Life in the Land of the Rising Sun

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

The Art of Comedic Page-Turning

I’d been told by Mr. Ogawa that I needed to transport four senior high students to a solo contest on Sunday the 11th, and I wasn’t happy about it. After all, that was the day my wife’s uncle was scheduled to come down and start work enlarging our house. There would be a lot of hard work to prepare for that. Then on Thursday the 8th I was told that there’d been a change of plans. I’d be taking two junior high students to the contest on Saturday the 10th. That was a relief, if a small one.

On Friday the 9th I was told that I would also have to serve as page turner for the accompanist. Luckily, I had the foresight to ask for at least one practice session. When the accompanist came into the music room and plopped her music down on the piano I just about had a heart attack. It wasn’t a book but rather a whole bunch of individual sheets taped together into one, long ribbon. Even worse was the fact that the accompanist insisted that I display four of the sheets at a time. I couldn’t see how I could possibly turn pages with that mess!

As I feared, it seemed like a hopeless task. Usually the page turner sits to the pianist’s left and reaches across the music over the pianist’s head to turn the pages. The ribbon of music was much too wide for that. I couldn’t reach all the way across without getting in the pianist’s way, and that made an already big problem much bigger. No matter what I tried, the whole wad of music wound up flopping down onto the keyboard every time. Just when I really started getting frustrated, however, I finally figured out a solution. What I did was start out on the left side, carefully turning the first four sheets into the next four. Then I moved to the right side and, holding the sheets fast with one hand, I turned the last few pages with the other. It seemed totally nuts, but it was the only thing that worked.

The trip to the contest venue seemed easy enough. Mr. Ogawa had told me with a big smile, “It’s the same place that you screwed up going to the ensemble contest last fall.” He just had to remind me of that. You see, in the incorporation fever recently gripping Ibaraki Prefecture the towns of Ogawa, Minori, and Tamari had all joined together to become the city of Omitama. (O-, Mi-, and Tama-…isn’t that clever?) The problem is that the new city now has more than one performance hall, and all of them now bear its name. Since the city is new, information is scant and rather mixed up. During the ensemble contest I’d tried using their website to find where to go, and I’d wound up going to the wrong hall. I’d finally delivered the kids to the right place in the nick of time, but only after some very maniacal, offensive driving. This time there’d be none of that. Based on what Mr. Ogawa had said, I simply drove the two girls to the same venue as before.

I think you can probably guess what happened. We arrived to find a whole lot of little kids there for a nursery school event and no solo contest. I’d understood Mr. Ogawa’s words in reverse. The solo contest was at the other hall, the one I’d gone to by mistake during the ensemble contest. Luckily, I’d given myself a lot of extra time just in case something like that happened. We arrived at the right hall right on schedule.

The fact that our group was so small was a bit of a convenience. Unlike the other school groups, who had supporters able to hold and watch things, we had only the three of us, meaning we had to lug all our gear with us as we went. That wasn’t such a bad thing, but it made moving around a bit more of a hassle. Naturally, I got a lot of suspicious looks as I followed the girls around through the sequence of warm-up, rehearsal, and tuning rooms before going on standby backstage. The fact that I seemed to be the only page turner in the whole event (the other accompanists all played by heart) didn’t help.

Then it was our turn to take the stage. The flautist took her position in front, and I followed the accompanist to the piano. As we did so I heard my name mentioned a great many times among the members of the audience. I guess I’m a pretty well-known (notorious?) figure in these parts. That didn’t really bother me, but I wasn’t sure what to do about the chair that someone placed behind me. I had always stood during practice, but I figured that wouldn’t look very elegant, so I seated myself…and discovered that the piano was higher than our own and the chair way too low. Still, all I could do was just make do.

The performance started. The accompanist, a student who normally plays trumpet, did a fantastic job. The flautist, unfortunately, clammed up a bit under pressure, and the gorgeous musical expression she displayed in rehearsal all but flattened out. Still, she did her job reasonably well. Meanwhile, I did the page turning exactly as I’d done in practice, carefully changing the first four pages into the next four. Then I moved around to the other side. Just for good measure, I took the chair with me. Wouldn’t you know it; it was a very loose but poorly oiled folding chair. When I lifted it the first thing it did was to slam shut with a loud squeak and clack…while the flautist was playing a soft, delicate passage.
The audience was laughing.

Undaunted, I unfolded the chair and set it down as gently as possible on the pianist’s right side, assumed my position, and completed the page turning. The two student musicians went on like nothing happened. After the tune finished, the accompanist stood up to take her bow, so I quickly scooted back to the left side of the piano, where I’d be out of the way.

We got a good round of applause, but the audience was buzzing. I’d definitely made their day.

After that I stayed out in the lobby guarding the students’ bags. That nasty cough of mine was starting to come back, and I didn’t really feel like going into the hall anyway. I just listened via the monitor they’d kindly set up there in the lobby. There were a grand total of seventy solos in the junior high division that day, and our own was number fifty eight. It seemed like it took forever for the event to finish, which makes me wonder how the judges felt.

Then it was awards time. Our flautist earned a silver medal (meaning she scored somewhere in the middle twenty…though for reasons of PC or something equally retarded they won’t tell us her actual score rank…lest they hurt someone’s feelings…). However, our pianist took the top accompanist medal, something none of us had expected. They gave out all kinds of special awards for this, that, and the other thing, but, sadly, I didn’t get any recognition at all for having provided the day’s comic relief.

[jabberjaw]No respect![/jabberjaw]

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  • I reckon there ought to be a book of anecdotes about performance, perhaps call it The Page Turner. So much can go wrong. And as for accompanying a musician - one time in a concert I played piano for a violinist. She repeated the first page and I boldly went on with page two and then I realized something was wrong!
    I find that putting the pages in a book with plastic inserts works okay, unless the light stuffs up your vision and you hardly see anything but shine.
    Last Sunday I had a Senior Moment - the minister changed the first hymn and I was expecting 'The long road to Freedom' and he just said to find the tune 'Austria' for words he had printed out. I just got a mental block, then someone found it for me! I was obsessed with getting the 'Freedom' song right - and it went with gusto - nearly an hour later!

    By Blogger Peceli and Wendy's Blog, at 4:27 PM  

  • Don't get any special awards? No need to be sad... because tomorrow is Valentine's day!!! hahaha

    Oops... this isn't gonna cheer you up.

    By Blogger Selba, at 7:10 PM  

  • I can imagine the look on your face when the chair squeaked.

    When I was in college I arrived at a band concert and realized that I had forgotten my bow tie. I frantically searched around backstage and crepe paper. With no time to rush back to the dorm, I wore a large crepe paper bow tie on stage. My director gave me a look. Worse. My seat was at the end of the row by the audience and when I looked there I saw the school shrink staring at me.

    By Blogger Pandabonium, at 8:20 PM  

  • ha ha ha ha... sounds like one of those Japanese Comedy-Dramas

    By Blogger Swinebread, at 10:12 PM  

  • As Mr. Peart says...

    Its just the age,
    Its just a stage,
    We disengage,
    We turn the page.

    ...funny he didn't mention anything about poorly-made chairs.

    By Blogger Don Snabulus, at 1:23 AM  

  • Hehe, these things happen in front of audiences.

    I once actually lost my place during a recital, and then I panicked. Fortunately, my piano teacher stepped in and redirected me. I always had to have the music in front of me, even if I rarely looked at it. Often, my hands would play ahead of my eyes, but I still need the sheet music.

    By Blogger Olivia, at 6:52 AM  

  • LOL! I would love to see that! I've been a page turner before too, but not 4 pages! With your ingenious + comical page turning performance, I seriously think that they should give you an honourary award. ;-)

    By Blogger YD, at 6:05 AM  

  • Just in case, you should probably develop a numeric reference chart so you don't end up at the wrong place again. What did he mean, same place as last year, I would be so confused too.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8:49 AM  

  • Now I've got it - Mr. Bean meets Victor Borge!

    By Blogger Pandabonium, at 5:45 PM  

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