Here we are at the middle of the 2009 season. This season marks 10 years of Rush Hour Concerts at St. James Cathedral in our lives and yours, and that is something to celebrate! So while you’re settling in and savoring your last bite of birthday cake, I’d like to address a question I have been surprised with several times this year: “WHY are the concerts only 30 minutes long?” It’s a simple question with many answers.

My answer is that I like to think I’m a rebel. After all, I don’t always remember to floss and occasionally leave a dish in the sink overnight. The thought of doing things that bend the rules a bit leaves me breathless. Rush Hour is “bendy!” Sneak out of work “early” at 5:15: check! Sip a free glass of wine and delicious snacks: check! Hear a free, world-class concert: check again! Why, if you’re careful, you can be on a train and get home right around the regular time with a secret smile on your face, and no one the wiser.

Here are some of the other answers, culled from observations and conversations with patrons, artists, and staff.

It’s by design:
Rush Hour is “Great Music for Busy Lives.” Rush Hour was designed specifically to meet the needs of people who cannot afford to take the time or expense to participate in classical chamber music—and by that I mean taking two to four hours over a leisurely evening, going to dinner, paying for parking and a babysitter—whatever it is. In as much time as you might slip into a coffee shop, read a section of the paper and sip your favorite brew, you can come to Rush Hour and incorporate great music into your life.

It’s spontaneous:
Rush Hour is an entry point to classical music, in a traditional setting. It’s a minimal investment of time, but it’s meaningful: so much so that I often meet someone who stumbled across it the first time and then keeps coming back. Occasionally these are people who were avid musicians in high school or college and are coming back to the fold, so to speak. But sometimes they’re people who enjoy the peace and the love of that solitary hour each week. Would that person walk in the door for a longer concert? Hard to know, but I believe that “I’ll just drop by” has hooked many people into returning again and again.

It’s logistics:
But wait, there’s more. It’s not enough for us to present the opportunity. We also go to great and sometimes ridiculous lengths to secure musicians you will see performing in exalted venues throughout the world. For example, whenever we bring together our large “cello celebration,” it’s a foregone conclusion that most of that group will be racing off to perform elsewhere as soon as the concert is over. What I see is that the mission of Rush Hour—to provide free access to great music and artists—is so important to these wonderful artists that they work it into their schedules, and help us in every way to honor our tight budget and shorter performance times. (All while connecting with you on a personal level!) Everyone wins.

It’s the best kind of appetizer:Appetizers at Rush Hour
Some have said, hold on now! I love classical music, I’m a connoisseur of it, I come to Rush Hour because I know that I will hear things like the Gran Partita performed by great artists, and it’s not fair that you will give me a taste of this and then send me on my way.

A perfectly done appetizer can take the edge of your hunger, activate your taste buds, and get you ready for dinner. But sometimes, an appetizer is all you need. When you’re hungry, the first bite is far better than any subsequent one.

I have both the attention span of a cocker spaniel and a deep love for beautiful music, so that 30 minutes of great music often satisfies me perfectly. I get excited when I know that I would gladly sit still for another hour or so to listen. So, I go to dinner with a friend. I put the CD on in my car. I start a conversation. I recognize that we have to grab the perfect moments as they come. It’s no coincidence that a show business adage is “Leave them wanting more.” (I’m delighted that you do.)

It’s “turning off” for 30 minutes:
Most of us feel we must respond to every message and phone call immediately. Though none of my “time-saving” technology connects me to a button that will detonate a nuclear device or change the course of humankind, it seems that letting my battery run out on the Blackberry—being unreachable—is quite possibly a criminal act.

But I gleefully turn that darned thing off so that I can relax into a concert and what’s more, I take a strange delight in admonishing all the rest of you to do so. As the mother of two and a busy professional, it is unrealistic for me to think I can unplug completely. But I can afford a 30 minute rebellion, and I know that you can as well.

Some of the best moments in my life have been fleeting, but seem suspended in time and space while they are happening. Rush Hour has created this feeling in me many times—and those moments that touch my soul have done as much for me as 3 hours of something else. All too often, we tell ourselves that we are too busy to eat right, to exercise, to take a 10 minute break, or to simply take a deep breath and enjoy those around us. Taking the extra few minutes to make a meal from start to finish, or walk the dog, or have coffee with an old friend are the kinds of simple joy that life is ultimately all about.

We know you’re busy because we are too. And like us, you may hunger for more beauty in your lives. But I also know that every summer Tuesday evening between 5:15 and 6:15 p.m., I have a respite that is just right; a guilty pleasure that even I can’t really feel guilty about.

Thank you for celebrating this wonderful 10th anniversary with us, 30 minutes at a time.

– Megan Balderston
Executive Director

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