Yesterday, I attended a (masked) symphony Halloween concert where all the musicians dressed in costumes. Some of them were group costumes (such as the double basses who were nuns or the trumpets who were cleverly gender-reversed: four men were Playboy bunnies, and the woman was Hugh Hefner, complete with burgundy robe!) The different conductors wore garb related to the pieces they were conducting (such as many scarves for conducting “The Dance of the Seven Veils” from Salomé), and the audience was also encouraged to dress up as well.
Each section of instruments took their turn displaying their costumes on stage before settling into their seats, giving the audience a chance to enjoy what they were wearing. The orchestra members played their instruments in the aisles, providing background music. The house lights were bright in the beautiful, historic auditorium where the concert was held.
It made me think–what is it about a grand event like this that is so fulfilling to people?
We human beings need pageantry and spectacle. We need something out of the ordinary, and there is nothing quite like costume to lift us out of our ordinary lives. We need things that are larger than life, not only figuratively but literally, to be in spaces that are not small. We need sound, light, and color to transport us into another world. In other words, we need things that are not human-scaled.
Drama has been around since the early days of humans. So has music. Most of the world’s religious traditions build massive houses of worship, decorated with jewels, gold leaf, stained glass, stone carvings, bright colors, and dress the deities in the finest fabrics. We pay exorbitant sums of money to attend rock concerts in arenas with gigantic screens and light shows, or Broadway musicals with stunning revolving sets. Royalty built edifices that corresponded with their rank: consider a baron’s humble country mansion with an imperial palace.
Even a walk through a Halloween store where they sell all kinds of accoutrements for creating a costume and interesting objects like motorized demons that pop out at you is a delight, a pleasure to see the sheer array of possibilities and imagination. It’s true that Halloween has become grossly commercialized; however, that does not take away the joy of walking through a store where the whole point is to celebrate the fantastical and spectacular.
It is interesting to think that while screens have gotten smaller and smaller and fit on a smart phone, televisions have gotten bigger and bigger: one can have a “home theater” in one’s house with the screen that approaches something in a small movie theater. This only affirms our love of seeing large images. Outside the home, we enjoy going to IMAX movies, because we get a more palpable sense of what it’s like to be on a rocket or seeing dinosaurs at what would have been their approximate size.
After nearly 2 years of living with a pandemic, and being cooped up for most of it, stuck in our own little lives and spaces (even those who live in mansions), there is something so soul-soothing about going into a big space and seeing big images, something that transcends our quotidian world. Here’s to the human phenomenon of the spectacle.