At noon, the crowd gathered outside the Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, surrounding the musicians in folding chairs, warming up their instruments.
Hundreds stood shoulder to shoulder, some holding coffees, others munching on sandwiches, wearing bike helmets and sun hats. They’d walked past a few boarded-up stores and shards of broken glass to get here, all with the same purpose—to hear beautiful music.
The members of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra stood and the opening notes of “The Star Spangled Banner” wafted through the air. The crowd’s singing started slowly, but built, ending in a cheer at the anthem’s end.
This impromptu concert, meant to encourage peace after rioting and looting this week, was organized less than 24 hours before, explained oboist Michael Lisicki. He reminded everyone that they weren’t far from the site of violence that had erupted in the wake of the death of Freddie Gray.
The concert wasn’t intended as a statement, he said. “This is about a gathering of musicians, and we just want to play some music for you.”
The players, who numbered roughly half of the full symphony, launched into Handel, then Bach’s “Air on the G String.” The crowd grew, encompassing college students, professionals in suits, even children from nearby nursery schools.
Some spread blankets underneath trees across the street. No one seemed to notice the whir of a hovering helicopter.
Music director Marin Alsop told the crowd that music was a universal means of communicating, not like words that are sometimes misunderstood. The 100-year-old symphony will “always be here for you,” she said, then added, “Well, at least for the next 100 years.”
The crowd laughed and at the end of each piece, clapped and cheered wildly. For a half hour, at least, the music had united them, and perhaps put the last few days’ worries out of their minds.
“Encore!” the crowd shouted, after the musicians and Alsop took a bow. So the musicians lifted their instruments and started a reprieve of “The Star Spangled Banner.”
And, as is tradition in the Charm City, the singers once again held out the, “Ohhhhhh.”