14 August 2010

Staying Awake

There are times when just staying awake is a challenge despite time of day and circumstances. Take Tuesday for example.

In a late effort to get in shape, I arose at 5 AM and had a good hour on the elliptical machine. It was exhausting, but the endorphins kicked in and it was a great start on my new fitness campaign. Caffeine at 8:00 and more caffeine at 10 and 12. Lots of meetings followed including a business luncheon with a glass of wine. Generally, I felt good all day but was beginning to fade a bit late afternoon.
5:30 PM arrived too soon and it was time to meet a friend for a light dinner of tapas at an outdoor sidewalk café. We split a bottle of Australian pinot; I really did not need wine but it was a nice complement to dinner. Conversation was good as always; food provided renewed energy; wine afforded relaxation after a busy day. I felt tired but was coping and acquired my second (or third or fourth) wind.

The piano concert that followed started at 7 PM. This would surely test my ability to remain awake. The famous pianist, Nikolai Demidenko, was the performer. The stage was bare except for a magnificent Steinway grand piano. The setting was a wonderful Sydney concert hall – Angel Place – which provides much better acoustics that the Sydney Opera House. Nikolai’s fingers flew over the keyboard; at times they paused in mid-air hovering, only to descend with a dramatic but fluid motion into the keys below. My friend called it a ballet of the hands. He was really good.

The music flowed from the Steinway in melodic streams. Thematic movements came and went and came again. Chopin would be pleased with how his music was treated.

After watching and listening for a while, the dimmed audience lighting coupled with the tender music made me feel increasingly tired; the mind said stay alert but the body said go to sleep. The effects of food and earlier coffees had passed. Then it became a sedentary appreciation of surrounding music and low light. I fought to stay awake. It would be very embarrassing to fall asleep.

I looked around the beautiful concert hall; I counted lights; I noticed lots of objects appeared in 4’s: l looked at the back heads of the audience and tried to guess what the faces look like. Finally, an intermission. I stood and stretched and talked and stifled my yawns.

Then the lights dimmed again, and the music returned. Now Demidenko attacked Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition. This piece was faster, louder, and bolder. But it was also a very long piece. Every time I thought it was coming to conclusion, another stanza began. This was War and Peace on a piano. I felt myself about to succumb despite my efforts to stay alert. I played games focusing my eyes on near and far objects. The sandman hovered.

Finally, Nikolai concluded a masterful performance. I jumped to my feet and applauded waking in the moment. Others applauded; he exited and I was ready to go home and go to bed. But alas he returned and began an encore. It should have been over but it continued. The audience was happy; I wanted to go to bed.

Finally it appeared to be over. More applause but no standing. This time it was more polite and less enthusiastic; others must be tired too. Two hours of music is a long time, especially on a Tuesday night. He exited; he returned; he sat down and began another encore. I felt I was about to die.

The lights finally brightened; no more encores. Time for home; time for bed. Good-bye to my companion; instead of the train or walking, I took a taxi – too tired to move. Sleep at last but tomorrow is only Wednesday.