All hail to the days…

This has certainly been an odd week for weather. Over the past couple of days I’ve been gradually emerging from the fuzzy reality of a lingering head cold, only to see our October sky streaked with hail and snow. Friday it was mostly driving sleet, though thankfully it’s stayed above zero, so the roads remained relatively clear. Saturday, I was preparing for my last wedding gig of the season, when I heard an odd sound like someone throwing stones at our window. Sure enough, I look out to see it hailing furiously. Thankfully, yesterday’s couple was wise enough to arrange for a big tent, which would be up rain or shine. Still, we would technically be outside, so I layered accordingly; nylons and longjohns under my long black skirt; a warm layer under my dress shirt and a thick wool sweater; black dress boots laced over thick socks; and two pairs of gloves just in case.

I arrived at the golf course just as the sun was coming out (excellent timing), to see a remarkable number of golfers out on the green, bundled up with toques and mittons, gamely putting away. Apparently, rather dedicated to their sport. (I think the only people more obsessive are joggers).

The tent was somewhat chilly, but had nice thick sides that were down, so at least there was no wind. The wedding was the best kind; short and sweet, everyone seeming as happy as could be, a nice relaxed air with no sense of uptightness or panic; a friendly well-spoken minister; and people who said “thank you” afterwards. (Plus I got to play all Celtic stuff that I like and can play in my sleep – so no need for a music stand or flipping pages – which is always a bonus). I didn’t need the gloves in the end, but was very glad for all my various layers, which kept me pretty cozy throughout, although by the end I was starting to feel the chill a bit. All in all, not a bad way to wrap up the season. Now hopefully I can concentrate on learning some new tunes for a change, and getting ready for all my various seasonal music projects (and a few crazy writing and home improvement ones as well).

Hope everyone’s staying warm!

Sand in my shoes

I did say it would be a while – but at last, we’re at the end of our official summer wedding extravaganza. After four gigs in three days, there was bound to be at least one worth writing about. In fact, there was one that had all three of us doubled over laughing.

The other three gigs went relatively as planned: On Thursday night, a little half-hour concert of medieval music with Hurly Burly for a Trent-sponsored historical conference, in a local art gallery. Then the next day, a wedding out at a resort we play at regularly, which despite the usual gusting wind, the roar of motor boats and airplanes, and the faint aroma of septic system, was just fine (although our cello player did get pelted by falling acorns a couple of times).

As soon as that one wrapped up, we high-tailed it out of there to our next gig, about an hour drive away. So far so good. Our flute player had scoped out the route, and it was her turn to drive (we each took a turn, which made things much easier), and we made the journey in plenty of time. Our flute player had warned us a bit in advance, but it was still a bit of a shock. We arrive to see what looks an awful lot like a refurbished old ski resort building, with a large parking lot and a big artificial pond. On the far side of the pond is a huge tract of absolutely empty sand – presumably, meant to be a beach. At this point we are surrounded by lovely Ontario countryside, the trees sporting their early fall colours, drumlins and still-verdant hills, forest and farmland stretching around us. At the site itself, there are plenty of big squares of lawn. And where are all the little white chairs set up? You guessed it – on the big strech of sand. They were thoughtful enough to put up a little awning-style tent; which turned out to be a good thing, since for the first half hour or so the sky spit little drops of rain at us and threatened worse.

(Disclaimer alert: In case anyone involved in this affair ever reads this (fat chance!), please be assured that it’s not meant as an affront to the mostly really quite nice people we work for; just sometimes the circumstances can be a bit, shall we say, more interesting than we were planning on.)

Have you ever watched people walk in stilletto heels in the sand? Would have been funny, but we were too busy trying to read our music as it gradually got darker and darker. They had a few torches flickering away, but that didn’t help us much. I had a stand light, but had accidentally left my glasses in the car (now parked way back in the lot); which put me about on par with my partners, who had glasses but no lights.

At one point, before the guests arrived, the three of us just looked around at the scene and started to laugh. We laughed until we had tears in our eyes and were for a moment, completely speechless.

Did I mention that the lady acting as officiant’s eye shadow matched the colour of the bridesmaids dresses? A kind of sea-blue. Just that it was memorable, is all.

And all the women in the bridal party were sleeveless, a pretty much unbroken trend for most of our eight-year wedding-playing career that baffles me to no end. No matter how classy the wedding, how sensible-seeming the couple, how practical they may be in every other respect, all those poor women are always sleeve (and often back) free. It’s September in Ontario, people! Has anyone ever heard of say, a shawl? How about longer dresses? Or sleeves, perhaps? Either the wedding garment industry is manifestly misogynistic (the guys always have suits, which works in the fall – although in mid-July it’s not so nice, so maybe the wedding industry is just generally sadistic) – or the vast majority of people involved in weddings immediately lose a few dozen IQ points the instant they walk into a bridal shop. Probably both, come to think of it.

We ended up with sand everywhere – cases, shoes, on binders and bags, encrusting the hem of my skirt. A very good argument for the habit some smart harpists have of always carrying a small mat or square of carpet around with them. I think next year, I will give that a try. At least this summer I’ve been very good about bringing my own chair, and my little pignose amp, and lots of snacks and water. Our cello player also sensibly brings a cushion to sit on, another habit I should pick up. Soon, we will be like a travelling theatre troupe, complete with enough gear to camp out for a week with.

And the last gig, today? All went well, despite some anxiety that it might not be so (the stand light came in very handy yet again, seeing how we were crammed into a dark corner in a small chapel). And for the most part, lest I seem too disparaging, our clients were pretty easy to deal with. Still, I’m really glad the season is over, and I can’t say I’m waiting with baited breath ’til next summer (despite having a really solid little trio that does of course sound lovely), but when it comes, we’ll at least have had a good long break. Soon it’ll be time to get ready for all the seasonal concerts in December. And after practicing Christmas tunes for two months, I may almost wistfully look forward to Pachelbel’s Canon… okay, well maybe not so much.

Keeping warm when playing outside

This weekend we had our first truly chilly gig of the season. In this part of Ontario, fall really starts after the labour day weekend. We may have a few balmy days left, but the leaves are already starting to turn, and the past few nights have fallen into the single digits (Celcius). Saturday definitely felt like fall, cool, dry and breezy. Of course, couples about to be married being the paragons of common sense and logic (hah!), every single one of our September gigs (and one October one!) are scheduled to be outside. And you know brides – it pretty much has to be hailing or flashing with lightning and pouring for them to finally give in and let it be inside.

We thought we had enough layers – thick skirts, long sleeved shirts, sweaters. Yes, sweaters – no matter how fancy the bridal party is, if they expect musicians to perform outside by the lake at this time of year, they get to deal with sweaters. Our trio long ago settled on a classic black-and-white look (after failing miserably to come up with some kind of colourful or interesting theme that would suit all of us and still look professional), so at least our sweaters are all nice, classy knit white sweaters that pretty much match.

Our flutist came prepared, as always, complete with long johns. But the day was deceptive; as we were leaving, the sun was shining, the air was arm, and our flutist was already determining she’d probably have to shed most of her layers. The cello player and I decided to throw caution to the wind and go as we were without backup layers or coats. By the end of the gig, our flutist was cozy and comfortable, and the cello player and I were shivering and chilled right through. Our cellist actually had to go sit in the car for about ten minutes before the second half of the gig started, in order to warm up.

One thing I did have, which I highly recommend, is a pair of Thinsulate gloves. They live in the pocket of my harp case year round, along with the spare tuner and some extra business cards. They’re thin and white, and actually meant to function more like liners inside of regular gloves or mits. The best part is, I can play while wearing them. The trick for being able to play in gloves is something any busker knows very well – you take a nice sharp pair of scissors and cut the fingertips out. Another nice thing about these gloves/liners, is that since they’re white they don’t clash with our gig outfits. Without them, there have been some gigs where I’d have been reduced to playing a clumsy ham-fisted bass line (technically doable in a trio, but disastrous if playing solo.)

Which brings us to gig rule #3 – if it’s after Labour Day, and it’s outside, always bring more layers than you think you need. You can always take stuff off, but you can’t put it on if it ain’t there. Next weekend, it’ll by tights and undershirts and extra sweaters for sure.

Yes, of course you can always refuse to play if the weather conditions are truly terrible. But we have become very stoic over the years, and will try to soldier on if at all possible. We live in a small community, where reputation is key, and we’re really reluctant to put our rep in danger by completely refusing to play (unless it’s actively raining or snowing – then they would be out of luck, end of story.)

Gig Story #1, Part Two – You can never predict the weather

Oops, it really has been a while since the last post, hasn’t it. Well, I can honestly say that I was quite busy, mostly with harping. As of now we’ve hit our busiest 6-week stretch, gig wise. Mostly on weekends, but on weekdays I’m up before the dawn to drive my boo to work, and lots of other things have been clamouring for my attention. But that’s poor excuse! So here we go, part two of my gig woes from last weekend.

Saturday was fun with a golf cart; Sunday turned into fun with weather. To start with, we were breathing a sigh of relief on the drive in, not in spite of, but because it was pouring buckets. You see, one of the worst things for a musician booked to play outdoors is if the weather is iffy. If nature isn’t actively throwing rain or lightning down at you, the couple will always choose to be outdoors anyhow – no matter how dark the sky is, no matter how the wind doth blow. Good conditions are: sunny (as long as there’s some hint of shade), or driving rain (then there’s no doubt about it being inside). That kind of gentle grey day, where the sky looks dim but benign and there’s no scent of rain in the air, can be okay too, since it’s often better than baking in the sun.

This was not an iffy day. Our windshield wipers were on full, tires splashing through puddles. That is, until we got to our destination. Our unease began to curdle in our tummies as we realized, the rain had not got this far yet. The sky was rolling with dark, foreboding clouds, the wind was howling – but no rain yet. When we pulled up to the main building, sure enough, we could see through the trees, a whole bunch of white chairs, set up down in a quaint little valley.


Gig Story #1, Part One: Always bring the trolley

…And be prepared for anything.

This was one of those weekends. I only had two weddings (typical for me for this time of year), but it felt like each one lasted an eternity. They were both in lovely, picturesque locations; well, as lovely as golf courses can be, anyhow. There were lakes and waterfalls and expensive decorations. And each one became its own special little hell for at least some of the time I was there. It wasn’t that the people weren’t nice – in both cases, I’d had nothing but positive communications with the couples up to that point. In one case, I knew the groom-to-be and had even played with him on occasion. They were both just prime examples of all the unexpected things that can happen at weddings, all piling up on top of each other.

The first one seemed like a really neat idea; it was the first time I’d played for a surprise ceremony. The bride-and-groom-to-be had given their entire family the impression they’d eloped to Las Vegas and been married there, and that this was to be a post-wedding reception. They were told to meet in a tent by the lake to see a “wedding movie”. What they got to see instead, was me, and a pretty view of the lake, covered in water lilies. It was the getting there that was the fun part.

To start with, it was one of those elite private golf courses that don’t even have a proper sign out front. I’d actually pulled over to the side of the road, starting to feel that oh crap I’ve missed the turn, but I looked at every single road sign, where the heck is it, kind of feeling. After consulting the map, I decided to go just a bit further before turning around. Of course, there is was, only a few hundred feet away. The turnoff to this very fancy golf-course was marked by a cheap sign on a stick, that seemed to have been printed exclusively for the day. If I’d actually been going highway speed at the time, I probably would have missed it.

But all is well so far. I’m there, I’m still on time. Which reinforces Rule #1 – Always give yourself more time than you need; especially when going to an unfamiliar location. I pull in, park, go in to the reception area, and am told where I’m playing – down a long, windy path that cars are not allowed on. Hmm. This was not covered in any of my conversations with the couple. And of course, having not needed the trolley much at all this summer, it had quite slipped my mind to even think of bringing it. The only alternative was to get driven there by one of the friendly staff – in a golf cart. Now before you think, what fun! Think about how big a golf cart is. Designed to carry, at most, a couple of golf bags, a driver, and a passenger. This one was the kind with a bit of a cargo space in the back, which the harp did not fit in, of course. So I got to sit twisted around, with one arm holding onto the harp case and as many straps as I could reach, all held in a death grip, as we bounced our way down to the tent.