Ruth Bass: Tanglewood absorbs change, but keeps core



Very often when you visit a new place, someone sagely informs you that it’s too bad you weren’t there before. Before this was put in or that was taken out. Before so many other people had decided to visit, too. Before the prices went up. Before it was spoiled.

But we can’t ever be anywhere before we are, a statement that sounds as if it came straight from a Winnie-the-Pooh book. So it’s best to enjoy what is, try to ignore the people who wish nothing had ever changed and be wide-eyed with wonder, if that’s in order.

The best places survive their critics because they have a solid core. Tanglewood, despite changes that span some seven decades, retains its core, which is why the old visitors come back with mere moments of dismay, and the new sign on.

The first visit of the summer is always special, a time to remember years past while enjoying the present. It was more special than usual this year because the seven-year-old granddaughter was to have a seat in the Shed and see the pros play the violin she’s trying to master. Compared to theirs, hers is quite tiny, and so is she. At her spring recital, photos were impossible because the music stand completely hid her from view.

She loved the concert. But the main event was really the dessert. The appetizer was at Ozawa Hall where the slanted lawn outside the open rear doors gave a perfect view of the stage; horns, trumpets, trombones and a tuba gleamed there in the late afternoon light.

It was a perfect night weather-wise. Cool and quite still, just right for floating music. Tanglewood’s famous lawns stretched green in all directions and one restless teen apparently could not resist their call - she left her family at one point and cart-wheeled away. Lots of other kids were on the Ozawa Hall lawn, including a fetching child with jet-black bangs and a round-faced baby with a mop of hair sticking straight up. Forgetting that even Tanglewood has not vanquished the mosquito, we had not brought insect repellent and gratefully caught a drift of citronella from a nearby blanket. Oddly, it was an older man in a Panama hat who could not put his cell phone away.

We had snacks for the prelude and then dove in to the main course as soon as the music stopped. We had no candelabra, no silver spoons, no cute wagon for carting our stuff. Over the years, our Tanglewood meals have changed very little -- we don’t have to tell newcomers they should have come when we were eating mere sandwiches.

On the way to our Shed seats, an usher halted the seven-year-old. It was a bad moment -- my daughter and I assuming he was going to tell her she was too young for the Shed. But no. He held out his hands, tightly closed, and asked which one she thought had a treat in it. While foot traffic was blocked in the aisle, she chose and smiled when he handed her the wrapped penny candy. We heaved a sigh of relief.

She may have been too young by the strict rules, but she wasn’t too young to be there. Child-like, she wanted to swing on the over-sized trumpet sculpture outside the Shed. Inside, more sedate, she watched raptly as the orchestra tuned up and then was surprised when half of the players disappeared between Beethoven and Mozart. Child again, she climbed on my lap so she could see the pianist’s hands.

We left at the half, as we often did with our own kids, hoping not to overdose them with too much sitting and silence. And while much has changed in the Tanglewood gift shop, we managed to find a small classic sweatshirt to make a cool evening perfect. Before was good. So was after.

Ruth Bass is a free-lance writer who lives in Richmond. Her web site is


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