For a while I had a quote from writer John Updike as my email signature it goes: “Any activity becomes creative when the doer cares about doing it right, or doing it better.” I would take that further to say that is what an artist does. I’d like to think of myself as an artist because with every song, every performance and every recording is an attempt to communicate MY experience in life, love etc. Thing is I’m also a working musician and when summer roles around out come the requests to perform at Weddings, Receptions, Rehearsal Dinners…etc. When things are going well and my bank account can keep up with my bills I usually say I’m too busy or have a schedule conflict. Whew! Weddings are madness but so are the many other “gigs” we do like banquets, dinners and the dreaded private party. Recently I was performing at a winery/bistro for a reception/wake sort of event. The woman who passed away owned a huge winery as well as co-owning the bistro. I set up in a tiny little corner next to the bar. After the funeral service the hoards of people, about 300 poured in and it got loud and crowded fast. I’m blowing my little lungs out on flute interspersing with Hang drum selections. I was near the door that leads out to the Patio and at the end of the food line. A group was encroaching on my space more and more and I was getting nervous—they had their backs to me, a plate of food in one hand, a wine glass in the other. Of course one of the fun things about playing these gigs is that you are really paid background music so I must have been invisible. This man keeps backing into my microphone and then knocked over my mic stand which fell onto my speaker which hit a stool which then hit a collection of wine glasses of various levels of fullness. Dude! I’m standing here you know….. ha ha ha
It was crazy and the whole place went quiet. A man suggested I move my equipment further back. I answered a polite but stern,”No.” Anywhere where you, the artist, is not a featured performer has the risk of competing with Cappuccino machines, clanging plates and children. When I played the Hang for the Wake a group of children gathered around and started dancing. That’s cool by me, but they were bumping into the octogenarians standing in line for food. It was like a kindergarten mosh pit.
I get a lot of request to play at private parties and just about always say no unless I have my eye on a new flute. Heck, with gas prices the way they are here…..I may have to say yes. Let me set up what it is like to play at a party. It is awkward. Period. Unless you want to put on a show and have the chairs gathered around you like a small concert, you will be background. One thing that happens is as soon as you start playing people go to the other room. If you are playing outside they all drift inside. It’s nothing personal. People just don’t always know what to do with musicians in these settings. Another thing that happens is people will start talking to you as you are playing as if you’re just another party guest. Sometimes someone will bring their kid over and say he/she is really good can she sing a song? Of course when they start singing THEN everyone pays attention. And don’t even get me started on the subject of requests.
So with all these types of gigs you have to balance being background music, being a professional, with your need to be an artist and communicate what you do to a listening audience. If you think you have something unique and meaningful to express and share like I do you are grateful to earn a living doing your music period and I am. Luckily I am doing a fair amount of touring and traveling and had to already turn down some delightful weddings in northern New Mexico and a couple of parties here. Aaaawwwww. I will say that something good always comes out of where ever I play. They lead to other gigs or interviews etc. so as they say, It’s all good.
Here is a new video of the A Cappella song “Oh Shenandoah” or “Across the Wide Missouri” from my 2006 release Cloudwalker. I hope you enjoy it. It is already 102 degrees F here in the day. Ugh!