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Tuesday, December 20, 2005

A Musical Interlude

As some of you know, in a previous life I spent over 17 years as a professional trombonist with a society/club-date band in New York City.  I had a day job, but the gigs served as equal parts hobby and therapy... and had the added benefit of helping to pay off the extortion tuition for our kid's private school.

Since I've been riffing on a lot of political, cultural and 'local' topics lately, I decided that for a change of pace I'd share a story from my musical past that never fails to make me giggle whenever I think of it.

The setting was a fancy-shmancy wedding at one of New york City's more elegant hotel ballrooms.  The cream of New York Jewish society was there, and the band played a nice mix of secular and Jewish music throughout the evening.  In between the dance sets a string quartet performed soft classical selections while the rest of the band grabbed a drink and stretched their legs. 

However, the strings were only booked until 10:00PM, so during the last break of the evening one of the vocalists (I won't reveal what instrument he plays in order to protect his identity to those in the know), remained on the bandstand to do a couple of soft numbers while the guests enjoyed their dessert.

Now, in this situation a musician/soloist has a choice.  He can play something pleasant but un-intrusive that the guests will enjoy without really having to actively take note... or he can attempt to grab the spotlight and put on a mini-concert.   

In my experience as a bandleader, the right move in that situation would have been to go the 'pleasant/un-intrusive' route, using the music to add 'atmosphere' without forcing the guest's attention away from their table conversations and Crème Brûlée.

However, this musician/vocalist decided to go the other way and proceeded to belt out a short medley of Israeli songs that would have been more at home in a concert setting than during dessert in a hotel ballroom.

With each key change/segue the vocalist seemed to ratchet up the volume and 'charisma' in a transparent bid for the guest's attention.  But the moneyed New York crowd was simply not going to be distracted from their mingling and postprandial drinks.

The vocalist went into his big finale, hammering out the coda for good effect and finally finished with a professional flourish. 

There was a tiny smattering of polite applause (what I like to call 'golf claps') from here and there, but for the most part the guests had remained impervious to the musician's impassioned efforts.  As I watched from the side of the ballroom, the vocalist made a big show of rearranging his music so as not to acknowledge the 'crickets' with which his mini-concert had been met.

But just then a guest stood up from a table near the back of the room and strode purposefully across the dance floor towards the bandstand.  I watched as the guest said a pleasant hello to the vocalist and asked him for his business card.

For those of you who have never been in 'show biz', having a guest ask for a card after a set is some serious validation.  The guest may never book you... but at that moment in time, he/she thought enough of your performance to come up and find out who you are.

The 'dénouement' of the story came a moment later as I watched this guest walk away from the bandstand, across the large, empty dance floor...  using this newly acquired business card to pick a stubborn bit of dinner from between his teeth.

Ouch!

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Posted by David Bogner on December 20, 2005 | Permalink

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You just described one of my typical concerts. Minus the wedding part.

Posted by: psychotoddler | Dec 20, 2005 4:49:26 PM

Ah, but why do I think I know who this is?

Posted by: jordan Hirsch | Dec 20, 2005 5:13:55 PM

Ah, but why do I think I know who this is? This is probably the same musician who, in a fit of helpfulness, decided to provide accompaniment to the violinist while said violinist was playing the Bach........unaccompanied Violin Sonata.

Posted by: jordan Hirsch | Dec 20, 2005 5:15:03 PM

Should I make a comment about tooting your own horn. ;)

Posted by: Jack | Dec 20, 2005 5:29:50 PM

Did the musician ever hear from the tooth-pickin' customer again? : D

Posted by: Irina | Dec 20, 2005 8:17:36 PM

Cute story, David.

You might be amused to know that when I had to take a general music course in 7th grade, I was given the trombone to learn.

And I liked it!

Of course, my arms were so short that I had a hard time playing it. :)

Posted by: Lachlan | Dec 20, 2005 8:32:26 PM

I can't see Rimberg trying something like that so I'll have to go with..... (fill in the blank). The tooth picking is truly a good one, maybe I'll try that next time a band plays at some ridiculous sound level.

Posted by: Jewish Blogmeister | Dec 20, 2005 9:19:13 PM

Psychotoddler... I knew you'd understand. :-)

Jordan... Actually, if I were just hearing the story I would probably make the same guess you have... but it was actually not him.

Jack... You write what you know... :-)

Irina... I'm guessing not.

Lachlan... I knew there was somethnig special about you! :-) Just as Melville once said that no great man ever spent his entire life inland... I'm convinced that all great people have at least a passing acquaintence with the low brass.

Jewish Blogmiester... Don't bother fishing, I wouldn't say even if you got it right.

Posted by: treppenwitz | Dec 20, 2005 11:31:45 PM

Heh, funny story. Although I know how tempting it is to try and wake up the 'audience' sometimes. Not sure whether to laugh or groan re. Jordan's comment about the Bach!

Posted by: zemirah | Dec 21, 2005 12:20:50 AM

at risk of turning this into an insiders discussion...Did he ask the other pitched members of the rhythm section to lay out and make that a self- accompanied mini concert while he played non standard changes?

Posted by: shmiel | Dec 21, 2005 12:24:16 AM

I wasn't fishing and I know you wouldn't say. Trust me I'm fairly certain who it is. You have to think pretty highly of yourself to do something like that and that's a dead giveaway.

Posted by: Jewish Blogmeister | Dec 21, 2005 12:41:02 AM

I warrant the card requester simply incidentlally needed to pick his teeth. No doubt an unconscious action.

David, are you aware that from here your page is just white with black type in paragraphs? All slammed up against the left edge with no margin. All the other stuff is below on the left side.

Posted by: scott | Dec 21, 2005 7:21:08 AM

Never mind. After three days it just snapped back to normal.

Posted by: scott | Dec 21, 2005 7:24:02 AM

Zemirah... My advice on that one is to groan. The pianist Jordan is talking about (who may or may not be the person in my story) does not understand the concept of 'unaccompanied' (unless he's the one playing or singing the lead). :-)

Shmiel... As i told Jewish Blogmiester, no fishing allowed. :-) But I will say you're barking up the wrong tree.

Jewish Blogmiester... Based on your comment I'd have to say you have the wrong person in mind. :-)

Scott... That is precisely what happened. The request for the card was not made out of any awareness of the music or the performer, but rather to acquire the proper tool for a dirty job. :-) As to my template difficulties... I am trying to fix a small problem with an advanced template in typepad and each time I do all my formatting goes to hell. At present I have had to revert to a previous template and I'm not happy about it.

Posted by: treppenwitz | Dec 21, 2005 8:49:21 AM

This reminded me of singing at a dinner theater. The best response I got was when I sang "Happy Birthday" to an older lady.

Posted by: Tim | Dec 21, 2005 10:45:25 PM

This story may prove the exception to the adage "any publicity is good publicity". `Ouch' is right!

Posted by: mcaryeh | Dec 22, 2005 2:16:22 AM

im not the only one that calls them golf claps?? sweet!

Posted by: Tonny | Dec 23, 2005 12:14:34 PM

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