They talked about it for several weeks. Finally a program was posted and a driver chosen. The fall season had begun and none of them had ever gone before.
A local radio station broadcast a weekly live music program from a music school during the noon hour. The program began at 12:10 and ended at 12:50. Just time to be there and back for afternoon appointments.
The prospective listeners were staff at a mental health center. Just who would go was uncertain until the last minute. Several expressed interest. Changing clinical demands made it unclear who would finally be free to go. Adding to the interest was a radio announcement that a Poulenc Sextet would be played by a visiting quintet. The mathematics of this arrangement provided a certain amount of intrigue.
The final entourage consisted of a representative mental health team. At the wheel was a psychiatrist. At shotgun was a psychologist. Squired in the back were a psychiatric social worker and a medical records technician. They set out in jaunty good humor in anticipation of a rewarding lunch hour.
A minor crisis arose outside Hochstein Music School. There were no parking spots in sight, several nearby lots were full and curtain time was drawing near. One lot appearing open was conducted by a humorless man pleading vehicle overflow and inability to accommodate the would-be audience. While leaving the lot, car movement was detected across the street. With brilliant execution, the psychiatrist commandeered the vacated spot in a con brio finale.
With moments to spare, they reached the auditorium. The music school had formerly embraced a religious congregation. What was now an auditorium was formerly a church of somewhat unusual configuration. Floor level and balcony seating spanned a two hundred seventy degree arc with no straight lines in sight. Risers stood at the back of what formerly constituted a sanctuary. In the center of the room was a large floor space which now featured five chairs, music stands and a piano. One mystery was solved by the printed program. A school staff member was to round out the sextet at piano. To one side the radio announcer stood ready to introduce the program.
The mental health team arrived just as the program was about to start. Listeners were scattered throughout the auditorium. A busload of children occupied the front rows near the entrance. The last of this group were just being ushered into the pew. One empty bench separated them from a somewhat scruffy looking man. The mental health team made for an empty bench behind him in an effort to merge with the audience before the performance began.
While surveying the stained glass windows, a crumbling cornice under slung by a net and space for a missing pipe organ, the team became aware of an odor, at first faint and musty. It took some time to realize that the odor became stronger as the man in front of them moved. The odor was not an olfactory delight. The team realized they were in the presence of a long unwashed man with a quite limited wardrobe.
He also checked twice on the contents of his worn shopping bag in which the by now nosy psychologist could see two graying sweaters and a large can of disinfectant. Seeing that the contents were still safe, the man resettled his bag beside him.
Two of the team managed to eat their lunches, somehow filtering out the aroma. One sat far enough away as to be oblivious. The other diner alternated between hunger pangs fueled by nearby lunches and nausea associated with the offending natural perfume from the bench ahead.
After introductions, the concert began. The team was briefly absorbed in the Beethoven. However, clinically tuned ears soon sensed that the man was talking to himself. He was also keeping time with his body but swayed with an inner rhythm not matching the performers’ beat.
He appeared to become more disoriented during the middle piece with its more abstract musical patterns and lack of regularity. He asked no one in particular whether a pause meant the conclusion of the piece despite lack of applause.
During the Poulenc, he appeared to lose interest in the music. When people left early, he wondered aloud where they were going. Twice he checked the time. This he managed by removing his large wallet, opening the change purse and consulting the body of an elongated pocket watch residing within.
He grew restless toward the end of the concert. He sat sideways, noting early departures. One of his legs pointed its foot toward the door. He glanced often in the direction of his planned escape. At the first sign of applause, he was in full stride toward the door, bag swaying wildly.
Ambling toward the car, the team’s conversation turned to the man. All agreed that they had gone to the concert to turn their thinking from mental health, at least temporarily. The psychiatric social worker deemed herself fortunate to be far enough away as to be oblivious to the man. She had enjoyed the concert. The psychiatrist admitted some distraction, and, although not venturing a diagnosis, recognized the man as mindless of his mental as well as personal hygiene. The psychologist was quite annoyed at the olfactory and auditory intrusions into his anticipated musical trance. The medical records technician, also a musician, noted that the man talked louder when the music was louder and softer when the music was softer, exhibiting reality contact at least regarding crescendo and decrescendo.
The team agreed that the expected transport into the right brain experience of the concert had been only partially successful. They also agreed to try sitting in the obsessive-compulsive rather than in the thought disorder section for the next concert. The man provided a graphic reminder of the transitory nature of bliss. Perhaps his role was to remind them of their calling and that their work would always await them.