Jenny Morris is an oboe and English horn player. She will be playing outdoors this Saturday with the Huntington Symphony Orchestra in their "Picnic at the Pops" concert.
‘Tis the season... the good old summertime, when some musicians get to burn off a few extra calories while earning their living.
There’s no denying that some of us need to do that regularly, but outdoor concerts have their own set of complications for professional musicians.
My summer services with the Huntington Symphony Orchestra over the last 10 or so years have been some of the most unique. The concerts there are not just outdoors. The orchestra is outdoors AND sitting on a river barge.
I must confess that stepping onto a river barge was not something I ever yearned to do. I managed to grow up, attend college, earn a master’s degree, get married, and give birth twice and didn’t feel there was much missing in my life, but sitting on a barge in moving water while playing the oboe has been like nothing else I'd ever done.
Depending on the water level and amount of traffic on the river, it can be quite disorienting to be playing while the barge bounces around. It’s certainly not something that those with motion sickness should attempt!
The most challenging time for me was the summer of my third pregnancy, when I was approaching an end-of-September due date.
During some particularly percussive music, it seems that the river bounce was taking me in one direction, the percussion was sending me in another, and the baby was marching to her own beat while bouncing on my bladder. (She still marches to her own beat -- don’t all teens?)
The sensation was somewhat similar to feeling like an octopus on roller skates riding a merry-go-round!
As I play our next concert, I will recall the many things musicians will do to present their craft to an audience. We endure the possibility of inclement weather, whether rain or wind, excessive heat and/or humidity, and the inevitable sensation of being a Thanksgiving Day buffet for thousands of mosquitoes and flying insects of all sorts.
We learn to check the radar on our phones and to bring extra drinking water. Some of us use our backup instruments for outdoors. You may also see us using dryer sheets tucked into our necklines to try to ward off some of the bugs.
And heaven forbid that anyone neglect to have a few clothespins on their stand for the moment that the wind whips your music into the Ohio River! The orchestra librarian may not believe us if we tell her “the dog ate my part,” but music blown in the wind is a fairly acceptable excuse for missing parts.
While I eagerly await the “indoor season,” at least I can look back and laugh at the first (and last) outdoor wedding that I've played in my 25 year career.
The bride was quite specific as to what the musicians should wear: white, from head to tail. Unfortunately, it had rained for 5 days prior to this wedding, and I could feel my chair sinking into the mud while I played. My white dress was long enough that the bottom of it got into the mud.
The real highlight of that event was the surprise thunderstorm that necessitated a 50-yard mad dash for the golf course clubhouse, carrying my music, chair, oboe, and music stand.
When we reached the porch of the clubhouse, I realized that my left (white!) shoe was somewhere out there, stuck in the mud. I never did find it. Perhaps some golfer has tripped over it, never knowing the sacrifice I had made for my art. I hope the marriage lasted longer than the interrupted ceremony.
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