The Great(?) Outdoors

Tuesday, June 07, 2011 - 10:55 PM

frog (flickr/dchalender)

I've sung plenty of outdoor gigs (including WQXR's appearance last summer at the "Play Me I'm Yours" piano near Columbus Circle, where the video producer was kind enough to cut away at the point when I nearly tripped over a tree root in mid "Amour!"). Outdoor performances proliferate in summer -- and so do the hazards that come with them.

Those start with trying to make yourself heard in the open air, and/or dealing with whatever amplification system there might be. Weather, of course, is a major factor -- and not just the threat of being washed out. Too humid, and your instrument goes out of tune. Too cold, and fingers, lips, or other parts of your anatomy freeze. And when a strong breeze kicks up, woe to musicians who've forgotten clothespins to anchor music to their stands

Then, there's the menace of flora and fauna. Anyone with allergies knows how hard it is to give a performance when your nose's pollen-producing nemesis of choice is in bloom. As for the animal kingdom, so far, I've been luckier than some, who've had insects fly into their mouths while they were going for a high C. But once upon a time, I used to attend -- and participate in -- operas at Washington Crossing State Park, where the amphitheater stage was right next to a pond full of bullfrogs.

Those frogs must have had a sixth sense for tender love duets and tenor arias, because the moment the show kicked into high gear, so did the frogs, "harumphing" to beat the band (but rarely in the correct key). My friend Wendy and I developed a system of keeping score: silly bits of opera staging vs. interruptions from the frogs. The bullfrogs were pretty active, so an opera had to be pretty bad to beat them. I still remember a production of Faust that won, hands down.

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Comments [2]

Harry Matthews from Brooklyn, NY

I grew up in Cincinnati where the summer opera -- my mother danced in the corps de ballet -- performed in an open-air pavilion in the Zoo. At one point, the zookeepers installed the seals near the pavilion. They proved to be vocal critics of many performances and were eventually moved. The replacements were much more appropriate to the opera world: peacocks. Alas, the occasional thunderstorm could not be so easily dealt with.

On the other hand, it IS possible to create music designed to be heard outdoors. I've just come from a performance of John Luther Adams' INUKSUIT in Morningside Park. One of this composer's goals is to make us listen more attentively, whether to music or the world around us, from chirping birds to roaring jets. He also scored the piece for percussion, often very assertive, A large crowd appeared and seemed to enjoy the experience; I certainly did.

Jun. 22 2011 12:34 AM
John J. Christiano from Franklin NJ

I was a trumpet player in HS and we regularly marched in the St. Pat's parades in Newark and NY.

It can be pretty cold in March. Mouthpieces get frosty; valves get sluggish; fingers stiffen up; music holders become flapping flags....and, while you're at it, don't forget to march in step!

Fortunately, no frogs on 5th Ave.

Jun. 09 2011 07:50 AM

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