The big fat band played another concert in the park over the weekend. This is a photo from a recent concert in the same park—we perform all crammed in an amphitheater intended for a smaller group.
The view from the stage is lovely with a hillside where people can sit in center seats or set up their folding chairs or blankets on the sloped lawn to the sides, and a stand of old trees lines the ridge up above. On holiday weekends like this past one, the concerts are well attended. Some musicians think it's always nicer to perform for a large crowd than for a small one that makes you ask why you even bother. Actually, I'm happy just to rehearse each week because most of the joy of being in a band comes from playing together with other people regardless of the audience.
Conductor Fred usually takes a break during each concert and lets one of the band members conduct a song of their choice, a member who is also a band director—just so you don't think any old slob is allowed direct. This time around, the director was horn-player-friend Steve who chose a great medley from The Wizard of Oz. When he directs, I pick up the first horn part and cover any little solos it might have.
This arrangement starts out with a couple of measures that establish the rhythm and general feel, and then I come in with the opening phrase, the melody that goes with the lyrics, "Somewhere over the rainbow." It's a simple little solo within my range, and it makes me happy. Throughout rehearsals, I have enjoyed that little bit of feature even though it doesn't last long, and I've never missed it—neither the pitch nor the rhythm.
On Saturday evening, Steve stood up on the platform, raised his baton and made eye contact with everyone to make sure we were all ready. I got set with my horn in position, not at all nervous, thinking through the upcoming phrase in my head before playing it and eager to sing it out for the hillside full of people. I counted the two measures of introduction—ready, set, go—and put my horn to my lips to play a warm and solid middle C and to slur up an octave and to go from there, to play this familiar phrase everyone in the audience would know—I was so eager.
I was eager until the first note came out sort of like a whining splat, sort of like playing through a mouthpiece without a horn attached, sort of like an old circus clown blowing his nose. Damn it. In a split second, I pulled my horn away and decided not to play the phrase at all. I have had trouble with a sticky valve lately, and if the thing is stuck half-way between open and closed, you get this weird sound like the one I made. I checked to see if it was the valve that caused the problem, but it was all such a blur, I don't remember if it was stuck or not.
Steve looked at me, but I quickly diverted my gaze so as not to make eye contact, and I sat there with my useless horn in my grip to wait out the awkward silence. The rest of the horn section looked at me with wide eyes, but I wouldn't look at them either. The rest of the piece had really nice horn parts that felt good to play, parts you could actually hear above the trombone line, so I set out to play them as perfectly as possible, hoping that would somehow redeem me as a horn player. I finished the stupid thing pretty well, although I'm still sorting out whether or not there is any redemption there.
When the song was over and Steve sat down, I apologized and explained that my horn malfunctioned—that's the story I'm sticking with if he believed it or not.
I find it interesting that I didn't really mind if that big holiday crowd had to listen to a melody-less phrase for a few measures. What really got to me was that the other musicians knew I had failed. It's their approval I want more than the applause of the people on the lawn.
I've quoted this several times before, but it's appropriate enough in this case to say again—in the words of Anne Lamott who prays in the morning, "whatever," and in the evening, "oh well,"—oh well. What's done is done.
Birds fly over the rainbow. Why then, oh why can't I?