Belle of Liberty

Letting Freedom Ring

Monday, July 05, 2010

Light a Roman Candle

“Better to light a candle than curse the darkness.” Motto of the American Christopher Society
Our band did not play last night. Initially, I was mad, and so were the 50 or so other musicians in our group. We were scheduled to begin at 9 p.m. about the time the fireworks starting going off.

However, the rock bands ahead of us (and groups had been playing all afternoon) went too long. They didn’t observe proper community concert etiquette (where you know other groups are waiting to go on) and strung out their endless riffs and twangs. Nor did the concert organizers hold them to the schedule. By the time the last group had finished, the fireworks were just going off.

They hadn’t even cleared their equipment from the stage. The fireworks would long be over by the time they got their electronic equipment off and we got our chairs and stands set up. The crowds, with their worn-out children, would already be on their way home.

Our director made the decision – forget about it. Go home. I wondered why the fireworks team couldn’t hold off for ten or fifteen minutes to give us a chance to get ready. But then I recollected that the police department was probably on double-time and every minute delayed was costing the town money. The fireworks had to go off as scheduled.

Which meant we were out. We’d gotten ourselves ready, practiced at rehearsals and at home (well, the woodwinds and brass anyway) for over a month on some marches we knew well and others that were rather intricate. Volunteered our Wednesdays night for the last month for nothing.

We don’t think the rock bands did it on purpose. There was no sinister design in the oversight (though I wonder about the organizers). Musicians are always very considerate of one another. The last band - a “Cajun band” - was suitably embarrassed, although it wasn’t their fault. They played to the schedule (they were also fun to listen to unlike the hard rock band that preceded them). They were scrambling to get their equipment off, and even yelling at each other, but there was just nothing they could do.

Rock bands are new to the community concert band scene, a new addition, and have yet to learn stage etiquette. They simply can’t indulge all these 20-long guitar riffs that they perform as they would in one of their own concerts. It eats up time and it’s just not fair to the other bands waiting their turn to perform.

I could see early on, while the hard rock band was still playing, that there was going to be a serious problem. I asked the director if we were really going to have enough time to play. I was also going to ask him whether it might be better if we just set up our chairs in front of the stage. We’re pretty a loud group – we don’t need amplifiers.

I never asked the second question because he assured me we’d get on, and that first answer made the second moot.

My close companions weren’t as fazed about it as I was – they took it in stride. They said it was the organizers’ loss – and the audience’s if they didn’t hear patriotic music. But I was already extremely out of sorts. We’d spent 45 minutes to an hour listening to that hard rock band twanging endlessly away until I thought I would go out of my mind.

My apologies to Ted Nuget and all those other patriotic hard rockers, but hard rock just isn’t my thing. I’d sooner a dentist drill every tooth out of my head than listen to hard rock. If I was keeping some terrorist guy secret, all the CIA or FBI would have to do to crack me is put in a room alone, playing hard rock music.

Still, if it’s what the audience wants, I have no problem sharing the stage with them. I think they’re out of their minds, but hey, tastes differ. We were right near the generator powering the amplifiers and I was eying the contraption with some insane notion of sabotage, of pulling out the wires. I figured I’d be doing my band a favor. At this rate, we were never going to get on.

They finally finished and we thought it was time, but then the Cajun band ran on stage and that was it for us.

I was upset and so were the other musicians. My companions and I had arrived earlier however, because were carrying heavier equipment. The driver told the cops he had the gout and couldn’t make the long walk to the parking area. But that meant we were there for the duration of the fireworks.

We were going to walk, disgruntled back to the car. But there was a picnic table right in our area and we had a front row seat to the fireworks. I said as long as we were there, we might as well at least watch the show. Still, I was grumpy. I’d been looking forward to playing and my companions were irritated at my wet blanket attitude (although I did love the fireworks).

This morning, I remembered a talk I had with God about doing this concert. I talk with Him a lot. I said I was happy be doing the concert – I just love patriotic music – but being on stage and on duty, we’d miss the fireworks, which was unfortunate. But that’s the sacrifice all musicians make on holidays.

In the movie, Holiday Inn, Bing Crosby’s character explains why he wants to open an inn on holidays only. ‘We work hard all year,’ he says. Then along comes a holiday and what do we do? We give an extra performance.’

Fred Astaire just shrugged, but it is true. The Tea Party Patriots asked on their website what sacrifices people make for freedom. Well, speaking for musicians, whether they’re on a professional orchestra, a Broadway pit band, a marching band, a drum and bugle corps, a Dixieland band, a country music band, or yes – a hard rock band – you give up a good portion of your holiday to perform for others and make them happy.

We love what we do. We know it’s part of the deal and we wouldn’t trade it for anything. Musicians sacrifice a lot of family reunions, barbecues, days at the beach, picnics in the park, boating on a lake, sailboating, camping in the woods (as my supervisor is doing with her family in some remote, upstate New York park) to practice their craft.

We spend hours and months, in addition, preparing for those performance. We invest our money in instruments and music, sound equipment, and transportation to get us where we’re going (when necessary). It’s work, but it’s a labor of love.

I told my friend I was going to tell my blog how fightin’ mad (again) I was today. (“I don’t doubt it,” said he.) However, it seems God decided to answer my prayer (I hadn’t realized He was listening) to take a hand. Because we’ve all worked so hard for so long, He decided to give us a break and let us enjoy the Fourth of July show ourselves. Instead of cursing the silence, we enjoyed the roman candles.

Happy Birthday, America!

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