Live shows, recitals, concerts. The synonyms used to define sharing our musical talents with an audience. Like many music schools, every fall the students and teachers from Better World School of Music perform in a large recital hall for their adoring family and friends.
While the students practice (or not) for these shows, we teachers have our own work to do in terms of backing up student songs and playing in the teachers’ band. We drink too much coffee, stay up late for rehearsals and put in that extra lesson time, all for the sake of performance.
Though much work goes into it, the entire operation at times feels fragile… one puff of wind and our carefully choreographed show collapses into fiasco.
For months preceding the show, things had progressed well with my own student. Jeremy was drum set player while his sister would sing the vocals to “Back in the USSR” by The Beatles. I had also successfully organized the teachers into the BW Teacher Band, playing pop and jazz tunes to show off a little to our students and their parents.
The huge number of performing kids couldn’t feasibly fit into one time slot, hence the need for three “shifts” (3:30, 5:30, and 7:30) with the night concluding with the oldest kids and of course the teacher band and yours truly rocking the drum set.
Our 3:30 show featuring the youngest kids went off without a hitch. One down, two to go. At 5:35 the teachers were introduced one by one and we took our places ready to start our second set. Before counting off I made eye contact with everybody confirming that all was a go. Ready?
No… not ready… there’s no sound from the keyboard! No dulcet tones coming from this device that was working just a few minutes ago. Uh-oh, “Sound Guy!”
Onstage the minutes tick slowly by as we awkwardly look at each other, the crowd, up to the booth, back at each other. Our cheesy musician jokes fall flat. Is it working yet?
The sound tech made repeated trips from the booth to the stage: power’s on, check the volume, change the DI box, change the cables… still nothing.
After what seemed an eternity, the stage manager switched keyboards — which, if you are a keyboard player, you know only makes things more difficult because now you have an entirely new instrument under your fingers.
Finally, with the new keyboard installed the BW Teacher Band feverishly dove into the set, determined to rescue our show. “Chain of Fools” grooved and then faded out into a rendition of “Misty.” One verse, chorus, then…
BLACKOUT! Darkness and silence swallowed the hall. The line between performer and audience evaporated in an instant. Uh-oh… we broke the building!
The irony of the situation took over with our keyboard issues instantly paling in comparison to what we now faced.
As the good leader she is, Kathy Saffas, Director of BW, offered and delivered a beautifully sung aria to salvage our musical pride. We needed the audience to applaud for something!
After 10-15 minutes of waiting, the stage manager emerged and said that because of the unusually hot temperatures, an overload at a local PG&E substation had caused a blackout throughout Castro Valley and part of Hayward. There was nothing we could do; our show was officially canceled by circumstances beyond our control. Unfortunately our young performers waiting backstage could not see things that way and were rightfully disappointed.
But all was not lost. In the spirit of “the show must go on,” Kathy resiliently established another concert date which will take place this coming Sunday, October 17 with two shows at 3:30 and 5:30. Our students will get another chance to shine under the bright lights and we teachers will see our work justified.
The moral of this story can be summarized in one word: process. What do we truly love about preparing our students (and ourselves) for a show? Is it the show or is it the creative process… the sequence of lessons, rehearsals, discussions, listening to recordings, and sound checks leading up to the big night?