Monday, December 26, 2011

That was different

For all the years I've played the cello, until now, I had not ever played in a "band" setting. Electric guitars, vocals, drums, etc. For the Christmas production, the church threw in a bit of brass, a choir, and strings. All good, but the logistics with limited equipment and space...

Here is what I experienced which was new to me...

Playing with my back to the conductor (when there was one, she was really just there for the choir).

Having to find my entrance, when the intro may or may not be the prescribed number of measures printed in the music. I learned to listen instead of count - and still missed a few entrances.

Having to fit a ritardando (slowing of the music) with the pianist when we could barely see each other.

Mics and monitors and sound checks. I only ever heard myself in the monitor - barely - when no one else was playing (i.e. during the sound check).

Not being able to hear myself or the instruments next to me most of the time for the volume of the rest of the band. This included ...

Having to look at my bow to check my tone (or rather, to guess at my tone) or confirm that I'm actually playing on the right string.

Depending on vibration of the instrument to know certain notes were in tune - and being totally uncertain about the ones which were less resonant! On some longer notes I could take my eyes off the music long enough to lean over my cello and pick up the sound a little bit. Sometimes cellists plug the C string peg into their ear to assist in hearing themselves, but it didn't work for me in this situation. Playing without hearing feels like driving a car blind.

Watching the violins for bowing rhythms, rather than listening to their notes.

Hearing, "Let's pray" before my final note died out on a rare instance when I could be heard.

Rehearsals with no mention of dynamics.

Playing under multi-coloured strobe lights, and even a disco ball!

Having a scripted stage entrance and warm up (kind of).

Having to leave the stage, maneuvering around a monitor and down stairs, in the dark. (I don't THINK my end-pin damaged the monitor...)

Being given a colour palette and style samples for wardrobe, and having to have my clothing approved in advance. (As it turned out - I had to leave out the vest and necklace I had chosen as they were deemed too shiny.) These last two items were more because of the production than the band aspect - still, they were new to me.

Having to wear musician's earplugs.

You might think, "Oh, that's why she couldn't hear!" But I did try without, and heard enough from the other string players (not wearing earplugs) to know that that really didn't make a difference as far as being able to hear myself or the acoustic instruments next to me. What it did REALLY help with, though, was being able to withstand the overall volume, and especially the drums which usually really hurt my ears. I haven't been diagnosed yet, but I think I may have hyperacousis. I couldn't have tolerated being on the stage with the band without them. They cause an even attenuation - all frequencies are evenly reduced - so everything is still heard which could be heard without the earplugs, it just takes the edge off the harsher sounds and takes everything down a notch.

We've all seen cellos and violins playing on stage in situations like this, so there are ways around many of the problems I experienced. We had equipment and stage limitations, as well as inexperience on everyone's part as far as adding strings to this kind of band, and not having all the mics etc. until very close to the performances. But problems or not, a very different kind of experience!

Now, back to classical...

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