s writings on photographic matters can be found in print and online; his blog, re:photographica, is located at

3 thoughts on “Agora or Temple? by George Slade

  1. Pingback: Agora or Temple? by George Slade | Minnesota Orchestra Musicians

  2. What a beautiful little piece by George Slade! I hope some Board members actually get to read it! Our big lobby is a fait accomplis, but George’s comments are telling. Thanks so much for your lovely prose, George!

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