This was no ordinary concert. It was a reproduction of the Beach Boy's "Pet Sounds" album. On a typical hot and humid Houston summer day, we arrived at Discovery Green to set up and begin sound checks. The strings were envious of the brass. They could leave their instruments out in the sun without fear of damage. We juggled to keep our instruments in the shade as much as possible until the sun dipped below the horizon.
There was a tense moment when a breeze picked up and knocked over a few music stands on the risers, right on top of the viola section. Duct tape was soon brought out to tape the stands securely on the risers as well as the binders on said stands to prevent further mishap. No violas were injured during the concert.
It was a fun concert to play. During the course of the evening, one of the cellist stood up and danced on stage, I was caught on tape playing my viola cello-style to the tune of "Barbara Ann" (a non-string number), and I got a good photo-op taking a picture of the bari-sax above me from below the risers. We even had a dog bark on queue to truly reproduce the album.
Elise's discussion thread on what we sound like got me to thinking about the anxiety of publishing our performances.
As an amateur, I'm well aware of my shortcomings. I record my practice sessions regularly so that I may evaluate my progress between lessons. Listening to these recordings is often a very painful experience. I become hyper-aware of my shortcomings in intonation, shifting techniques, dynamic changes, and a plethora of other issues. I will obsessively record myself over and over again to correct mistakes in search of the "perfect recording" that I feel comfortable to share with others.
Though what I post seemed satisfactory at the time, a few months later will I revisit those recordings and wonder what I was thinking when I published. How could I possibly post something like that for public scrutiny?
Then I remember what music is all about and share my best effort.
Earlier this week, I got an e-mail. The rehearsal venue for the "Pet Sounds" concert was changed. I didn't think anything about it and simply wrote down the new address. I punched in the address into my car's nav system this afternoon and followed her directions.
Turn by turn I became a bit more nervous. When I was told that I had "arrived at my destination" I did a double take. I doubled checked the address against what I wrote down to the building number. Yes, this was indeed the rehearsal spot that afternoon.
The rehearsal location was at a bar in the seedier side of town. My stand-partner-in-crime and I poked our heads in the door with trepidation and was greeted by the owner with a smile and welcome. We sauntered up to the bar and placed our cases on said bar, took out our instruments and began tuning. Within a few minutes, the bar was filled with 40 other musicians, ranging from violinists, cellists, violists, bassists, clarinets, oboes, flutes, saxiphones, trumpet, trombones, and even a timpanist. The bar top was filled with instrument cases of various sorts. There was little light other than what seeped in from the street-side windows. We gathered our bar stools close to those windows, setup shop and began to tune.
It was quite a sight to see so many classically trained musicians perched on bar stools warming up with various pieces ranging from Bach to Sousa and then plunging head first into the melodies of the Beach Boys. Every entrance, tempo and dynamic change, bowing decision and vamp was taken as seriously as a Mahler rehearsal. Nearly four hours later, rehearsals finally came to an end when the bar had to open for its normal business.
While this was the oddest venue for a rehearsal that I've ever had, it was one of the most productive and fun ones.
Contrary to popular belief, the summer season can be a busy one for amateurs and professionals alike. As the regular concert series ends, the beginning of summer marks the season to engage in music festivals, camps, chamber recitals, and concerts in the park. It is the time to dust off the 1812 Overture, chamber music, and solos.
This summer will be a busy one personally. There is the reproduction of the "Pet Sounds" album at Discovery Green. June marks the time when instrumentalist fill in for the choir at church over the summer. August heralds in the annual Interlochen Adult Chamber Music Camp. And September ends the Summer Season with a Beatles concert at the park.
The summer may be busy, but it is a nice break from the normal orchestral season.
Four days, five shows. Last night ended the 2010 production of Night Court "Legal Holidays", a musical comedy poking fun at the legal profession and current events. Each of those four nights, I went home exhausted but happy. A lesson in what professional musicians do day in and day out.
The string section was most concerned with one particular number - the "Aggie Song", a hoe-down to end all hoe-downs. Individually we spent many hours practicing this piece until our calluses formed calluses and shed enough wood to build a bonfire. I finally got to hear how this sounded today and was impressed with how it turned out.
The most memorable moment though was the scene just before intermission. The "Peanuts Gang" walks toward the front of the stage at the edge of the pit. One of the gang says that the orchestra has been in the pit for a long time and needs a break, and that the trumpet player looks like he needs a "bio break". At that point, the oboist raises a white flag in surrender, and the bari-sax flashes the actors on stage a flash card. All of this is unscripted and inspired by the moment.
What was on the card changed from night to night and ran the gambit from quips in text to photo-shopped pics that I can't describe in a PG setting. Suffice it to say, we were trying to throw the actors off, and succeeded at least for the first show. The war was on! On the second night of the show, the Peanuts Gang was ready for us and threw back an unscripted come-back. These impromptu jests between pit and stage brought laughs from the audience.
While the playing in the pit is cramped, hot, and stressful at times, it is an experience that we all mark as a highlight of the year.
More entries: May 2010
Mendy Smith is from League City, Texas. Biography
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