Sunday, September 4, 2011

Performance Diary

This past Thursday my great nieces and Crawford and Judy and I played down at the Orange nursing home to a mostly wheel chair bound audience. We did the same program we did at Oak Chapel, adding Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho, Pass Me Not, O Gentle Savior, Sweet Hour of Prayer and Down By the Riverside.

I have never received more effusive, heartfelt and sincere thanks from an audience after a performance - ever. While I was packing up and schlepping equipment back to the car they kept rolling up to have a private moment to say just how much the performance had meant to them.

A small part of it has to do with my being down there once a week for years, so there's a nodding acquaintance with most of the residents. What just melted me was that two residents who've suffered strokes and have speech problems, and who normally don't really try to say too much because it's so difficult and frustrating, rolled up and really worked to say thank you.

The main reason for this was that the girls totally peg the cuteness meter. Once the audience realized we were really going to pull this off and successfully play the old hymns that mean so much to them, they slipped into a relaxed state of pleasure. The room just got sweeter and sweeter the more the girls played and sang, and when I got the audience to sing along with us (and most of them knew ALL the verses without hymnals).

Having done music in institutions a lot over the years, I couldn't help notice we pulled a lot of staff into the doorway of the room. The staff at places like that have heard it all, and they're very busy people, but when something special is happening, they notice. When I was leaving, several came out from back offices to say just how much they appreciated our playing.

My main contribution to the event was figuring out what the girls are capable of doing at this point and arranging music to suit. Skylar on trumpet is just starting her second year in band, and just got braces, so her range is Bb below middle C to the Bb an octave above, so mostly everything was either in Bb or Eb to accommodate that, and when it wasn't, she played the drum.

We just worked our way through the books I'd done up for them and did as many iterations of the hymns as we could get away with, with me calling out who took the next time through each time. That gives everything an improvisatory feel as opposed to plodding through a preset program, and it keeps the audience on their toes, so to speak.

Towards the end we had Crawford sing "Good Night, Irene", as the hurricane had just recently passed, and that went down very well as well. 

Judy P is the proud owner of a new ukulele with an onboard pickup I can plug straight into an amp. The amplitude of a uke strum is about half that of a guitar, so she can go much faster and throw in delightfully quick syncopations. Makes me realize one reason I so love Judy's drumming is that her background as a strummer so informs it, so it's great to play guitar and banjo with.

Back in this post I talk about what one blogger calls "transmission". And in this post there's talk of transcendence. What keeps coming back to me is that it's the sort of thing that can happen in all sorts of places outside concert halls, but in the era of recorded music and with fewer people playing in small catch as catch can ensembles (which was the norm for human society until the past couple of generations), people seem to have lost touch with that. If I can create some materials that will help facilitate more of this kind of small scale playing, I'll count that as a success.

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