Bass Blog

Michael Hovnanian formerly played bass with an orchestra located in a large midwestern city.

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Saturday, March 22, 2008

Bad Friday

worst gig ever!

Names in this post have been omitted to protect the guilty. The saddest part about all this is that the sorry events related here were neither unprecedented nor entirely unexpected.

On Friday I was part of a string quintet of musicians from the orchestra selected to play at the annual Via Crucis event in the Pilsen neighborhood. Via Crucis is a procession through the city reenacting the Stations of the Cross and crucifixion ending up at a large church where the archbishop of the diocese (Francis Cardinal George) presides over a mass for about a thousand worshipers. The procession includes people portraying Jesus, Pontius Pilate, Roman soldiers and various other characters. Sorry, I’m not at all religious, so that is the best description I can whip up. I think there are two different Marys in that story…

Due to the uncertainties of timing such a large outdoor procession, we were instructed to arrive no later than 11:15 AM, with an expected start time of approximately 11:45. Unfortunately, not everyone in the group read the memo. As luck would have it, snow began to fall some time during the night, snarling traffic in the city. Although the venue was not far from my house, I barely made it to the parking lot by 11:05. As I parked my car, the violist pulled up alongside and we exchanged a wave before I went in. I thought it somewhat odd he didn’t follow me into the church, but I figured he knew what he was doing. The second violinist and cellist who had carpooled were already in place when I got there. As soon as I pulled my instrument out of the case a man hurried up to us and informed us the procession was about two minutes away. The cold snowy weather had naturally shortened the time anyone wanted to remain outdoors, even to reenact the crucifixion. I mentioned that our violist was sitting in his car in the parking lot for some reason and someone from our management ran off to see if they could coax him into the church. So far, the ‘leader’ and first violinist of our group was nowhere to be seen.

Just then the procession entered the church headed by a troop of Roman soldiers with swords and shields, bearing a shrouded body I assumed to the product of the snow-shortened crucifixion. The man who had given us their ETA started making frantic signs I took to mean ‘play something for Christ’s sake!’ So, to the mournful strains of the second violin, cello and bass parts to the slow movement of Mozart’s Divertimento in D major, the body of our fallen savior was borne to the altar. Sometime during that sorry spectacle I looked across the church to see our violist, trapped behind a phalanx of Roman centurions, gesturing in animated fashion.

Eventually, he freed himself, and as luck would have it, he had both a violin and viola with him, along with some sheet music (although no music stand – I had to give him mine and read over the cellist’s shoulder – there’s another benefit of reading the memo…) so after a short reading from the altar, when we were signaled to play again, we could produce something that sounded a little more like music.

We sight read a couple things as best we could. As soon as we were told we needed to play only one more selection, our ‘leader’ and first violinist made her entrance and we were able to end with one of the things we had actually rehearsed. But as the luck of this day was against our sorry little group, the Dvorak Notturno quickly went astray and off key (it took our leader a couple minutes to remember to glance at the key signature), to the point where the cellist had to call out rehearsal letters as they went by. By the time we finished I was longing to crawl beneath the shroud and trade places with the body they had under there. Unfortunately, the sad spectacle of our performance had either caused or accompanied its removal from the altar.

My apologies to the good citizens of the city in which I live.


Jason Heath said...

Holy cow--now this is a good gig story! I especially like the violist trapped behind the Roman centurions.

Daniel Montoya Jr. said...

So it's so refreshing to know that even you professionals have such "accidents" happen at your gigs.

Makes me feel that much better about my gigs... or worse.

Not sure really...

Joe Lewis said...

Reminds me of a horrific gig I had back in Boston: DNC fundraiser at the Copley Hotel and we have a quartet ready to run through the Rossini string sonatas. Convention floor is populated with loud, drunk men in suits with their paid escorts. No-one is listening, and the louder we play, the louder they talk. Our illustrious 1st violinist decides to run off to grab us some drinks and the nice bartender pours us four Stolis, tall, on the rocks, paid for by the DNC. Seems to be what everyone else is drinking. So we proceed to get our vibrato loosened up with the Stolis and play along. It became a kind of drinking game, because there was no hope of us being heard over the loud jabbering and cackling. Finally they opened the divider one side of the room and without warning - reggae band, full blast. Obviously nobody cared on our end of the hall or even seemed to notice, so we figure it's time to pack it up. Organizer lady takes a full hour to get around to paying us as we follow her around the place, and we really thought she was trying to ditch paying us.