Do it live

It would be kind of boring to play music for a living if every concert happened under ideal, predictable conditions. Bear in mind that I’m kind of a strange person, but I enjoy the spice that a little something unexpected can add to the job. It doesn’t have to be a bad thing.

The Niagara Symphony was asked to provide some music for the Tall Ships festival last Saturday at Port Dalhousie in St Catharines. The show came a week after our summer fundraising gala, a wonderful garden party in Niagara-on-the-Lake where ten of us performed an arrangement of Mendelssohn’s incidental music to Midsummer Night’s Dream for wind ensemble. The same arranger did some similar adaptations of some selections from Carmen and Rossini’s overture to Barber of Seville, so those were added to flesh out the program.

The problem was that the Bizet and Rossini parts needed to be ordered from Germany somewhat short notice. Once all the international shipping logistics and customs clearances had taken a chunk out of the remaining time, the parts were received by the NSO the day before the gig. I tried to practice tricky passages from the orchestral parts in hopes that they’d be similar to the arrangement while the NSO’s operations manager drove from city to city around Lake Ontario to hand out parts to players scattered around the region. I got the parts late in the evening and discovered that the Rossini was similar to the original, except it was in a different key. Oh well!

We did three hour-long sets at the performances with breaks to hide in the shade and rehydrate. The first set was designated as an “open rehearsal” but we ended up just going right through and treating it like a performance. Having more than an hour of music we skipped some numbers the first time through. It was a blast – just reading through new (for me, at least) music and playing for a crowd that, except for a few symphony supporters, might not get out to hear us. Only one person in the crowd yelled “PLAY FREE BIRD!” For the next two sets we pulled out some more selections we hadn’t read yet, which kept things fresh and fun. I go crazy playing the exact same set over. And over. And over.

So to sum up, preparation and ideal conditions are nice, but sometimes it’s just plain exciting to jumble everything up and see what happens. We got to talk to some lovely folks who greatly appreciated the performance (one of whom came up to thank our conductor and shake his hand while we were playing) and got to enjoy a beautiful day down at the port. Things just worked out.


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