First Gig this Year is Over

August 31, 2009

My first gig this year is finally over.  I still get nervous when I play.  I especially felt nervous because I could no longer gauge just how prepared I am.  As always, once I started playing, I realized that most people are not listening, and I can get away with quite a bit.  So I tried to apply mental techniques to stay in the now, to stay focused on the music; I essentially blocked out the audience.  Plus, the air-conditioning in there was very loud, so I’m sure some of my softer notes were drowned in the vent noise; although, I did try to voice chords and moving lines clearer when that floor of noise came up.

When the wedding party began to file in, I forgot just what a professional I had to be considering the groom’s men line up in front of the piano, so I could not see the bride entering—not to mention, I did not know what the bride looked like because there was no rehearsal.  When I got a glimpse of the where the wedding party usually lines up and saw there was no one left in line but one couple with a large bouquet, I looked over at the pastor and he was already looking at me.  I was anticipating him to nod at me, but he did not.  It was the reverse: he was waiting for me to play the octave quarter notes of Wagner’s Bridal Chorus that queue everyone else when to stand up.  Or perhaps, from the pastor’s point of view, when to motion the congregation to stand up. In any case, once I commit to playing those notes, there is no turning back, not for me, not for the wedding party, not the bride.

When I can’t see the bride, and the pastor is blankly gazing at me, it feels like a leap of faith.  It feels like I’ll be judged if I mess this part of the wedding up.  It’s the grand entrance after all.  I might not get paid.  I can imagine that I would flush red from embarrassment, even though I tried to do the best I could with what I could.  Just after that leap towards those quarter note octaves, everything is quite the opposite of what I thought it was less than a moment ago.  It’s a position of power, like a clock in the town’s bell tower that synchronizes the community’s activities.  The bell rings, and the people follow because they stand up, and the bride feels welcome to walk down the aisle.

I play the Bridal Chorus slowly and majestically, not only because I prefer to indulge in each beat of the music, but because it’s easier to play it slowly.  Then, I have no clue and cannot see how fast the bride will walk down the aisle.  I don’t know if I should begin the next section of the piece or finish it.  I hope I can look away from the music and keyboard to assess the situation quickly enough to not miss a note.  For some reason, in that chapel, where I’ve played dozens of times, the bride always walked down the aisle faster than the time it took for me to play the first verse once.

So, I stop and wait.  The ceremony begins, no eyes are on me, and I quietly put my music away and prepare for the next piece, which this time was the Wedding March for the recessional.  No unity candle this time, so I turn the volume complete down on the piano and sit.  I’ve learned over time to mute instruments when not in use.  After all, I could sneeze or doze off and could crash onto the keyboard making a loud ruckus.  And why, when all I have to do is turn down the piano and play it safe?

To pass the time, I practiced keeping a straight back.  I looked at the music for the recessional and rehearsed it in my mind.  For a few chords, I even played them on the turned-down piano, but I could hear an ever-so-quiet sound still emitting from the piano, so I seized to play and resorted only to mental preparation.  Time passed slowly, and my back became stiff.  Finally, they were pronounced man and wife.  Again, I didn’t really quite know when to begin playing the Bridal Chorus.  Maybe I should have been more professional and remembered to ask the pastor what are his final words considering he did come up to me before the ceremony, introduced himself, and asked what I would play.  For a man who commands attention from a congregation, in retrospect, it seems like I lead the way.  I let him know when to begin to lead the wedding party down the aisle, and everything else, as you already know.

I noticed a positive reception of my beginning notes as the bodies turned to walk back up the aisle, so I put my head down and played away.  Mendelssohn’s Wedding March is a very powerful piece which really requires the performer to dig into the keyboard.  I couldn’t afford to miss notes into which I dig in, so I just kept looking down.

At the end of some phrase, I noticed the pastor waiving at me.  Of course, he wanted to make an announcement about the reception.  This is normal, although I never quite figured out why this is done when the music should be grand and fill everyone with joy that causes goose bumps and tears for the occasion.  But no, the music gets interrupted for a dry explanation (which sometimes even includes driving directions) of what everyone should do next.  I remember witnessing a wedding once where Beethoven’s Ode to Joy was performed after the Wedding March, and it was something unearthly to experience.  Maybe this comes back to project management.  A wedding, a project, still requires the fullest imagination to the final detail in order to leave the witnesses in awe and inspiration.  But any considerate imagination can imagine a wedding is not a process that everyone experiences more than once in a life-time, much more regularly enough to take note of such details.  Details like who should cut my check, which no one did until I asked for it.

Overall though, it was a pleasant wedding, as most are, and I’m really glad I was a part it.  It felt good to perform after such a long hiatus and was fun to dress up.  It even crossed my mind that piano performance is quite a complex skill that I’m able to do well enough for such occasions.  And although it wasn’t the most wonderful piano playing that I have ever done, it meant a lot those people and meant a lot to me to be the source of that—to be the brain that moved the muscles that moved the bones that moved the keys in such an order that created pressure waves in the air that eventually translated into an experience inside of each person’s head.

Then I had to throw my shirt into the laundry after only a few hours of wearing it.  It was pressed so neatly.  Despite I began practicing for this gig relatively late, since I procrastinate with piano playing, I had more music ready than I ended up needing.  That was a little surprising to me.  I guess it depends on how late the ceremony begins.  I just remember playing a wedding gig once where I had to recycle quite a bit of music and improvise on a single piece of music over and over again.  This time, everything played out very well.