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May 21, 2004
I've been going to kids' performances for thirty years. First, Corinna: she was Lucille, impossibly pretty in an 1890s style hat, taking a ride with a little boy in his brand-new Oldsmobile. The next year they sang song about Peter Rabbit. Then there was Anna: she was an executive in a tiny blue suit, like older women executives were wearing, barking orders to her employees in a company whose business I cannot now remember. Then Corinna was in "Godspell." Then they were both in "Amahl and the Night Visitors," and Corinna played a nurse in "Whose Life Is It, Anyway?" Anna did special effects for "Agnes of God," specializing in producing blood for the heroine's stigmata in "Agnes of God." She had a little table set up backstage for the process, which she charmingly called her blood table. Corinna's last role was as one of Ahasuerus's many prospective wives in a musical version of the Esther story. Anna's last one was as The Girl in The Fantasticks.

Just in time for the grandchildren's roles to take center stage. Rosie's first part was as a goose in A Christmas Carol: Anna was a Cracthitt daughter, who had to come in bearing a lovely roast goose and say "Here comes the goose!" Rosie was six months old, and played the goose during rehearsals: for the show, we roasted and shellacked a large chicken. Madeline was a tiny witch in the Halloween parade, wearing her mother's black velvet minidress, which reached the floor on Madeline. Madeline was a village girl in "Fiddler on the Roof," and the mother in "Bye Bye Birdie." Rosie was Ruth in "The Pirates of Penzeance."

Last night the music department at the high school had its spring concert. I was in the garden until almost curtain time, and jumped in the car in my sweats. I paid my five dollars and sat inconspicuously in the back row. The auditorium was full of parents and grandparents and siblings. The string orchestra was first. Not bad at all -- it takes a long, long time before you can make a violin sound good, but these kids are definitely on their way. There were five violas. Madeline plays the viola.

It was all so familiar. By the time they're in high school, you've gone to lots of shows, sat in the dark, birthing each note that comes from the stage, peering between the heads of the others to glimpse the intent little face you love most. The piece ends and the conductor puts down her baton. A wave of love from the audience seats rolls toward the stage and engulfs it, and the orchestra stands together on the conductor's signal to acknowledge the deafening applause.

"You were the best one," I say on the phone. She is on her cell phone in the music room, lounging with her friends among the fiddle cases, her part of the program finished, uproarious with the other violists, violinists, cellists, the lone string bassist. This is their favorite part of a concert, the giddy afterward.

"You were the best one," I say again. That's really stupid, since you can't pick out one violist from among the five. But that's my opinion, and I'm sticking to it.
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