I often tell you about orchestra concerts—how we performed and how we were received—but I don’t often bother with band concerts. Well, here’s a treat, then.
The Big Fat Summer Band performed this past Saturday. We cozy up on a small, outdoor stage, all 75 or so of us, and do the best we can to keep up when the beat is not always evident, when the base line overpowers the melody and when the people in the front row of the audience talk from down beat to cut off. In the park where we play, the 1920 carousel continues to chime and people eat ice cream and birds sing and bugs fly and we play like we’re the center of attention.
There are concert programs in which the horn section has not much more than off beats, or we’re doubled up by the trombones who only know one volume—triple forte—but this time, we had some real gems. We actually had the melody now and then, and the director bothered to tell the tubas to back off so we could be heard. Your whole notes are of no consequence, gentlemen, so tone it down, why don’t ya, and let these people sing out.
We did sing out, but a weird thing happens in this outdoor setting. When you practice with the group in the bandroom, your ears adjust to the dynamics around you, but outside, your sound goes straight up into the trees, and it sounds as if you’re the only one playing. If you tend toward insecurity, as I sometimes do, you second-guess yourself. Wait, no one else is playing. Did I miscount those measures of rest and come in early? But then in that split-second of questioning your abilities, you realize you did not count incorrectly, and everyone else is playing. You just can’t hear them as well as when you’re inside. And then you hurry and catch up and kick yourself for being such a weenie.
It takes a song or two to adjust to outdoor acoustics and get with the program, and that’s when you start to have fun. Whether it’s blazing heat or wind intent on blowing your music off of the stand or a mentally retarded boy in the front row who mimics the drumset person, you’re playing with the group and having a great time.
Next concert, we may be back to offbeats, but I’ve set a task for myself. We end every concert with Stars and Stripes Forever, and the last several lines are nothing but offbeats you can barely hear for all the other hoopla around the horn section. So, I have rejected those notes for the melody. For next time, I will have the fingering for the melody memorized so I can play it with certainty instead of just guessing with each note. Just try and stop me, Mr. Director. I’m having too much fun on stage to be bothered with the notes on the page.