Last November, a trio of musicians in the MIT Chamber Music Society warmed up for their end-of-term performance. A few pages into Felix Mendelssohn’s Piano Trio No. 2 in C Minor, Opus 66, the concert hall turned “literally pitch black,” recalls violinist Justin Stilwell.
“That’s a little strange,” he remembers thinking.
With close to an hour until the start of the concert, the group sprang into action. Ellie Bors, the group’s cellist, called a friend who owned a bike headlamp. A member of the MIT Music department provided music-stand lights, but the lights’ batteries were dead. The search continued.
Meanwhile, audience members were filing in, eager to offer suggestions. The trio couldn’t change rooms because the piano wouldn’t fit through the door. They couldn’t play in the doorway because Stilwell and Bors couldn’t hear the piano very well. They couldn’t postpone the concert, either; Bors was going out of the country the next day.
Relying on a random assortment of headlamps, music-stand lights and iPhone flashlights, the group managed to perform for a couple dozen audience members.
The cause of the blackout, as it turns out, was a transmission-line failure, plunging more than 15,000 Cambridge, Mass., homes and businesses into darkness.
Just a few miles away from the MIT concert, a group of Harvard University students faced a similar situation during their rehearsal of Next to Normal. The production’s lighting director had been focusing lights when the power went out, which threw off the schedule for the rest of their tech week, said Morgan Henry, a student in the production.
The group tried using the theater’s emergency lights. They even tried rehearsing by moonlight before finally settling on candlelight.
“The most challenging thing about the candlelight was that we couldn’t really see each others’ faces, which are pretty pivotal in a show as emotional as N2N,” Henry said.
Less than three hours after the lights went out, when the MIT concert was long over and Bors was packing away her cello, the lights finally came back on. Would she do a concert in the dark again?
“It was kind of fun, but kind of stressful. Maybe.”
Stilwell, on the other hand, said he’d love to repeat the experience, maybe even with candles like the days of the composers. It was his first time performing a concert during a power outage, but Stilwell said he wasn’t stressed at all, even though it was difficult to see his fellow musicians and their cues.
“After you practice enough, you can feel what’s going to happen,” he said. In fact, the dark setting made for a unique experience.
“I actually really enjoyed not seeing the audience,” he said, calling the experience “freeing.”
“Once we began playing, it seemed as if whatever difficulties we had faced in the prior hour while scrambling to figure out how we would perform had suddenly all disappeared.”
As this episode in Cambridge shows, power outages don’t always occur during inclement weather. Be ready for those random blackouts with these tips from the Red Cross:
• Turn one light switch to the on position. That way, you’ll know when power returns. Turn off any appliances or electronics you were using because power surges can damage this equipment when everything turns back on.
• Don’t open the fridge or freezer if you don’t have to. Food in an unopened fridge will stay cold for about four hours. For a freezer, keeping the door closed will maintain the temperature for 48 hours if full, 24 hours if half full.
• After the outage, go through your fridge and throw out food that has been exposed to temperatures higher than 40 degrees Fahrenheit (4 degrees Celsius) for two hours or more, and don’t rely on the “taste test.” Bacteria grow quickly and can cause food-borne illnesses, even if the food looks and smells fine.
* Be aware that carbon monoxide poisoning could be a risk. Do not operate generators, grills or other equipment that burns gasoline, propane, natural gas or charcoal indoors.
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