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Christmas Gig Stories

  • David
    David Ice

    I always seem to get the oddball gigs (like playing in the chesse section at Safeway) but this season really seems to take the cake.  I'm interested in other people's stories of oddball Christmas gigs.

    This year I played a what is billed as the world's largest church Christmas Pageant and wound up six feet away from a Bengal Tiger every performance.  Nice kitty.   Nobody ever told me that was going to happen!

    But the capper came today.  A local church at a retirement community wants me to play prelude music and an offertory for their Christmas Day service.  BUT...here's the rub:  "we are are a tight timeline."  Oh.  The prelude needs to be exactly 2 minutes long.  Not 2:10.   Not 1:50.  Two minutes.  Exactly.   And the offertory needs to be EXACTLY 2:30.   So, kindly tell us what the titles are you will be playing?

    I had to explain that while I know rough timings, I don't sit with a stopwatch and time every piece I play.  And this church service isn't being broadcast...it's not like a 90 second segment on the TODAY show. 

    <sigh>  Even on Christmas day it has to be so regimented down to the second.  So tonight I'm going to play through things with a stopwatch and see what I can whittle down.  God forbid I go 5 seconds over!

    Oh yes, and now their organist wants me to sight read and play Ken Gist's Kithara Trio (with no rehearsals!) and oddly, no idea of the timings.  I'm sure the sanctuary will explode if that runs 15 seconds long.

    Yep, I sure seem to pick 'em.........

    And how did your December gigs go?

    Dave Ice

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    replies to "Christmas Gig Stories"
    • Cheryl
      Cheryl Z.

      The titles are "I Am Going To Stay Home And Enjoy Christmas, Just Because It's Christmas" and "Someone Must Have Something Cooking In The Oven". 

      Can they really be serious about the two minutes?  They need to get a CD where it tells how many minutes a song is.  Since it's a retirement community, maybe they have lunch in shifts or something. 

      Enjoyed the pictures on your Facebook page of the gig with the Bengal Tiger.  Kept thinking - big kitty - harp - BIG scratching post.  Had some other thoughts too.  Will try not to be tacky, but that Tiger was pretty close to where you and the orchestra were sitting.  What were you supposed to do if the big kitty became indesposed during the performance? 

      Thought about the fog too.  Makes me wonder, do the people who do the organizing actually think through what they are organizing?  How were you supposed to read the music when the fog got that thick? 

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    • David
      David Ice

      Hi Cheryl,

      The Bengal Tiger was a pretty well behaved kitty.  Her handlers were good with all the animals...none of them had any accidents while on-stage.  And Kitty was only out there 3-4 minutes.

      The fog was another thing.  It was a water-based low ground hugging fog and to be honest it really set off my asthma.  It was nasty some nights, especially when the humidity was nearly 100% due to the (RARE) rainstorms in Phoenix.

      In terms of the timings, a friend concluded that the time restrictions are so that everybody can get out of church just in time to get the Early Bird Specials at Furr's Cafeteria.

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    • Jennifer
      Jennifer Buehler

      I do a volunteer gig at a friend's church for the pre-Midnight mass concert.  Sister Mary and Father Deitrich are real salt of the earth type folks but, yes, everything in the concert is planned down to the minute so they can end on time to have the Christmas proclamation read at midnight.  Usually I do two pieces and my limit is about 3 1/2 minutes per piece. 

      My best Christmas eve story though is playing during the blizzard a couple of years ago.  The first service was nearly deserted.  I stopped briefly at home and our power was out.  Oddly enough, it wasn't due to the storm but to the neighbor's negligence in putting in a fence earlier that fall.  Ran downtown to do pre-midnight mass.  Amazingly all the choir members made it but I was ready to do prelude all on my own!  That service was deserted as well.  Leaving the church, I made a wrong turn and went the wrong way down a one way.  Since the power was out at home I thought the reason I couldn't see stop lights was because the power was out!  Main streets were fine but once I pulled into my neighborhood the streets were so drifted over that I thought I was going to have to walk the rest of the way home!  Two days later, I had to dig my way out of the neighborhood to play for a wedding with "Sugar Plum Fairy" for the flower girls.

      This year I was contacted to play some corporate Christmas party.  However, they wanted me to be there for three hours and only pay me for two.  I sorely, sorely wanted to asked if they would put in four hours of work (I don't charge for setup and takedown) for two hours pay.  I nicely told them that wouldn't work.

      Jennifer

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    • Cheryl
      Cheryl Z.

      Hi David,

      Question - Did that high of humidity effect the harp at all?  Were there any kinds of precations you could take to protect the harp, since it was exposed to that kind of humidty for several days in a row?  Did you leave the harp at the church or was the harp only exposed to the humidity during the performance?   Want to learn from your experience in case I would ever have to deal with it.  Any tips for dealing with the harp or health in that kind of situation? 

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    • David
      David Ice

      Hi Cheryl,

      Believe it or not, the high humidity didn't seem to affect my harp at all.  Tuning stayed very consistant from show to show and during the show itself.   I had 2 gut strings go, but considering I'm playing 1-2 two hour shows a day that's not unexpected.

      The fog machine and breathing is another thing.  I saw an asthma specialist today and he was familiar with both the venue and the fog machine...and he said "oh, that stuff's just nasty to breathe in."   I don't really have much choice (the fog roils off the stage into the "pit" and unless they put the harp in the back of the building there's no way to avoid it, so you just have to endure it.  I wound up taking an inhaler with me in case I needed it.

      Dave Ice

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    • Erin
      Erin Wood

      I recently played a Christmas concert and a friend posted a video of me playing Susann McDonald's arrangement of Greensleeves. It was exactly 2 minutes long, but I am sure on a different night it might be more or less. You can't play the exact same tempo every time.


      I also had terrible weather once for a midnight mass gig. I will never to a winter job for that church again because they were the ONLY church in town that did not cancel their service. It is just not worth the risk. I don't understand why they still do the service when it is so dangerous for people to come.


      But I don't think anyone can top your Bengal tiger gig!

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    • David
      David Ice

      There are photos of the tiger on my Facebook page!

      Update:  The church has said they would allow an extra 90 seconds for an offertory--being it was Christmas and all.  While I am grateful, I am reminded of the Daffy Duck quote:  "Thanks for the sour persimmons, cousin." 

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    • Jennifer
      Jennifer Buehler

      Ninety seconds!  Love it!

       

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    • Sherry
      Sherry Lenox

      When the Bishop used to come to Confirmation, the choir director was told to stop on THE NOTE that was being played when the bishop's foot hit the first step of the altar. Any hymn in progress was to stop immediately, mid-syllable if that was in synch with the falling foot.


      After some heated discussion, this was amended to STOP - V7-I, because even the bishop, who hated church musicians, came to realize that the gillliotin-like stop was a real mood breaker.

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    • David
      David Ice

      A triumph of form over substance, eh? 

      I can just imagine AMAZING GRACE in such a setting.....ending on "wretch" and having that echo endlessly!

      Dave Ice

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    • Jerusha
      Jerusha Amado

      You guys crack me up!

      Jer

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    • rod
      rod anderson

      I have a recording of While Shepherds Watched in which the last verse ends:

      "Good-will henceforth from heaven to men
      Begin and never"

      and the recording stops dead on the unresolved chord.  I've always liked that.

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    • Gretchen
      Gretchen Cover

      I am an adult amateur harpist - day job, kids etc. got in the way of playing over the years.  Now that I have some time to practice, I have played a bit at our local church for two Christmas cantatas. Playing Christmas Day for the church prelude was my big solo debut for the first time in at least 30 years. I practiced and worked up 20 minutes of carols - dusted off a couple Salzedo carols and put in a couple easy ones.  I practiced at the church so I wouldn't get stage fright. I knew the pieces well but still needed the music as a cue card.   My one big request from the music director was to have a page turner but never got one.  Indeed, it was a humid day in Florida and my pages stuck together right at a big moment  during a piece that needed a page turn. It was a pause that seemed to go on for hours and ruined the momentum and my concentration.  That got me rattled and I couldn't play well after that.  Everyone was polite but I felt pretty stupid and embarrassed.  Thankfully carol purgatory is over for the year.

      PS. I couldn't find David Ice's facebook tiger but went to his website.  Check out his last video clip.  Love the harp dude shirt.

       

       

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    • Sylvia
      Sylvia Clark

      Not exactly an exciting story here compared to the previous ones...the only mishap I had this year was that the choir organist switched keys on one of the carols during the mass.  We had it in F, and she was playing it in E.  Since I have a tin ear, I had no idea what key she was in, but I knew it sure wasn't F, so there I sat, like a bump on a log.  I explained to the choir director afterwards so she wouldn't think I was just spacing off or something...she said...oh, I thought it seemed low!  I guess the organist is used to playing by herself and just didn't think about poor little me...tho she used the right key in rehearsal.  A senior moment, perhaps.  And Xmas Eve drizzle (rain a rare event down here)...that made three weekends in a row I got drizzled on, but I felt glad that it didn't pour on me.

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    • Adam B
      Adam B Harris

      In December 2010 I did a solo Christmas gig at a festival outdoors. Was doing a 30 minute set to mayber 150 people. Anyway, I'm going down really well with the crowd and halfway through the set I hear fire engine sirens. I look down the road and sure enough its a fire engine and the fat guy with the red suit is on it giving away presents and free stuff to everybody that went over there.

      Score that day: Santa 150 - Adam Nil

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