Sunday, May 31, 2009

Singing when nobody's listening...

is not my idea of a satisfying gig. And yet so often, that's the lot of aspiring bands and those who would be lead singers in bands. Bayview Sound, for example.

Though it was a lot of fun to rehearse, choose our songs, polish them to a tee, perfect our harmonies, create a set list, dress for the occasion in western garb, scour the thrift shops for cowboy boots and hats, show up early to set up and rehearse, once the music started we became invisible, background noise, something to fill the quiet air between sales pitches for various items in a silent auction happening nearby.

What has happened to audiences? Why do so many music performances become mere background for something else more important? Why have music at all---at places like farmers' markets, fundraising galas, birthday parties---if the audience is at liberty to roam around, chat, walk right in front of the performers while chatting, take over the mic between songs for sales pitches?

Nice people, the WAIF organizers; nice charity, the animal shelter; nice donations, the givers of the auction premiums. Nice treatment of the volunteers who donated their time and music to the evening? Not so great.

I know that there are times and places that are appropriate for background music, for music that gets no applause, no attention. Funeral preludes come to mind, perhaps a quiet flute behind muffled tears; at a bedside while families gather; to underscore the reverence of a meditative time.

I expected to be background music yesterday; I knew it would be that way. It's been that way for almost every gig we've taken in the past year. We stand up there behind the mics singing our hearts out with the carefully rehearsed harmonies that we feel are our best feature, while people ignore us. The major exception to this rule was the Pete Seeger concert, when people sat in seats facing forward and clapped afterwards.

The sad thing yesterday was how hard we had worked to prepare for this gig. It was a donation to the animal shelter. If we'd been paid, we could have asked for a few hundred bucks but it was a donation. We had learned a bunch of new songs for this one, since it was a western theme and cowboy songs were requested. We were glad to do it. We knew we wouldn't get paid, but the guy who asked us to perform was grateful and said he'd make sure we got a nice meal out of the deal. (Originally we weren't even going to get food after the performance unless we bought $75 tickets.)

Well, we made nice about it, but the upshot was that, after all the paying guests had left for the gala dinner in the dining area, set up with centerpieces and glassware and cloth napkins, we were presented with a few bags of deli meat, sliced cheese, generic chips, cheapo bread, and whatever beers or generic sodas we could scrounge out of the coolers' melted ice. Oh, and a couple boxes of dried-up donut holes and mini-donuts for dessert. We were starving, after singing for 90 minutes, watching the servers roaming with their platters of hors d'oerves, far out of our reach.

There was a good part, though, and that was sitting together in the cool evening munching these self-made sandwiches and chips and talking about how good we sounded together, even though hardly anyone clapped or even paid attention. That's the whole reason we're singing anyhow, the joy of making those harmonies, whether anyone's listening or not. I guess I'll keep doing it.


Ms. Theologian said...

That's just thoughtless and tacky of whomever did the planning to let you guys go that way. Not nice.

It reminds me of a time my husband volunteered to set up audio equipment and mics for a charity event, got there early, stayed to make sure everything worked, and then everyone else was thanked and given a bottle or two of wine and fed, and he went home hungry.

Anonymous said...

Hey Kit, there's a reason they call these gigs "casualties." Unfortunately, the full-time appreciators of live music are few and far between, so it often seems we do it more for love of playing than anything else. That's show biz, huh? Please keep up the good work. Paul Goethel

Dan said...

You're always welcome at Rockhoppers - plus the camera's working now, such as it is.

ms. kitty said...

Thanks to all of you for your thoughts. My little rant let off my own steam for awhile. Folks came over tonight for a picnic and a jam and we talked about it some more. The consensus is that often planners are thoughtless, not necessarily mean, just thoughtless.

Rene said...

Beverly Graham takes care of this problem by making sure that when she plays there is not talking or events going on simultaneously. It works for her and I am sure it would work for you. You just need to set your perameters beforehand.
Next Sat when Trilogy comes to Rockhoppers we will make sure the audience is prepared to sit and listen. We love you guys!

ms. kitty said...

That's a great idea, Rene, and we may try it. I guess it wouldn't have worked with WAIF because there was an activity going on during the singing. But we are sure looking forward to being at Rockhoppers this weekend! We love you too!