If you have ever seen a Federico Fellini film you know that the hallmark of his work is the juxtaposition of seemingly out-of place people and things. They are not completely abstract, they just end up in these situations and that’s the genius of Fellini.
I have had a few of these moments in my life and sometimes I have been able to step back and reflect upon what I have just seen. More often than not I am delighted and amazed. I am sure there have been more, but I wasn’t able to recognize and appreciate them. Once you experience a Fellini moment, you start looking for them.
I was taking a class in conducting a few years ago because I have occasion to conduct youth orchestras and bands and I don’t think I’m very good at it. I had to travel to Seattle on business right in the middle of it, so I took along my baton and Brahms Requiem score so I could practice in my hotel room. I stayed at this particular hotel every year and I knew it had a three-way mirror that would be perfect for honing my skills.
This was in October of 2001, and if you traveled at all during that scary time right after 9/11 you will recall that there were National Guardsman in camouflage and weapons standing on little rubber mats at all airports in the security area. The baggage screeners, who were not the TSA employees we see today, were completely overloaded and not very well trained. Not to mention the baggage screening areas at most airports were not designed for the crush of travelers they routinely got.
On my trip back I decided not to check my bag and carried it on. This turned out to be a bad choice as I forgot my baton was zipped in the outer pocket along with the Brahms score. However, that didn’t seem to matter to the screener who pulled me aside. He was running his finger over the point and making jabbing motions, yelling at me in his very broken English, “Sharp!” I couldn’t understand what he was saying as he was getting louder and all I could see was a strip search in my immediate future. I kept saying innocently, “Music? Conducting?” The guy was getting really frustrated, the line is getting longer, and I’m getting the eye-roll from the travelers behind me, like I just dropped all of my coupons in the check-out line at the supermarket. And then most of them are expired.
Finally, in desperation, the National Guardsman walks over to him, flings his rifle around to his back, grabs the baton out of screener’s hand and starts conducting and singing Mozart’s 40th Symphony! It was a beautiful thing. The guy looks at him and says, “Oh. Is OK.” and waves me through. The Guardsman went back to his mat as if he were Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker and the dream was over. I hastily put everything back in my carry-on and mouthed “Thank you!” as I went by him, brilliant boy that he was.