I participated in an outdoor band concert this past Saturday. To say that it was an unmittigated disaster would probably be unnecessarily harsh…
But not entirely inaccurate.
Outdoor concerts pose lots of problems for musicians. Its difficult to hear outdoors as there can be a lot of ambient noise. Plus you don’t get your sound reflected back to you, so its difficult to play as an ensemble. Then there are the elements: wind, sun, temperature, etc. Windy conditions not only rip your sound away, it also tends to blow things over- like music stands, percussion equipment, etc. Facing the sun is never good, as it makes the conductor a bit difficult to see. When its hot outside, instruments go sharp and cold weather makes them go flat (ah, physics!)
This past Saturday we faced all of the above issues. And then some.
It had rained all Friday night, so the ground was soggy. But Saturday dawned bright and clear… and WINDY! It is almost never windy in this area of North Carolina due to the mountains, the geography of the piedmont, etc. Seriously, the days are almost always incredibly calm. But on Saturday. It was blustery, in fact.
It was also in the low 60s at concert time- although the sun was warm. Tuning became a little bit of an issue. So did the sun, which was right in our faces for the concert due to the position of the venue.
Then there were the intangibles: tempo changes, page turns, difficult musical passages, etc. These all add to the performance difficulty for any band, but when you put them outside, these issues get amplified.
During the concert, there were multiple incidents of blown over stands, losses of music, percussion cymbals being blown over, etc. My favorite moment was when we were playing Shenandoah, the wind capriciously changed direction with a vicious gust. It had been coming from behind our right shoulders– only to change to coming from directly in front. Several musicians ended up with their music and stands in their laps.
It was horrible.
Also, during Autumn Leaves, there was a beautiful clarinet passage that neatly destroyed by the crash cymbals being blown onto the ground.
Any piece requiring a page turn was a disaster, due to the sheer volume of clothespins being used to keep the music in place. Try doing a one measure page turn while having to undo all of the clips, and then trying to get them back in place.
The pieces with the metrical changes were a mess, mainly because the director was having to hold his scores down with one hand while maintaining his conducting. It made it difficult for him to communicate with us. Plus we were concentrating on the music so much as the gusts were flipping and folding pages with regularity. Our rendition of Pirates of the Carribean sounded like the pirates were drunk on grog and trying to stand on the heaving deck of a ship. And when we played Ride of the Valkyries, the poor valkyries sounded like they weighed 400 pounds and were riding flying dachsunds.
However, in the midst of all this chaos, there was actually one very beautiful moment in the concert. It was during Shenandoah, when most of the band has dropped out and just a flute trio and some clarinets remain. The flutes are passing around the theme in a pseudo-round while the clarinets form the base. It was during this moment when the wind died down to a bare breeze. You could hear this lovely passage, with just a hint of rustling leaves accompanying the whole thing. It had a synergistic effect and given what song it was… well, the moment was goose-pimply for sure.
But then that dastardly gust caught the music stands and tossed the music into our laps.
That one moment nearly made the whole concert worth it, though. I play for those moments, however brief they are.