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The Weekend Vote weekend vote: Have you ever performed outdoors?

January 30, 2009 at 10:13 PM

Everyone has obsessed quite a lot about the conditions under which musicians played (or didn't play) during the U.S. Presidential election, and our own David Burgess even did some experimenting with how a violin reacts to extreme cold (you can see the results if you look deep this discussion thread, a thread in which everyone picked apart the inaugural performance like vultures on day-old roadkill.)

My question is, have you ever performed outside? And if your answer was yes, did you perform in extreme conditions, hot or cold? What were the hazards? Did anything happen to your instrument? Were there complications? Please describe below.

BTW, thanks to Alison S for contributing to this vote idea. If you have ideas for the Weekend Vote, e-mail me!


From Kristin Mortenson
Posted on January 30, 2009 at 10:19 PM

The toughest outdoor gig I've done was a few summers ago, playing "Oklahoma" as the only violinist for the summer theatre. It was in late July and the temps were daily between 105-108. Rehearsals started at 5 PM so you can imagine how awful it was! They did have a canopy for us, and that helped a tiny bit. I played on my daughter's school violin, amplified. There was a huge thunderstorm the day of opening night, and it brought the temperature down to a cool 90 or so. I thought I'd need a sweater! :-)

My trio has it in our contract that the temperature has to be between 65 and 85 degrees with no inclement weather, or they must provide an alternate venue. (I won't use a beater violin for trio/quartet stuff!) Once we were playing a wedding at a farm, and the weather looked threatening; we ended up playing in the farmhouse kitchen with the windows open, while the guests and wedding party sat outside in the rain! The music sort of wafted over them, like a mist. 

From Michelle Guthrie
Posted on January 30, 2009 at 10:27 PM

I wouldn't call the conditions extreme...usually on the hot side...pitch problems have been my only issue (plus avoiding cracks)...aside from problematic  weather, I love playing outdoors!

Posted on January 30, 2009 at 10:47 PM

evening orchestra gigs during summer months, a few folk gigs (way back in the day) but never in hot sunshine and definitely not in JANUARY

From Ray Randall
Posted on January 30, 2009 at 11:16 PM

Played at a magnificent outdoor theater late last Summer. It was hot and the glare off the music was incredible. Then a fly landed on the music, I thought it was a note and played it.

From Mendy Smith
Posted on January 30, 2009 at 11:51 PM

>Then a fly landed on the music, I thought it was a note and played it.<


Up here in Oregon, the summers are not hot, which is when several groups play outdoors.  The last time I did it, it was a windy day.  So while all the instruments were fine, our parts were flying around all over the place when taking off the clothes pins to turn a page.

From Paul G.
Posted on January 31, 2009 at 12:11 AM

I've never played a "gig" outdoors but I've played my own little concert for just myself and random wildlife out in the middle of a beautiful valley. My sound carried a way to who knows where.

Sorry I can't really contribute to this:)

From Michael Divino
Posted on January 31, 2009 at 12:16 AM

Yes.  Sister's wedding in the middle of October at The Cloisters Castle in Lutherville MD.


Try playing Bach when it is dark and cold outside.

NOT FUN. But it was for a good cause!

From Patricia Baser
Posted on January 31, 2009 at 12:21 AM

I've played outdoors anywhere from 40s to almost 100 degrees (neither extreme recommended) .  I especially like the weddings on the beach where the winds gust to 20 mph and the humidity turns the bow to mush.   I have now also played outside in December here in Georgia, a feat not possible in my former state.

From Pauline Lerner
Posted on January 31, 2009 at 12:50 AM

I have played outdoors at many summer folk festivals, but the temperature rarely exceeded 100 degrees.  With respect to weather at outdoor concerts, the worst was for the May Revels.  May is usually the best weather for playing outdoors here.  After we started to play, up came the wind, fierce.  My stand partner and I struggled to keep the music on the stand and the stand upright.  After a while we let it blow away and played by ear or improvised.  It was a cold wind that brought in cold air.  It began to drizzle, and one of the men held an umbrella over his wife and her violin so she could continue to play.  Eventually, we all gave up trying to play and just walked around quickly or danced to keep warm.  The entire audience left except for the parents of the small group of children in the show.  I felt sorry for the small kids.  I still chuckle when I think about this concert.

From Gerome Stewart
Posted on January 31, 2009 at 2:08 AM

Every summer I went to Brevard I took at least 4 bows with me because the humidity from playing outside would kill them. I love Brevard but its not the best conditions for string instruments.

From Daniel Blomdahl
Posted on January 31, 2009 at 3:38 AM

 I've done it during the summer time. Thankfully during the summer time here in Washington it's very mild and the weather didn't affect my playing.

From Richard Hellinger
Posted on January 31, 2009 at 4:16 AM

Every summer I play 3 concerts outdoors, the "pops concerts" all three by lakes. The wind is usually terrible, and we all have paperclips. This past summer our principal flautist's music went flying off her stand mid-performance.  Thank god the gazebo railings "caught" it an none of it was dumped into the lake!

From Ray Randall
Posted on January 31, 2009 at 5:15 AM

Clothes pins are easier to use than paper clips.

From Jerald Archer
Posted on January 31, 2009 at 6:48 AM

I've performed in all kinds of weather, and will do well if the performance area is covered (this is the only way I will perform outdoors, if possible)  I prefer temps between 73-100 degrees, the drier the heat, the better. The worst cases usually involve chilliness, or temps below @73 degrees. Under that, my fingers will not work! This includes temps even indoors. Many employers cannot believe this, as well as some other musicians and believe it is only artistic temperment.....but they are not me. In cases of extreme rain, I will sometimes opt to perform on a Zeta electric violin, which is impervious to temps and precipitation as well as humidity. I always have a triple backup plan in case of inclement weather.

From Karen Allendoerfer
Posted on January 31, 2009 at 11:55 AM

 I've played solo at a Farmers' Market a few times in the summer.  The conditions weren't extreme at all.  Once I rescheduled a performance due to rain, and the organizer totally agreed with the decision.  

My youth orchestra, the Greater Buffalo Youth Orchestra, went on tour when I was a junior in high school.  One of the places we played was Disney World in Florida.  I don't remember much of that concert anymore, except that it was windy and the music had trouble staying on the stand. 

Come to think of it, that was the worst problem at the Farmers' Market too.  

From Graham Clark
Posted on January 31, 2009 at 1:04 PM

I used to play a lot outdoors, busking, as well as festival work and function work.

My violin never suffered (most are far more robust than people think, even the old ones), though I don't think direct hot sun does much good to glue, nor pouring rain. However, a few drops do no harm, if your violin is varnished. ;) Cold and dry fiddles sound brighter to the point of tinniness, damp ones woolly. Best is nice and warm, fairly dry.

BUT damp air relaxes the bow hair, and makes it difficult to get any tension on the bow. Also cold and damp make the left hand sticky.

I don't like the sound outside as you get no room sound, no reflections. Your sound is absorbed by the whole atmosphere of the earth. This isn't such a problem if you are on a stage with a proper PA and foldback.



From Marie Brown
Posted on January 31, 2009 at 1:38 PM

I've played outside a lot, starting at a young age. ("Frontporch/backporch? Which neighbor are you mad at today, Ma?")  So cold I needed longjohns and fingerless gloves, so hot I needed a sweatband under my thick bangs.  The worst I can recall is playing on a hill one October 31 with the wind blowing 30-degree air into my face and a powerful heater blowing truly hot air at my back. One goal of my decrepitude is being able to decide for myself when I will play outside.

From Anne Horvath
Posted on January 31, 2009 at 1:54 PM

When I lived in Florida, I did a lot of 100 + degree, 100% humidity weddings.  No big whup, I just used an inexpensive instrument and a LOT of Deep Woods Unscented Off for the skeeters.

From Alison S
Posted on January 31, 2009 at 2:37 PM

I have played outdoors in December in the perishing cold. A group I used to play with were paid by the town council to busk in the local shopping centre (a Christmas miracle!) so we were obliged to play for a set time. When it started raining we took cover which meant moving closer to the pedestrian underpass and the associated drafts. What with the wind chill factor it was frrrrrrrrreezing. Even going home for a bath at lunchtime wasn't enough to get my core temperature back up again and eventually we had to give up because our fingers stopped working. We did make a lot of money though so it was worth it.

I've also played in marquees in summer; posh ones that people get married in with parquet floors (so they don't count as outdoors) and also the more rustic kind of marquee with groundcover consisting of divots and cowpats. Fortunately they weren't fresh ones and we didn't have the fly problems that Ray had. It all added to the light heartened atmosphere.   

From Benjamin K
Posted on January 31, 2009 at 3:29 PM

To those who play outdoors in windy weather, you can photocopy your music and laminate it in a thick plastic coating, that will help to keep it on the music stand. 

From Kristin Mortenson
Posted on January 31, 2009 at 8:37 PM

With regard to how to affix the music to the stand on outdoor gigs, I have an ingenious (I think!) solution:

Get about 3 feet of heavy gauge fishing line and two decent-sized fishing weights. Tie weights onto the ends of the line. Clip a clothespin or two to the left and right sides of the music stand (has to be a "real" stand, not a wire one) and drape the fishing line across the front of the music, then over the clothespins. The line holds the music in place, but there is enough "give" in the line so that you can still turn pages. Simple, cheap, and doesn't require you to make any extra copies. I have four of these that I pass out for any gigs that can possibly involve weather.

You're welcome! :-)


From Anne-Marie Proulx
Posted on February 1, 2009 at 3:43 PM

No, I never did but I took my violin outdoors in a nice summer day when my brother (who doesn't like my violin otherwise) wanted to have a picture of him with my violin in the roses bushes on his graduation party day where he was all fix up with a toxedo. He said he would put it on the net to seduce girls! He never did, though!   This is the only oudoors experience of my violin :)


From Royce Faina
Posted on February 1, 2009 at 4:45 PM

I'm with Anne Horvath but played Corpus Christi!!!!! Why Florida and Texas do not have the Skeeter as the State Bird, I'll never know!

Played for our Summer Bar-B-Que at work last year. I told them that the music was free, however... the right notes that would be in tune would cost them ;^) made a little money! Heheheheheh. And there's nothing more relaxing and fun like playing in a park under the trees with children playing and laughing with a view of the Rockie Mountains!

From Dottie Case
Posted on February 2, 2009 at 12:07 AM

Every summer my orchestra plays a fund raising pops concert the first weekend of June.  I live on the US/Can. border and the concert is in a pavilion on the River that is formed where Lakes Superior and Huron join. The wind off the Lake can be brutal.  I remember one year when we were supposed to be playing the last movement of the Tschaikovsky Symp. #4 in this concert.  It was so cold that we literally couldn't feel our fingers, which were SUPPOSED to be moving at lighting speed.  We moved them, but none of us were really sure exactly where they ended up.  By the time the concert was over, our fingers were so cold that it was difficult to case the instruments.  Who knows what we sounded like..??:)

From Stephen Brivati
Posted on February 2, 2009 at 4:40 AM


I played in a Roman amphitheater.  The conerto was a modern cello work that alsted a long time. Indeed it lasted longer than the intial audience of 5000, most of whom walked out.  Probably would have been mroe popular if the cellist was eaten by a pride of lions.



From Patty Rutins
Posted on February 2, 2009 at 9:01 PM

A few summers ago, I was supposed to play with an ensemble for a "concert in the park" sort of venue, in a very pretty spot by a lake.  However, rain was threatening and in addition to the stringed instruments, we had a good deal of electronics, amplifiers, etc.  We ended up in the alternate venue, which was a covered, but not enclosed, ice rink (no ice, since it was summer).  It had walls as high as the hockey boards (so, maybe 4 feet high) and a corrugated metal roof over bare rafters.

A few brave souls turned up for the concert and spread their picnic blankets on the concrete and set up folding chairs.  All ten of them were very welcoming and in good spirits.

The second number was a gentle piece.  Halfway through, the skies opened and torrents of rain hit the roof with a thunderous roar.  We tried to keep playing, but eventually we simply had to stop and wait for the rain to stop.

Luckily, it did, and we were able to continue.  We had to re-position some microphones to avoid the holes in the roof.  I think I only had a couple of drips on my violin.  My case was not so lucky.  Being right next to the boards, the rain had come in the open sides of the arena and soaked the lining.  I was very, very thankful for the compacted towel that I had kept in the case!

There were a few more brief showers, but by the time the concert was over it had calmed to a pleasant evening mist.

From Mike Lambert
Posted on February 3, 2009 at 8:38 PM

 Ahh!  I played a gig for a car show outdoors one summer.  it had to be high nineties that day!  The glue on my saddle unglued itself and then solidified (from what I can tell to the best of my abilities) and there was this constant ringing for weeks.  It was so aggravating and I had never had a technical problem with my fiddle of such a capacity.  

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