11.09.2006

The worst performance


Most orchestral musicians know that choir directors make lousy orchestra conductors; their beat is neither precise, nor well defined, and they never give cues to the orchestra as a general rule. However, I experienced this past weekend an exceptionally exquisite specimen of a bad conductor.

I received the invitation a couple weeks in advance. It was for a Messiah performance on the 5th of November. “Ok, this will be an easy $150 gig,” I thought to myself. “I’ll go rehearse, do some homework in the downtime before performance, and then on with the concert!” Never mind that I had performed the larger portion of this work only once before - there would be another, more experienced bass player to lead out, and I would be fine.

We traveled to the venue, the “famous” Tivoli Theater in Chattanooga, TN, and proceeded to begin rehearsal. Immediately, it became apparent that the conductor was not a good one. His beat was erratic and impossible to read; he gave almost no cues; and, in the event that he actually managed to give one, the cue was not in time with the music. In general, his conducting style was very hard to follow.

Several times during rehearsal, he would start clapping with the beat in an endeavor to keep the players from rushing, but instead, he would start rushing himself! During a tricky section for articulation here and there, he would count rest beats out loud, except that if the beat was one…..two…..three…..four…. he would say one…..two..three..four!! (in other words, majorly speeding up the tempo)

Adding to all this the fact that most of the people in our group had not played much of the Messiah before, and we only had 2.5 hours of rehearsal, made this a recipe for disaster! We managed to go over the beginning of MOST of the movements that we would perform that afternoon, actually playing through entire movements once or twice, and totally skipping a few. However, most of the players were pretty good, and were picking it up decently, so it probably would have been ok for a performance, but, believe it or not, they had actually decided to RECORD it and make a CD and DVD!!!! I really have no idea what they were thinking!

Well, the time came to begin the performance, so we all filed into position for the plunge, under our respective microphones. One major problem, for me, had already presented itself a few minutes before, in the form of news that the other bass player was not going to show at all. So I was left to fend for myself and attempt to fill the mic sitting 5 inches from my bridge with melodious strains, hopefully not peppered by sour notes! I refer the reader back toward the top to remind him that I had played most of this stuff only once before. This would be a tricky endeavor, indeed.

And we’re off!! We started moving through the movements, with more than our fair share of shaky starts, caused by our uncertainty of the starting beat division on multiple occasions, in fact, one recitative had to be completely restarted, since 80% of the orchestra started in double time, and the poor soloist had to struggle to make sense of the resulting cacophony. The wrong notes never ceased to abound from all parts of the orchestra, including a large portion issuing forth from my own surprised instrument, pumping straight into the $600 mics suspended in and about the ensemble.

All was going passably bad, until we got into the second part. (for those of you in the dark, this particular work is divided up into 3 parts) This was when our illustrious conductor decided to commence executive decision making. All of a sudden, after one movement, he hissed to the group, “Go to such and such a movement,” being interpreted by most of the players as, “Go to such and such a movement,” whereupon we began madly flipping pages trying to discover one titled “Such and Such.” Upon finding one that seemed to resemble the remark, we received the downbeat, and immediately played the second note of the movement (there being no cue nor upbeat given, of course).

This happened one or two more times, each time skipping over large sections of music that originally was supposed to be a part of this experience, method or madness unknown. It happened that we came upon a baritone solo that had not been rehearsed, nor to the best of my knowledge, was supposed to be in the concert. The conductor randomly decided to do it anyway, and hurriedly scanned the choir for the soloist who would be singing. Alas! He was nowhere to be found. Not to worry, this could be rectified. The conductor gave a soft call, “Tom.” No answer. “Tom?” still no response, no one jumping to attention. The volume must be raised. “TOM?” he sang out. Finally one Tom came lightly tripping in from the deep recesses of backstage, calmly walked up to the front and proceeded to sing his solo. All this, I repeat, had not been planned, nevertheless, it was recorded in history by the faithful mics that abounded on the stage, as well as the memories of the unfortunate audience members.

The rest of the performance went similarly; though no more mishaps like the one previously described took place, there certainly were several tense and awkward moments experienced by the ensemble members. After we finally finished, several of my friends confirmed that this had indeed been the worst performance any of us had given!

Well, I apologize for the lengthiness of this post, and if you are still reading, it either means that you really don’t have a life, and must spend your time reading boring and useless blog entries, or that this epistle actually contained in its verbage some nugget of interest or amusement to you. For your sake I hope it was the latter.

9 comments:

Paul said...

Awesome story. I do have a life, and I don't have time to read blogs, but your tale brought back lots of memories, (mostly bad but some funny) and I couldn't stop reading. At least you got the cash...

jonas said...

Hilarious. What a fiasco.

Anonymous said...

Oh, was that conductor the famous "Dripper?" there was a really bad conductor downtown when I was there...ask Judy Glass about the "Dripper"...I can't remember his real name, but his nose always dripped and when he moved his head he'd fling it on the front row of musicians. It was something like Drake or something...

Anonymous said...

Oh, was that conductor the famous "Dripper?" there was a really bad conductor downtown when I was there...ask Judy Glass about the "Dripper"...I can't remember his real name, but his nose always dripped and when he moved his head he'd fling it on the front row of musicians. It was Drake or something...

barry said...

Quite a most fascinating, not to say illustrious and extrodinary contribution of continusouly flowing, (that is, never ending), indeed beautiful stream of highsounding (mixed delightfully with plebian contrasts), illustrative, creative, and descriptive verbiage to be sure!

Johonn said...

Becky:
yes it is one and the same, by all accounts...I just cant believe Mrs. Minner let us subject ourselves to such an ordeal!
Maybe it was one of those famous learning experiences.

Anonymous said...

Wow, What an experience! It does to all accounts sound like its one of those 'learning experiences' that you sister is so famous for. Did you rush right out to purchase one of those CD's????? Taking of CD's the sale of yours is going very well.... will continue to spread the word!

Mama Bird said...

I think I'm going to be chuckling all day at your rendition, er, no, better make that "account" of an experience better forgotten, er, no, better remembered so as to never be repeated!

Anonymous said...

I had heard this story in its much shortened version from others who were misfortunate enough to have been at this grand performance... but your version is by far the most entertaining and descriptive. Thank you for this highly amusing story :)

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