Nkeiru’s November Blog Entry – LOCC Blog

By Nkeiru Okoye
November 30, 2023

Blog entry. November

This month’s blog is dedicated to a person who made a recent concert, especially memorable.

He was tall. Standing a couple of feet away, he met my eyes, even with my 6-foot frame in three-inch heels. His silver-gray suit accentuated his hair and commanding presence. Now in his late 60s or early 70s, he’d been handsome in his prime.

“Excuse me,” the man said with a practiced smile intended to charm. Broadening his shoulders, he waited for my attention and approached. His message was important enough to linger while others scurried back into the hall for the second half, I wanted to hear it.

“I want to thank you personally,” he intoned, “for dressing appropriately for this evening’s concert. Many people come dressed as field hands.” His gaze shifted momentarily in the general direction of my companions. Thankfully, they had continued walking. A gray-haired woman stood by his side, ostensibly his wife. She smiled up at him, encouragingly, admiringly, positively beaming.

I blinked a few times. My conservative turtleneck sweater and knee-length vegan leather skirt were cultivated carefully to be neither over nor underdressed. An understated gold ring with multicolored gemstones worn on my index finger completed the ensemble.

While they fit in, my pecan brown complexion and mane of un-straightened tresses stand out at most symphony settings. I’d grown accustomed to the stares, but not insensitive comments. The White man in front of me clearly felt he was complimenting me, possibly elevating me above others of my race – or at least, what he thought of us. Neither he nor his wife understood how insulting he was being. Associating Black people with field hands evoked unwanted imagery of people who looked like me being enslaved.

My mind raced through any number of appropriate responses which would not result in an email of complaint. Smiling slightly, and speaking slowly, careful to enunciate each syllable, I responded.

“I am on staff here with the orchestra.” Identifying myself as one of the resident composers, I asked if he was a season ticket holder.

“Yes…” Spoken emphatically, his answer reflected pride at years of supporting the orchestra as an audience member.

“Wonderful. Then you must have been at the season opener concert. It started with my composition VOICES SHOUTING OUT…?”

The man’s skin reddened just slightly, as recognition set in. He’d seen Teddy Abrams introduce me in the very same auditorium, watched me introduce my music to the community. Eyes downcast, the man stammered

“I-I-I must have missed that one.” We both knew he was lying. He walked away, shoulders slumped.

That evening was full of firsts. Guest conductor JoAnn Falletta chose to end the concert with Ravel’s Bolero. It’s one of my favorite pieces in standard concert repertoire; and my first time seeing it live. I’d initiated the orchestra’s “Concert Buddies” initiative, aimed at engaging the community. Six beautiful Black women of all shades, sizes, and backgrounds accompanied me. For two of them, it was the first time attending an orchestra concert. I took them backstage to meet Maestra Falletta, who took a photo with us.

Despite the magical moments, the man in the gray suit is what I remember most. I want to believe that Bolero was worth the encounter. It is positively mesmerizing.



Louisville Orchestra Audience Conduct Policy

The Louisville Orchestra prioritizes a safe, respectful environment free from harassment or discrimination for everyone involved in our events, including staff, musicians, guest artists, and patrons. Harassment of any kind based on race, gender, sexual orientation, and other characteristics is strictly forbidden. This policy extends to all forms of interaction within our venues and events. Any disruptive behavior impacting the performance or experience of others will not be tolerated. Violators may face removal and prohibition from future events. We aim to foster a welcoming atmosphere and encourage all attendees and participants to embrace these values and help us maintain a positive and enriching environment for the diverse community we serve.