Sunday, July 10, 2011

Performance Diary

Back on Saturday 7/2 the Orange Community Band played in a band festival in the pavilion down at the end of the pedestrian mall (formerly Main Street) in Charlottesville, VA. The pavilion is the major outdoor big time venue in Charlottesville and it was a real treat to play in such a well designed, top of the line venue. Ample room on stage and very nice acoustics. The band played well and the audience very receptive.

Then on Sunday 7/3 there was the Picnic in the Park here in Orange out behind the airport. My group opened up with a Dixieland jazz set of about 40 minutes, then the community band played for about 45, then there was a short ceremony (which included my singing the national anthem with the banjo, a tenor sax and an Eb tuba), then a mother and daughters singing group, then my group started with some Americana until the storm came.

For the Dixieland I used a clip-on dynamic mic on the banjo because the sound is so directional. Putting it through the sound system meant everyone could hear it no matter where I was facing.

Also used mics on the tuba, harmonica and the clarinet, all run through the Mackie mixer and out to the two large Peavey keyboard amps, with the control room feed going to a small keyboard amp for our monitor. Then ran a line from the out of the most distant amp to a powered mixer and two speakers set up even further away. We had nice sound coverage throughout the area without it being too loud up front.

The community band apparently played very well. The director and the music educators in the group all talked about how "musically" we played. Here's an excerpt from the director's note to us afterwards:

. . . but once the music 'gets in your blood' it more-or-less begins to take on a life of its own. At that point the conductor becomes far less important as the engine drives itself from within the ensemble. We have to remember, though, that this occurs only when the notes and rhythms are learned and we are no longer bound to the printed page. That's when real music begins...and that's exactly what happened on Sunday night, in particular.

My problem was, as it has been in the past at these events, trying to change mental gears from banjo to horn. With the banjo I just play without thinking, but with the horn it is only with full concentration that I can manage to not embarrass myself. So for the first several numbers my memory is more what I was up to more than how the group sounded.

The Kenwood Players last set started, and then the storm came. Torrential rain and lots of close lightning. We were all safe under the large shelter, but I had to kill the sound system because of blowing rain. Until it was announced that the fireworks were canceled, it was me on banjo, a trumpet, sax, clarinet and tuba in acoustic mode. 

My singing was semi-hollerin', but people liked it and we kept everyone occupied during the storm. (Nearer My God to Thee was mentioned several times ;-) Orange being the small town it is, have had several people come up to say they really appreciated our persevering in the face of the storm.

One thing about my singing voice I keep meaning to mention is that I live on a dairy farm and most days spend most of an hour getting cows up out of the field and into the barn. Yelling is involved, but over the years I've worked on being loud and projecting without straining my voice. We're in the piedmont, so there are hills and vales offering great acoustics for testing uses of the voice.


  1. My problem was, as it has been in the past at these events, trying to change mental gears from banjo to horn. With the banjo I just play without thinking, but with the horn it is only with full concentration that I can manage to not embarrass myself.

    Believe me, this is an issue for just about all horn players, no matter how long they have been learning and playing!

  2. Jonathan - Thanks! I think? ;-)

    On the one hand it's reassuring to realize my horn experience is not that distant from higher level players.

    On the other hand, I really hope to get my horn playing to where it's more like my banjo, guitar and vocal experiences can sometimes be, i.e. more over on automatic where my consciousness can shift to a higher gear of musicality.

    This will not happen with band repertoire, but it's beginning to happen with the 4 and 5 part, one to a part stuff I'm arranging for my little groups - lots of hymns, spirituals and Handel.

    Your comment also reminded me of your previous comment on peak experience - that notion of dancing on the edge of technique being an ingredient.

    Kudos on the work over on your other blog. Along with everything else you're being a model citizen, and by blogging about it, modeling good citizenship. Very impressive.

  3. Yes, there's a distinction between producing a performance that is satisfying and meaningful to the audience, and one which provides a peak experience to the performer.

    If you're going to produce something good for the audience, ideally you want to to be somewhat "within yourself" as far as technique goes. That way, you can make it seem effortless, because in fact the effort is well within your limits. And the audience will love it, but you bare unlikely to get anything more than the general warm feeling and satisfaction of a "job well done".

    The peak experience for the performer in my experience involves pushing yourself to the very edge technically. In many cases the effect is spoiled because you fall off the edge! Whether the audience is aware of the effect on the performer of a peak experience is hard to say.

    A few years ago I led the horns of my local orchestra in a performance of the Schumann Konzertstuck, and all four of us had a really "good day at the office", and we were all really satisfied with the outcome. All four solo horn parts in that piece are enough to stretch the technique of any horn player to the limit.

    And we got a wonderful round of applause from the audience and a very good review of the concert from the local paper. So on that occasion it seems that we did manage to communicate something of our own experiences.

    But I suspect the communication doesn't always happen. I have been in other concerts where at the end I felt it had gone really well, and found that at least some of the other players had thought it only so-so, and not been particularly moved by it.

    There's so much variability in all this that it is hard to draw definite conclusions.

    The problem with the horn as opposed to some other instruments is that so much effort, accuracy and concentration needs to be devoted towards getting the right sounds out of the instrument that it is really hard to get into a state when you can go into "automatic" and concentrate solely on the music. It's not impossible, but it is relatively rare.

  4. Jonathan -

    Thanks so much for elaborating. You seem to partially confirm the notion I'm developing that one thing that makes the horn so very appealing to people is that it calls for such attention, even for relatively easier music, that that stretching of technique is more present at all times than it is for other instruments. That amazing variability of tone means that you can be stretching yourself as a player long after you've learned the notes involved, and maybe audiences can sense that and it pulls them in to the music.

    The connection with the audience is just a weird thing all around. I'll never forget your saying back some time ago you played some modern piece that was very difficult, didn't really feel the flow, but that the audience really connected with it.

    Your comment on "automatic" helps me understand a distinction I tried to make some time back about how what high level players are doing versus what beginners are doing is a difference almost of kind rather than degree. Looks like you'd agree that horn versus banjo are very different musical experiences.

    So there's more going on in the differences than simply level of play - there's the instrument involved as well as the style (folk versus classical). The personality type of the player is probably in the mix as well.

    This all also reminds me that the banjo is the instrument I play that most connects with people and they come up to say so, but the horn is a strong second. Neither here nor there, but something I find interesting.

  5. And by the way - just got a hit from a search engine looking for "slopendicular" ;-)

  6. You might enjoy reading about my experience playing Stockhausen as a student for a particularly acute example of the difference between the performers' and the audience's experience of a concert!

  7. What a terrific story! Makes me think there needs to be a word or phrase to describe music that represents something non-musical, but very powerful, to some people. Here you've got those who have a tremendous emotional investment in being in the avant garde, musically and otherwise.

    Sort of similar to our community band playing the service tunes at town ceremonies for veterans. I've always felt there was more than a simple musical transaction at those events. Then there are the theme songs that can evoke TV shows and movies and the associated emotions.

    Then in the middle you've got composers like John Williams and Lloyd-Webber who seem to be able to use what some might think of as trite or clichéd to tap into the emotions of great swathes of people.

    Then you've got late Beethoven quartets and the Art of the Fugue.

  8. In essence, what you are describing is the undeniable fact that different people have different tastes in music.

    A professional musician (or even a good amateur) is able to make a convincing performance of music which isn't particularly to his own taste, but which resonates with the audience, provided that the music does match the audence's taste.

    And at this point, we return to the concept of disgustingly popular music!

  9. Jonathan - Point taken! Just wish I could write reams of disgustlingly popular music (and could have met your dad). I was just trying to say that taste in music might sometimes rely on non-musical factors.

    Seems possible that two people with completely different tastes in music might both have a similar response to God Save the Queen. Sometimes music is just music and sometimes it can be the vehicle for other things as well?

    Just as our conversation started way back when on my asking you to unpack "musicality", I'm just thinking about what it might mean to unpack what we mean by "taste in music".

  10. I'll have think about that. It's one of those phrases where (I think) I know what it means, but it is sufficiently abbreviated that others might have got a different sense of it.