Category Archives: Gigs

Children’s Concert/Steve Reich/St Louis

As I mentioned a little while ago it’s been a busy time recently. Just this last week I was in Palo Alto for the US premiere of Radio Rewrite by Steve Reich and St. Louis for an Alarm Will Sound performance. More on those in a second. I haven’t had the opportunity to post much on the Messiah College recording sessions from February and unfortunately I don’t have any media from them (not even a cell phone pic or two). Brass Cross, the college faculty/student brass ensemble, recorded two more Gabrieli sonatas (adding to the seven or eight we already have from previous years), David Diamond’s Ceremonial Fanfare, a new work by Anthony DiLorenzo and the Fanfare to La Peri by Paul Dukas. The college wind ensemble recorded Joseph Turrin’s Concertino for 11 Instruments and Wind Ensemble. I believe the recordings should be released sometime in the fall on the Klavier Records label.

On March 3 I had the joy of playing on a children’s concert for the College Music Society at Dickinson College. It was loads of fun to be able to play Prince Ali for little ones, my daughter and stepson included. Afterward I broke out the pBone and gave the kids a chance to try it out. photo (6) photo (5) On the opposite end of the spectrum I was in Palo Alto a week ago for Alarm Will Sound, the music of Steve Reich and the US premiere of Radio Rewrite, Steve’s new work that draws from Radiohead. I performed Clapping Music with Alarm Will Sound and Steve Reich and a sampler part to City Life. Performing on keyboard was a first for me and I’m happy to say I came through the experience for the better. I’m working on getting a recording of our performance. For now here’s a couple seconds of phone video of Matt Marks and I rehearsing the third movement.

Working with Steve Reich was fantastic. His attention to detail was inspiring. You can tell he takes every performance seriously. IS6A8140

Alarm Will Sound’s performance of Radio Rewrite, a joint commission between AWS/Stanford Lively Arts and the London Sinfonietta, was fantastic. My respect for my colleagues is always high but never higher than hearing them perform this difficult new piece. I had the honor of turning pages.

After that AWS was off to St. Louis for our second performance there this season. The concert, at the Sheldon Concert Hall, is part of our ongoing relationship with new music and St. Louis in particular and Missouri/the Mid-West in general. For this show we premiered Journeyman, a new work by AWS pianist/composer John Orfe, and new sections to The Hunger, a work that is to be an evening long opera by Irish composer Donnacha Dennehy.Donnacha’s piece is absolutely gorgeous. Take a listen here:

 

Riley and Mozart

Two performances last week and both were challenges in endurance.  The first was Terry Riley’s In C with DICE (Dickinson Improvisation and Collaboration Ensemble), a new flexible-instrumentation group at the college, and Third Coast Percussion; the second was Mozart’s Vesperae Solennes de Confessore.

DICE with Third Coast Percussion

DICE with Third Coast Percussion

In C with the two groups was fantastic.  The performance was in the student union building right outside the cafeteria.  We set up on some couches and attracted a decent audience.  Clay from Third Coast played some improvised percussion that I’ll sorely miss in the future.  Our performance was forty minutes long… I had the honor of playing the eighth note pulse the entire time.  It’s an amazing exercise in concentration, especially since percussion is not something I’m accustomed to performing in concert.

Mozart Vesperae Excerpt

Mozart Vesperae Excerpt

It was my first time playing this Mozart.  Actually prior to this week I didn’t know it existed.  And that’s a shame.  It’s a fine piece that obviously contains ideas Mozart would use in his Mass in C Minor and his Requiem.   (Side note: during my first three years in school at Eastman the orchestra director insisted on programming less significant works from the repertoire.  Instead of performing Britten’s War Requiem we played his Sinfonia da Requiem; instead of Brahms’s Ein Deutsches Requiem we played Nänie and Alto Rhapsody; instead of a Stravinsky ballet we played Symphony of Psalms.  It upset a lot of students who wanted to get to know the warhorses better.  In hindsight, I’m happy I got to experience those [fantastic!] lesser known works as it gave me a chance to learn each composer’s style beyond the standard repertoire.)

Knowing about the piece earlier would have also have better prepared me for the high note-athon.  Like the other Mozart choral works the alto trombone doubles the alto voices, only in this case more exactly.  It amounts to thirty minutes of nonstop playing in the upper register.

Get Me to the Gig on Time

One of my biggest fears in life is that I’ll be late.  As a musician it’s unacceptable.  A concert has a start time: the audience will be there, the other performers (if there are others) will be there.  It’s like showing up for a meeting late… except with more people… who probably paid.  Getting to a rehearsal late is less offensive but is still an issue (more like the meeting).  You just try not to do it.

Most musicians have experienced some form of the “slept through the gig” nightmare.  Stories abound of up-and-coming musicians who get called for a big gig and sleep through their alarm/blow a tire/get caught in a knife fight with a monkey.  The story usually ends with the player never getting called again by the contractor (I’ve heard versions where the player was blackballed by an entire city and was forced to move).  It’s enough to put a fear of tardiness in anyone.

I’ll be the first to admit that things happen.  Just a month ago I needed to be in New York for a 3pm rehearsal, when, at the same time the skies burst and flooded central Pennsylvania.  (It was sad.  The rain was so bad one buffalo at a local zoo drowned and they had to euthanize another or else it would have had the same fate.)  Amtrak cut off service between Harrisburg and Philadelphia.  I had to wait for a bus to get to Philly, then a train from there to NYC putting me at the gig about three hours late.  There was nothing that could be done and, in the end, the world went on turning, but that rehearsal lost a bit of its usefulness and I couldn’t help but think “What if that had been a performance? …Would the world have stopped spinning? Or worse, would I ever get called for a gig again?”

To avoid that ever happening I’ve developed strategies for ensuring I make the gig.  First and foremost my approach involves planning to be early.  Any band director worth his salt has told his students “Early is on time.”  There’s a lot of truth to that.  A concert may have the downbeat at X o’clock but you need to get your instrument out, prep it, warm-up (if you didn’t do that at home earlier in the day), set up your music and whatever else you need and generally just get accustomed to the space.  I figure that for a rehearsal I need about a half hour, minimum, to do that; for a concert I add another half hour.

The next step in my strategy is factoring in travel time.

Travel time is where the greatest danger lies.  Regardless of what Google Maps says or your mode of conveyance (mass transit, car, bicycle, walking) so much of the trip is out of your control.  Consequently I developed a formula for myself:

tt = travel time (what you should plan to get to the gig)

wu = warm-up time (usually either thirty or sixty minutes)

btt = base travel time (this is what Google or Amtrak tell you)

wct = worst case traffic (what you believe is the absolute most time you can sit in traffic, your knowledge of the area/judgment comes into play here)

x =  the “plan for the unexpected” variable, determined by how far away the gig is (within 25 miles, x = fifteen minutes; 25 to 50 miles, x = thirty minutes; greater than 50 miles, x = sixty minutes; I use a similar system by substituting “miles” with “blocks” and changing the ranges when I’m in NYC)

tt = wu + btt + wct + x

(Flying is another matter completely with TSA shenanigans and parking and such.)

I developed this formula when I played with a brass quintet in Washington DC.  At the time, I had just graduated from Eastman, lived in south central PA and drove to Kensington, MD (just north of DC on the beltway) twice a week for rehearsals, plus random other days for school shows in DC, MD and VA.

If you have ever driven in DC you know the hell it is (note: I’ve lived in Houston and have had to commute in NYC as well so I know a variety of bad commutes… though I’ve never had to deal with LA or any of those crazy places outside the US).  Getting into the city can be a nightmare: the intersection at 95 and 495 can be horrendous… add to that the potential for traffic problems around Baltimore and a drive that would take me an hour and a half in the dead of night without traffic could take me three plus hours on a bad day (it once took me eight hours in the snow).  Unfortunately, there was no way of telling when it would be a bad day.  So I used the formula.

For a noon school show in downtown DC coming from PA:

wu = .5 hour
btt = 1.5 hours
wct = 1 hour (fluctuated depending on the time of day)
x = 1 hour

tt = 4 hours

Leaving four hours before a gig that should, for all intents and purposes, take me about an hour and a half to get to, meant I could get there incredibly early… I’d use those days to explore the neighborhoods/grab food/do other work; occasionally I’d show up just in time despite my efforts.  The important thing is, I was never was I late.

I still use it today.  Two months ago I had a session in NY at 11:30am.  Doing the math:
wu = .5 hour
btt = 3.5 hours
wct = 1 hour
x = 1 hour

tt = 6 hours

I left at 5:30am and was lucky I did, I ran into a seventeen mile backup (traffic stopped for the majority of it) in NJ and got to the city at 11 o’clock.  Without the traffic I would have made it to the city at 9:30am and would have had two hours to kill.

My formula fell apart in the flood though.  It can’t account for disaster on that level (Amtrak shutting down).  Though I can say that if it was a performance to which I was traveling I would have done everything in my power to get there (rental cars were completely sold out, but I could have taken a taxi back home and then driven to NYC).

Now if only my students would be able to walk across campus to get to rehearsal on time.