Friday, June 06, 2014

A Crazy Gig

On Wednesday, I got a call from a trumpet player about a gig the following evening (Thursday night).

It proved to be one of the strangest and wildest gigs I've ever played.



The Republican National Committee had sent a scouting party to evaluate Kansas City as a possible location for the nominating convention in 2016. As part of the evening's entertainment at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts, there was to be fireworks. And during the five-minute display, the local organizers wanted a brass band to play.

The full Fountain City band cannot be assembled in 24-hours notice, especially not when it's the summer and half the membership is spread to the winds. So the coordinator put together a chamber ensemble. We had emails flying around with the tight schedule required to accommodate five minutes of music. After the mayor sings "Kansas City, Here I Come" with the jazz combo, the fireworks will begin. Cue band.

I arrived early, as I tend to do for everything at the Kauffman Center. It was 7pm on a Wednesday, so traffic was probably not going to be heavy, but I've learned that all sorts of things can go wrong. For instance, they blew up the main interstate access near my home last weekend. Detour!

I also shot quite a few pictures over the course of the evening. I'll show them each here, and fit them into the story.





I took the first four shots standing at or near my car. I'd arrived plenty early - seven o'clock for an 8:30 call. So before I put on my jacket, I wandered around the parking lot and took some pictures. The first three are of various parts of the Kauffman (complete with buses and extra police cars). The fourth one is a view over a wall and the convention center of the four sculpture pieces on plinths that rise above the center. They're a kind of local symbol, but few people know what they're called, and they're not the most scenic elements. In my photo, they look more like suspicious smokestacks than public art.






On the way in, I captured some photos of people. One of the horn players was warming up across the street from the security entrance. Walking down the canyon between the two halls, I noticed a friend of mine playing the saxophone on one of the bridges inside the lobby. A quick wave between us as I turned into the security entrance. There, we camped out for a bit, killing time until the coordinator came to collect us. I snapped a quick shot of the tubist, looking severely pensive, but probably just quietly gathering his thoughts; he often does something similar before performances.

After we were escorted into one elevator, up two flights, through a back hallway, and out into the lobby (several floors above the main and the reception). Then into another elevator and down a floor, then across the bridge from the above photo (dodging between the still-performing jazz combo) and finally settling into our position on a walkway exterior to the performing hall, one floor above the reception.



The shot of the tuba is actually inverted. The tuba was resting bell-down on the floor, and I was taking a picture of it. You can clearly see me standing in the reflection, as well as the tuba and trombone players distorted around the left side of the bell.



We hung out for half an hour, watching the people down below. A mix of the Republican movers and shakers from KC, the RNC committee members, and a variety of KC business heads and leaders of commerce. And plenty of tasty smelling barbecue and cocktails. I got some fun shots of the room as the lightning changed and the sun set.

Soon the mayor took up his mic next to the jazz group on the bridge. He sang "Kansas City" as expected, and we all readied ourselves to play. JoDee Davis, my recent trombone instructor and doctoral adviser, shifted her stand to be more under the light just above her. "Kind of hard to see," she said jovially.

The mayor finished and the applause started. The house coordinator yell-whispered, "Now!" and we began to play.

Three measures in, the firework display started on the south lawn of the building.
Four measures in, the crowd cheered and applauded.

And seven measures in, all the lights went out.

In order to better see the fireworks, the organizers had cut the power to every light. The group faltered, as people shifted closer to their stands to try and see as best they could.

Seizing the initiative, I hauled my phone out of my pocket. I can't play the trombone one-handed, but there was only part between the two of us, and Dr. Davis was continuing along better than I was. I fumbled my phone until I turned on the flashlight function, lighting the photography flash as an ultra-bright beacon in the darkness. By this time, the coordinator and her minions had done similar things to the stands to my right, including the other trombone music. So I stepped to my left and illuminated the tuba part. There's only one tuba part, and it's far more important than having a doubled trombone part.

The fireworks continued on, but I barely saw any of them. I was partially propelled by the adrenaline of solving an instant problem. After the close of the first piece, John Philip Sousa's "Semper Fidelis," the tuba player shifted his music quickly. "You're the most expensive stand light I've ever had," he quipped, and then the group was off with "Washington Post March."

It's truth. For our five minutes of playing, I was being paid $150. That works out to an hourly rate of $1800, and at that moment, I was just holding my phone in front of someone else. Not playing a note.

Halfway through this, our second and final tune, a hand gripped my shoulder and took away my phone. It was a Kauffman minion, drafted by one of the organizers to take my phone away, freeing my hands for the trombone playing I was supposed to be doing. They must have been apoplectic, realizing they were paying me a frankly-indecent amount of money to stand there with a flashlight, smiling politely.

I regrouped (hoping I would get my phone back from the minion) and played the final page. By the time we finished, the fireworks were over. Everyone in the reception applauded politely, I collected my phone, and we all had a good laugh about what had just happened in the previous flurry. Then everyone packed up and vanished into the night.

Out in the parking lot, I took a few more pictures. Too dark for conventional photography, I went to extremely long exposures. Since anything near one second in duration would be completely blurred out by the slight shaking of my hands, I put the camera on my car roof and propped the lens toward the Kauffman on my wallet.




The results were clean photographs with very little of the sensor noise one would usually get on a digital sensor in low light conditions. I was proud of myself for managing to take care of it. Next time, I'll be sure to bring a tripod.

Thus ends the fancy fireworks gig for Republicans, where I played for about a minute in the dark. Definitely in competition for the craziest and shortest gig I've been involved in. And as if the story weren't enough, I got some pictures I'm quite pleased with. The full album can be found on in my Photo archive on Google+, accessible to everyone through this link: https://plus.google.com/u/0/photos/+AndrewSchwartzDMA/albums/6021694302499962497

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