Friday, March 11, 2011

Performance Diary

Last Friday the Kenwood Players performed at the old building of the Orange nursing home, where the residents are mostly wheelchair bound, and this afternoon we played at the new building which has more ambulatory residents. As we had our full compliment of players both times - trumpet, clarinet, trombone, tenor sax, two Eb tubas, drums and banjo - we were able to play Dixieland arrangements. Live music can play on the emotions of audiences, but Dixieland is more specific - it makes people happy. 

Both audiences moved and tapped and swayed and smiled and were very appreciative with both applause and coming up afterwards and thanking us. I once again had the thought that having been a banjo player in a Dixieland group may well have been the better decision than going into music therapy if simply making people happy was the motivation.

The most striking vignette for me had to do with a wheelchair bound gentleman I've been seeing in the lobby for years on my hospice volunteering visits on Wednesdays. I've always nodded and said hello, and his single response every time has been "Alright, honey!", and that's all I've ever overheard him say to anyone. He appears partially paralyzed on one side, so I've assumed he's a stroke victim. To close things down, we do an "Amazing Grace" sing along before ending with the "The Saints". He sang every word clearly, and in tune, and with great tone and feeling. Amazing grace, indeed.

On the audio front, the rooms are similarly sized, but couldn't be more different acoustically. In the old building there are lots more drapes and thicker carpets. In the new building there's a lower ceiling, bare walls and a little stage right back against a bare wall. I clip a dynamic mic into the bell of each tuba so they can be easily heard without having to work so hard, put a condenser next to the clarinet for the same reason, and have a dynamic mic for Dick the trumpeter to announce the numbers, and another for me to use for vocals. All these mics go to two amps. With all the settings the same, today in the new room we were much too loud until I turned everything down by about half.

Part of the problem is that whenever I ask the group to play up for a sound check, they never get to the volume we get when we really get a groove going. We've talked about it, but somehow we're always louder once we get going, so I've learned to dial back the recording level a bit to adjust for that. It might be that the players somehow think "sound check" is the same thing as "tuning note". 

In my experience, most musicians don't really know much about audio. It's rare to find one who knows the difference between a condenser and a dynamic mic. I'm getting better at being a "sound man", but it's been trial and error all the way. At the least, it's been a long time since I set off a feedback shriek. 

The one thing that I'm learning that's been helpful is to set things up so that the amps work as monitors for the players as well as reinforcing the sound for the audience. The better players can hear themselves and each other, the better they play.

No comments:

Post a Comment