Verona, WI is a smaller city than New York, NY. I know, it’s hard to believe, but it’s true. So, in high school, when I dominated the market on freelance gigs with the Verona Area Community Theater, I hadn’t quite hit the pinnacle of freelance gigging yet.
When I moved to New York to walk inside the glass facade of The Juilliard School, I wasn’t really sure what to expect. I knew I wanted to be a part of the active freelance scene in NYC, but I didn’t quite have a grasp of what that scene was beyond playing occasionally with the New York Philharmonic and rotating among the shows on Broadway.
As I was waiting for the NY Phil to call for my expert rendition of Scheherazade, I was diligently trying to get my footing with schoolwork and lesson assignments. But, I only really had a couple weeks of being responsible before my phone rang with a gig opportunity. A real-live gig in New York!
The man with the opportunity was a highly-skilled piano tuner/maintenance wizard at Juilliard, Rick, who also enjoyed creative outputs on the side. The phone call ended with something like, “No need to bring anything, just show up at the base of the Brooklyn Bridge at 8am on Saturday.”
Of course, I immediately started worrying about my preparation. The Boy Scout in me was pacing frantically wondering if I should just bring my standard 10 pair of mallets for every instrument and an extra tambourine and some fishing line and a triangle clip and a few bass drum mutes and maybe my maracas just in case.
Well, after a sleepless Friday night, I awoke with a flash on Saturday morning to take the multitude of trains (probably just 2, but I was new to NYC) necessary to get to the Brooklyn Bridge.
I walked aimlessly through the Brooklyn cobblestone streets in the rain to try to find this location and finally came across the oasis of our trusted piano tuner, Rick, his entourage, a sculpture attached to a boat anchor, and a marching bell lyre – you know, the one that you saw in your high school’s band room. That was my instrument for the day. After exchanging a quick “hi!” with Rick, my (to me yet unknown) chamber music partner arrived. A dynamite trumpet player, who I immediately connected with, Chris Venditti, came upon the scene with about the same amount of knowledge that I had about what we were doing.
The sculpture was a dark-colored, two-piece sculpture with a buoy of sorts bobbing up and down within the confines of the outer ring. This was all attached to shore by an anchor. In order to get it out there, Rick had to throw it kinda far, then let the tide take it out.
Then our role was explained. Our job was to:
- Improvise melodies, motives, rhythms, riffs, anything based on just a few bars of a J.S. Bach chorale that was enlarged to 10,000% and glued onto a piece of wood. Chris on Trumpet and I on marching bell lyre.
- Sometimes interact with each other.
- Sometimes don’t.
- Don’t forget about also interacting with the action of the sculpture in the water!
- Oh, and every time the train would go by on the Brooklyn Bridge, it was important for us to interact with that as well.
This seemed unlike my idea of a gigging musician, but I was definitely not complaining. You mean, I get to do some improvisation like Matt Turner taught me in IGLU at Lawrence University and I would get paid for it?! This is amazing! No be-bop licks necessary.
I loved it. I was getting into the whole bobbing thing, Chris was giving me a ton of ideas about motives and how to manipulate register and sound. Then we started adding movement: bobbing ourselves, then facing the train, shunning the train, spinning, weaving, standing stoic. A real blast.
I wish I had the recording of our pieces – I mean, they must’ve been good enough to attract a wedding party.
Overall, maybe not the NY Phil gig that I was expecting, but a PERFECT introduction to my life as a gigging musician in NYC – unexpected, unique, sometimes wet, and an unforgettable blast! Thanks to Rick and Chris!!!