A sense of place. Everywhere has it, but we are always looking for it and hope to sense it the moment we come upon it. I did when I first started working as a stagehand for Aldeburgh Music at Snape Maltings Concert Hall. You could feel what remained of those that had trodden the wooden stage and perhaps even faintly hear music still reverberating off the soft brick surround.
I liked it very much. There was a familiar rotation to the actions of labour, but it was always redeployed depending on if we had a jazz quartet, something avant-garde, or an opera on that particular day or night. It kept it fresh and within that, me and workmates kept a tight vigil over that stage. We knew the place inside and out and at all times of the day and night. And then there is a pub on the premises for the wind-down, for when our ears had been full of a two hundred piece orchestra rehearsing and then performing. Orchestras are properly loud. An entire run-through of Wagner’s Rings Cycle, when live, will literally imprint itself onto your brain because your ears will give in and burst. Fantastic.
And then there were the stage moves; going out on stage to roll a Steinway around, or a host of other things, or perhaps just to move a music stand from centre stage. Music stands were the tough ones; move it too fast and the various sheets of music paper will gather a breeze and make a break from the stand, right in front of 900 people watching you. You don’t want that, no sir, you want to be slick and get backstage again. A workmate once locked me on stage with a full jazz band one night because I had, earlier that day, gaffer-taped his entire lunch bag and thrown it into the empty auditorium. Even earlier that day he had done something which I cannot remember but which had upset me at the time. Hence the gaffing, and then ultimately me being stuck against the open stage wall for the next piece.
Mostly they were reasonable times though. Sometimes we could start work building a set before sunrise and then not really see any sunlight all day, tucked away as we were. There was light in a sense, as in banks of opera lamps set four feet above the stage, blinding me while I hold up a twenty-foot piece of set dressing. Never was that stage not doing something to the senses. I have never really experienced the like since. Except at church where I get something distinctly other and better than similar.
Shrewsbury’s Orthodox Church is not a large building, although it has a great imprint. I think the council have it listed as a small building of large activity. Father Stephen and I were looking at the south-facing wall the other day and I was pondering just how she fitted all the souls within her the way she does; like some great inhalation that can cradle further than the walls and then breathe out over us all. And then on quiet evenings, a closer hold around the gathered; an archaic huddling.
It made me crudely think how we used to bring forward the wooden screens at the concert hall for a close atmosphere if say there was just a piano on stage, or by degrees bring them back or remove them. Much less breath of the divine but it was the first parity that came to mind at the time. In fact, it is usually the best I can do when confronted by the great conduit of the Lord’s stage, the very rock of history, emblazoned with the feet of those who have trodden the boards before you, filled with their calls as they resonate about the soft stone.
It is a struggle to find good parity to that…
‘Enlarge the place of your tent, stretch out your curtains wide, do not hold back; lengthen your cords, strengthen your stakes. For you will spread out to the right and to the left’