Jul 8, 2014

Outdoor Concerts


Everyone loves outdoor concerts. . .well almost everyone. Since it’s summertime, and it’s the season for programs presented in the open air, I thought it might be good to share the performer’s perspective on these much-enjoyed events.

First of all, are we talking about a daytime or an evening performance? Both have their potential hazards for the participants. If orchestra members are playing in the middle of the day or even late afternoon – think for a moment about how hot it might be on the stage with the sun baking down on it.

When temperatures are ‘up there’ and one’s hands and fingers are perspiring, the fingerboard of a violin or cello becomes a very slippery place. ‘Slippery’ is not conducive to the best playing – not to mention the effect of all this moisture and heat has on the strings themselves. Keeping your violin ‘in tune’ at an outdoor concert can be a difficult chore!

Then, if you might, imagine what actually happens to the sound of a cello when played outside. While percussion and brass instruments have functioned quite well outdoors for thousands of years (picture a Roman legion marching in your direction), strings were never intended to be played outside. They need the four walls and ceiling of an acoustically suitable room or hall in which to reverberate. If you have a violin and can play it, venture out on your deck or porch and notice how the sound ‘evaporates into thin air’ as you play.

Switching to the evening. . .how would you liked to be buzzed by gnats and mosquitoes as you attempt to play your clarinet? While I was an undergraduate in music school I spent several summers as a cast member in a nightly (yes, every night and Sunday afternoon as well) outdoor musical called The Stephen Foster Story produced on the grounds of My Old Kentucky Home in Bardstown, Kentucky. Needless to say, there was a lot of singing to be done in The Stephen Foster Story in those unbearably hot, sweaty 19th century costumes. I can remember more than one occasion when, upon taking a deep breath to sing the next line of music, I inhaled a few gnats along with the air. Fun! The worst incident occurred when I discovered that an enormous bug was crawling up my trouser leg, and knowing that I could not exit the stage to remove it before doing a five-minute romantic scene with another cast member.

Perhaps the most distressing aspect of outdoor concerts from The Discovery Orchestra’s point of view is that we know that you may not be actually listening to the music. You might be otherwise engaged with your hamburger or beer or perhaps the person who has attended the performance with you. All of this activity may occur just at a moment when the composer has some really important information to transmit to you in abstract sound, but that magical musical moment occurs just as your taste buds are being flooded with sensory delight. Oops – you missed it!

Well, we certainly don’t want to discourage you from attending live performances of any kind, including outdoor concerts – but just be aware that the people on that stage in the park may not be having as much fun as you!