But I digress…

Yes, I know that I said that I’d explain the Welcome clip in this post… but I’m afraid that it will have to wait… and instead I thought I’d relate an anecdote which came to mind a few days ago.

Actually last Thursday.  A long day for Jane… meeting with thesis advisor on her first revision of the thesis and presenting/turning in her final major essay in her final course.  That provided me with time to do several things, one of which was to visit the music faculty building, closet myself in one of the numerous piano practice rooms on the second floor and play.  And… that got me thinkin’

The year was 1994… 17 years ago to the month (almost the day)… and, when I entered one of the piano rooms at that time, it was not in the relaxed manner of my recent visit.  To explain… the Middlesex County Board of Education (alas no more, but at the time my employer) held an annual Spring Concert at Alumni Hall (a nearby university auditorium).  I had attended the event since the mid 70’s, first as a monitor of students in the mass choir and later as an accompanist.  The concert followed a basic formula- representative classes (junior division only in later years) formed a mass choir of about 1000 students.  The choir would perform four or five selections (accompanied by various teacher pianists).  The high schools- bands and choirs- would contribute to the evening’s entertainment and the program would conclude with an extended medley of some sort (often from a popular musical) sung by the mass choir and accompanied by one of the high school bands.  The large body of student participants guaranteed a sizable audience of family and friends to watch and listen.

Several things were happening which altered the formula that year.  First, Alumni Hall had decided to remove the somewhat battered but substantial grand piano which was available for concerts at the venue.  So, there was no “in house” piano to play… and for some music teachers, their electronic counterparts were not a comfortable fit.  Second, there had been an interest developing in the utilization of the technological side of music in the classroom- synths, sequencing and such.  In fact, two of the smaller high schools (at the time) had just purchased keyboard labs as an alternative to traditional band programs.  Students involved in these programs in fact performed that night.  My own interest in music technology put me in the position that, on the night in question, I would be playing this…

Roland FP8

 The piano had been purchased by the board for use by the consultant and the elementary music teachers… but, with my interest in such things, I had opportunity to borrow the piano frequently (dare I say disproportionately).  It was the first piano I had encountered with good (ie. resembling an acoustic piano) key action and a fairly accurate piano sound.  (In fact, I really haven’t played anything that improved on the FP8 in those respects in the intervening years.)  And, given the toll taken on a standard issue school piano in regular moving, the FP8 proved a reliable alternative… which a few additional sound options not found on its acoustic counterpart.

Now, add to this the use of sequencing (recording sounds to computer for playback [like I do here])… the result was that, on that evening, I was to be playing all the accompaniments on the FP8 but as decoration over prerecorded sequences created by myself and several other teachers… icing on the cake, so to speak.  Sound good?  I thought so… the basic accompaniment was there and I could enjoy just ad libbing live on top.  Dress rehearsal at Alumni Hall had gone swimmingly the day before… the choir had learned the songs using these sequences (recordings) and were very comfortable in performance.  What could go wrong?

It had to do the transportation and setup… with several amps, lots of wiring (Alumni is a largish hall), the piano, a sequencer, various pieces of necessary paraphernalia and a family of five (sometimes) all crammed into a Toyota Tercel wagon and about an hour needed to set up and sound check (minus any roadies for assistance), it had never been a leisurely activity- bringing in equipment the night of the concert and setting up.  Often the weather was humid, the halls were crowded, the auditorium was noisy and, by the time all was ready, I was reduced to a somewhat sweaty, somewhat weary accompanist.  Which is why, when our music consultant indicated that equipment could be left in the auditorium overnight after dress rehearsal, I was pleased and relieved.  No need to stuff the car.  No need to arrive spectacularly early.  No sweat (literally and figuratively).  I left the hall knowing that all was in readiness.

Concert evening I arrived about an hour before the curtain rise (it took about 40 minutes to get the mass choir moved from the basement to the stage).  An unusually anxious consultant immediately approached me and said (more or less), “Bruce, you took the equipment home with you, right?”  To which I replied in the negative… and we both looked up to the stage to the spot the piano, stand, amps, sequencer and wires had once occupied.  As you’ve probably surmised, all the equipment had been stolen overnight.  Now, besides the obvious issue of theft- how it was perpetrated, who had done it and how to follow up, there was the minor matter of a concert with no piano, no sequences and a large, expectant choir and audience.  Yes, I had been prepared to “decorate”- I hadn’t planned to provide the “main course”.  One small mercy- one of the high school bands had purchased an identical FP8 and had brought it (with amp) for use in the concert.  I told my wife I was going to slip away briefly and then tore down the hill from the hall to the music building.  There I closeted myself in one of the practice rooms and played over the selections I’d need to accompany- remember that I play by ear principally with some accommodation for the written arrangement and student harmonies.  I then rushed back up the hill where the (somewhat more frantic) consultant (whom I had not informed of my absence) welcomed my return and suggested that, if I could play the accompaniments, we could “borrow” the FP8.

And that’s what happened.  Using the piano provided, I accompanied the choir in its several selections.  So, here’s what you didn’t hear that night- a bit from a song called Freedom which I had sequenced and had planned to decorate…

And, this is, more or less, how it sounded that night (I’ve added the melody line to my playing… since I don’t have a 1000-voice choir here at the moment)…  I should add that the mistakes you hear were probably similar to ones made that night as well!

Postscript

  • Eventually the board did get its FP8 replaced (alas not red but white this time) and I got (more or less) exclusive use of the beastie.
  • My cousin/godfather Bill (previous post) tuned all the pianos at the music faculty over several years… so the piano I had used to practise that night and the one I fiddled on last Thursday were among those he had worked on during his tenure there.
  • I mentioned our friend, Brian Wilson, in a previous post…  he was interviewed on the CBC today (music, not speaking, being his principal gift however)… and he’s apparently touring Canada imminently.
  • Yes, Welcome to be explained next posting… be warned, it relates to hockey.
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