Monday, August 29, 2011

Performance Diary

Yesterday we performed at the large Presbyterian Church in the town of Orange and last week we performed at the small Macedonia Christian Church down in what my father used to refer to as  "the lower part of the county" (it's more coastal plain than piedmont). I don't think we've ever sounded better than the audio at the link for Macedonia from two years ago as it was one of those times when everything sort of magically gelled. These two recent performances were very good, though, and I want to note what went well.

At Macedonia the minister, one of our tuba players, made our music the central feature of the service. We led the singing of the hymns as well as performed some tunes on our own. Crawford specializes in short sermons and services, and in a service of less than 60 minutes, we played for 35 minutes.

Crawford says it's the best he's ever heard that congregation sing, and that was my feeling as well. I've pitched most of the hymns a step or three lower than the hymnals, so they were more in the range of regular people. I led the singing with my voice and the guitar and the players did a marvelous job of supporting the singing, with a different instrument taking the lead for the singing of each verse. On hymns of three verses we added two instrumental iterations between the sung verses and built the mood.

I'd done up a keyboard album of the transposed hymns for the organist and having her play mostly the bass and harmony lines was a real treat, filling out the sound. From past experience I knew that when I faced the congregation, she and the other players can't hear the guitar, so I took an amp and put it back next to them with just enough volume for them to hear it but that I couldn't detect. That worked very well. 

We've slowly been working up an improvisatory Dixieland version of The Church in the Wildwood, which is sort of a theme song for that particular church, and that went down very well.

At the Presbyterian Church yesterday we just did music before and after the service with a couple of mostly instrumental hymns during the service. Crawford was still preaching down at Macedonia, so we were down to one tuba, and Bill B our sax player didn't make it due to a freak car/power line pole accident near his house preventing him for getting out.

Before everyone else got there I set up our equipment and sang that long song of Dylan's, Boots of Spanish Leather, from up in the choir loft where we were going to perform. It takes me high and low in my range and is a great workout, both for my voice and for testing acoustics. I figured out the best ways to aim my voice into the wonderful acoustic space, and how much to project it to get just the right amount of reverb.

Once everyone else got there we played right up until the service as people gathered below. At one point we got a nice round of applause (after Just a Closer Walk with Thee) and during the "joys and sorrows" portion of the service one of the members said how wonderful it was to walk into the church with everyone smiling and the music coming down from upstairs.

One thing I've never had happen before is that while I was singing the one verse of Pass Me Not, O Gentle Savior I did between instrumental iterations, my ears popped twice in that pressure adjusting way they can. The hurricane had passed during the night, so I don't think it was a big pressure change in the environment. I think it was just that I was opening my jaw in that "yawning" way voice teachers talk about and it allowed things to equalize, which in the normal course of things wouldn't have needed to.

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