Tuesday, March 6, 2012

More cowbell

I hadn't played in a band for 25 years before last week, when I got called to sit in two bands in two days. One was  subbing for a rehearsal with a fairly high-end group. The group's site calls it "semi-pro", which I think means that they don't get paid, although they are good enough to be. Indeed, of the several acquaintances I knew there, all but one made their living in some music-connected way. They were good, the tempos were fast, and there were a lot of time changes and a lot of flats. A lot. It's been awhile since I needed to sightread Gb.

The other band was an adult amateur ensemble, sharing a concert with a junior high honor band. Each band got a few pieces, then there was a couple of joint pieces. The rehearsal went fine, but at the sound check at the venue, an hour before show time, things started to go wonky. The venue was a largish modern church, lots of seating, sound, video, and lighting. The back of the stage area had several large video screens, displaying continuous loops of abstract animations, with a dozen or so big screen TV's around in case you couldn't see one of the giant screens. The band I was in got positioned up on the stage. We were well lit by bright spotlights onto the stage, which were angled down from above. I'm sure the audience would've been able to see us well. Unfortunately, the conductor's podium was placed in the shadows near the audience, and we couldn't see him at all. Various permutations of lights were tried, to no avail. I gather that the techs were not used to trying to deal with masses of musicians, who not only need to be seen, but who also need to see, and need to see music as well as a conductor. The techs struggled through, trying a wide variety of variations while getting feedback from the scores of musicians, strobing through the colors on the disco lights ("I'm sorry, I can't see my music with the purple, go back to the pink"), trying different angles ("Stop  there! I can see from the reflection off the tuba!") and lights. Eventually they managed to bring up a spot at the rear, and point it straight at the conductor, but then he was blinded, and couldn't see us. And the minutes for the sound check ticked by.

For the joint massed band pieces, the conductor got it figured out. He got an 8th grader percussionist to come to the edge with a cowbell ("No, you don't need your music!"), to a spot where he could make out the baton. "Now bang it on the beat. Yes, the whole time. No, louder. More cowbell. Everyone else, listen to the cowbell!" For the adult band, we relocated to the floor in front of the stage at the last minute, where we could be under the house lights. The show went on, only a few minutes late. And it was fun, I got to blow hard and listen to a lot of brass and drums. Still, I don't think I'll be joining a band routinely.

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