music for Austrians
I just played a weird gig last week but I have never played worse in my life...still I think it came off pretty well.
The job was through Sam Matthews, a colleague across town who has an instrument sales business and he makes bows as well as plays cello. It was for an Austrian firm who rented the restaurant of the Austrian Pavilion of the World Expo to entertain its Chinese clients from hither and yon all across China.
There are a number of steps to completing a successful job such as this. First of all, Sam had to find the players and then come up with the music we would need. Then we had to find a rehearsal time which wound up being the night before the job—this is not only about checking musical arrangements but solving logistics and in Shanghai this is a crucial step as getting to places is kind of like being in the Amazing Race. Next we had to get to the job, which entailed meeting outside an Expo entrance so we could all go in together with our stuff and instruments through the security check much like at an airport. Then we took the Expo subway line under the Huangpu river 2 stops into the Pudong side of the Expo. Luckily we had a guide to show us where we needed to go as the enormity of the Expo is kind of hard to convey here.
We had about 3 hours to play Strauss and Mozart; one rehearsal for about an hour and half the night before so I was completely zonked from my regular teaching and then being short on sleep from the night before (took an hour to get home from the rehearsal) ... but the Chinese seemed to love crowding in to have their pictures taken with us up close, even into our performing space. It was so bad I was sometimes poking them with my bow because they were so inconsiderate of our playing! It was one of those China moments where I have never felt more like a monkey in a zoo exhibit being used for my foreignness; on the other hand the players were fantastic and remained professional as well.
Another odd part of this job is that the Austrian Pavilion already has a team of musicians employed to play chamber music throughout the day on a special stage. Indeed that is the main feature of the Pavilion, but they apparently were off duty and not required to play for extra services such as this in the second floor restaurant. So in a way we were posing as Austrians. One foreign gentleman approached us speaking German and asking about one of the Fledermaus Waltzes we were playing; luckily Sam was able to respond in German but burst his bubble a bit by telling him we were Americans.
On the other hand one of the Austrian managers told me what a great job we did and he could say it because his customers were so happy (…and drunk). I have to say that the Austrian buffet was top notch. Although there was not enough time to really sit down and enjoy the meal, I was able to enjoy a few delicacies and even a slice of baked Alaska. And it was nice to play with professionals again. It helps me to get practicing more to keep up my playing. Maybe the best part is meeting and getting to know the other musicians. Sam is from the US, Patrick, not sure maybe New Zealand and he and his wife were expecting any day, JinXin is from Lanzhou, very far away from Shanghai and another distinct culture in China, teaches violin at Shanghai Normal University.
During the last hour of our performance, about 20 or so people gathered around to actually listen to our playing and enjoy the musical ambiance. That is the kind of job I like best when you can kind of come to know your audience; some children were there as well and seemed to be fascinated and even very well behaved. That is a first here in China as usually kids are running wild climbing into anywhere and everywhere they please even while supervised.