As I mentioned in my previous post I got, surprisingly, an offer to be a part of a musical-theater production in Auburn.  All the cast members would be children, ages from 5 to 15.  There would be a small band of 5 musicians consisting of a harpist, a guitarist, a pianist, a bass player, and a percussionist (me).  Later it turned out that the harpist dropped out so it was just 4 of us.  This musical was based on some of the most popular stories from Greek mythology and consisted of 7 musical numbers.  The opening number was to be reprised at the end.  The musical director, Brian, was the composer of the music.  Brian’s wife Erin, the director of the show, would also conduct the kids’ choruses and the musicians.  When I heard the songs I was impressed.  For a kids’ show I thought the music was pretty sophisticated and showed a lot of musical ingenuity.  As for my part, Brian had apparently changed his mind about the idea of using traditional Greek percussion in the music, and he had several suggestions for my percussion setup.  He thought it was important to have the sound of a large frame drum, larger than the one that I normally used.  And he wanted to have several different kinds of percussion sounds available to be played concurrently, including hanging chimes, a suspended cymbal (the theater had one of these I could borrow), and a rain stick.  This was quite a change for me from my usual experience of percussion-playing, which up until then had been mostly pretty traditional, playing on old middle-eastern or Mediterranean folk songs, either on frame drum, doumbek, or riq, and playing only one of these instruments at a time!  So for this show I had to start changing my old thinking about percussion and be ready to do something quite different from what I was familiar with.

I went to my favorite drum store, Toko Imports in downtown Ithaca, and talked with my man Tom about percussion needs.  I ordered a 22 inch tunable frame drum.  I decided on a small drum rack that I could mount my doumbek on, also a set of hanging chimes.  What to do about my riq?  I decided to get a little attachable shelf that connects to the drum stand.  I planned to put my riq on this as well as whatever other little percussion things I thought of.  I couldn’t really figure out a way to mount the frame drum on te drum rack, so I started to formulate my percussion plan as consisting of two main options, the first of which would be to play the frame drum alone because it would have go be held up and I’d have to use both hands to play it.  The other option would be to play the doumbek and riq concurrently, since they would both be on the drum stand, similarly to playing a pair of congas.  The suspended cymbal and the chimes and the rainstick would be additional effects I could add in whenever I could.  The choice of which of these two main ways of playing I would use would depend on the song,, and on the preferences of the musical director Brian.

The first rehearsal of our little band took place on a Monday evening 4 days before the show was due to open!  Besides me there was Brian, the musical director, playing guitar, a teenage pianist named Mike who had amazing skill for somebody so young, and a great young bass player named Taylor.  We played through the songs a couple of times and I thought we sounded pretty good together.  It was pretty clear to me by this time that all thought of using traditional Greek percussion had gone out the window.  It was just percussion, period.  Most of the songs contained several significant changes of rhythm and tempo, including lots of breaks, syncopated sections, etc.  So the songs demanded some keen and responsive playing on my part.  I had to be really alert for the rhythm changes and the breaks and try to play them smoothly.  But I was getting used to it and I felt confident I could handle the playing properly.  The rehearsal went so well that Erin the director thought that additional band rehearsals before the first dress rehearsal on Thursday were unnecessary!  So we skipped the originally scheduled Tuesday and Wednesday rehearsals, and met up on Thursday morning in the theater for the first dress rehearsal.  It went pretty well although I made a few errors.  I resolved to be keenly attentive to all the musical cues and to try for perfection in my playing.  Next day, Friday, was a busy one.  We had two more dress rehearsals earlier in the day, followed by the opening performance that same evening.  I made fewer errors in these rehearsals and I thought the whole show was pretty good.  The kids were delightful and they performed very well.  Opening night performance went very well and the audience was wildly enthusiastic.  The kids performed beautifully and I thought our band’s music was fine.  I had still not played completely free of errors but it still sounded very good.  Erin the director was elated at how well the show went off.  The next day we did a matinee show in the afternoon and the final performance in the evening.  During the performances I watched Brian and Erin carefully for musical cues, trying to be as careful as possible to get the rhythm changes and the breaks exactly right.  I still don’t think I was completely error free but it sounded good anyway.  Again, we had surprisingly large and enthusiastic audiences.  I loved playing accompaniment for these kids.  They were delightful and charming.  After the last show a few of the audience members came up and told us (the musicians) that the music sounded great.  I felt proud to be a part of this little ad hoc band.  I thought we had done a great job and helped to put on a really fine show.  On my way out through the lobby there was a big crowd of people there consisting of the kids with their parents and other fans, everyone obviously excited and happy.  As I tried to squeeze through the crowd, one of the performers, a young guy who looked about 14, greeted me enthusiastically, saying “Thanks for your great playing!”  I shook his hand and we told each other how awesome we were.  Then I was packing my all my percussion stuff up in my car and I was gone.