July 24th, 2013
Classical guitarists, like all other musicians, encounter their fair share of musical mishaps, accidents and incidents from time to time. There have been accounts of guitarists turning up to concerts with empty guitar cases, and other famous classical guitarists even accidentally leaving their expensive models lying in the boots of taxis just hours before a very important recital. However, it doesn't stop there.
One professional guitarist I know very well (who shall be kept anonymous for the purposes of this blog entry!) has had to endure the annoyance of performing her Post-Graduate Final Recital to an audience including a 'mad woman' who happily shouted out phrases of praise and appreciation, such as 'Ooh, beautiful' and 'Lovely' whilst singing along in 'la la la's' during the most difficult and concentration-consuming of Bach's fugues. (The only reason she wasn't removed from the front row of the concert hall was because the adjudicator's believed the mad old woman to be the mother of the performer, and these bizarre outbursts of emotional support had been permitted in advance by the Conservatoire board of management!)
Furthermore, this same classical guitarist has also been playing a church recital when suddenly a trapped bird, previously hidden under the church spire, has awoken to the music, and out of agitation embarked on a series of swooping attacks on the poor performer, encircling around her whilst she frantically ducked to avoid the flustered animal's attempts to grind the piece to an abrupt halt. Ironically, this did not occur during an arrangement of Saint-Saëns' 'Carnival of the Animals', Stravinsky's 'Firebird', Delius' 'First Cuckoo in Spring' or Vaughan William's 'Lark Ascending' (which would have surely benefited from this humorous impromptu appearance), but you guessed it, happened during another Bach fugue!)
Fortunately, these specific incidents have never happened to me. In fact, my accounts may now appear somewhat meek compared to the tales above. However, I have never gotten along very well with microphones. Despite the classical guitar's many beautiful qualities, it is most usually always a very quiet instrument, and even the greatest of performers often struggle to fill a large concert hall with sound. This leads me on to one very memorable microphone encounter I would like to recount.
I remember walking on stage, guitar in hand, completely focused and ready to play. Naively assuming that I didn't have to give the microphone a quick sound check, I commenced my piece and very quickly realised that no, the microphone was not turned on. Feeling that it would be unprofessional to stop and start again I carried on playing, endeavouring to play as loudly as I possibly could in order to hopefully be heard in the large expanse of concert hall. Two thirds of my way through the piece, and just as I was starting to feel vaguely settled, a member of the technical team decided to run on stage and turn the microphone on. Unfortunately this good deed happened to coincide with the emphatic climax of the piece, and as the sound system burst into life, a momentous and long-lasting screech of feedback boomed from the speakers. I immediately threw my chair backwards and sunk down to the most faintest of pianissimos in order to try and counteract the awful cacophony of mechanical sounds emanating over the concert hall's speaker system, before slowly scraping my seat back towards the 'turned-on' microphone throughout the remainder of the piece. Unbelievably, during this furor of technical tumult, a stack of several chairs at the back of the auditorium had also come crashing down, alarming anyone in the audience who hadn't already been shook by the startling squeals just seconds before. Amusingly, as my final chord rang around the concert hall, I was greeted by one of the longest and loudest ovations I had ever received. This wonderfully warm reception left me thinking. . .maybe I should ask for these things to happen to me more often!?