Weekend Concerto in Gee...MAJOR!!!!
It was a hectic weekend, a hellish weekend, a booked up and socked full weekend, a weekend to remember, a weekend never to be forgotten even if it wants to.
It was a weekend of music...and not much else!
The fun actually started months ago. Last spring I was invited once again to have the Flying Eggheads jazz big band participate in the Kashima Seaside Jazz Festival, which was coming into its fourth year. At the time its scheduled date, November 24, was wide open. The only other important music-related event even close to that day was the district small ensemble contest, but it was scheduled for the 17th, one week earlier. That was no problem, so I went ahead and gave my approval. As always, the KSJ Friends (the official supporters' group for the Kashima Seaside Jazz Festival) didn't waste any time. By the time summer ended they already had the concert billing publicized and were already selling tickets. In other words, our participation was set in stone.
In late September it was announced that the ensemble contest had been delayed one week. That put it on the same day as the Festival. That posed a dilemma. You see, the ensemble contest is one of the more important events of the year. It was a given that several members of the Flying Eggheads wanted to compete, and failure to do so could reflect very badly on our music department. That meant we had to do both events somehow.
Another problem was rehearsal time. Between the orchestra's preparations for the All-Japan Selected Youth Orchestra Festival in December, preparations on the part of most of our string section to help with the Kashima Philharmonic concert in December, a select group practicing for the Amateur Chamber music Festival in November, a few students practicing for a solo contest, and various other small performances here and there, it was hard for the kids to squeeze in practice time for their ensembles, let alone rehearse with the Flying Eggheads. It was a planning and logistical nightmare. To make matters worse, the week before the 24th was dead week (i.e. the week before an exam period). That meant all afterschool club activities were suspended. I managed to get special permission to practice, but the administration only agreed to let us have two hours that week for the entire music department, i.e. both the Flying Eggheads and the ensembles had to share those same two hours. Considering many if not most of the ensemble members were also Eggheads, it meant we had a serious problem.
Friday the 23rd was a national holiday, but it was NOT a holiday. One of those two allowed rehearsal hours was that morning, so I rehearsed with the Eggheads for half an hour and gave the kids the other half for their ensembles. Then, in the afternoon, I had to run across the street to the new Kashima City Cultural Center to rehearse with the Kashima Philharmonic for almost five hours. Our pro guest conductor wasn't there that day, so I had to conduct those five hours. Believe me, I was wiped out.
Then came the 24th, and the schedule went something like this:
- 8:00 a.m. - Mr. Ogawa and Mr. Karatsu arrived at the Kamisu Culture Center (henceforth KCC), venue for the district small ensemble contest, together with some students who were to be working as staff there.
- 8:30 a.m. - Mr. Ogawa returned to Ye Olde Academy just as I arrived there.
- 9:00 a.m. - I borrowed one of the school vans. Together with Mr. Ogawa in his van, we transported three ensembles to the KCC for the district small ensemble contest. On the way, however, I took a detour to the Kashima Workers' Culture Hall (henceforth KWCH), venue for the Kashima Seaside Jazz Festival, to drop off a couple of the Eggheads members. I wound up being delayed there, and the ensemble I was transporting arrived at the KCC slightly late for their entry.
- 10:00 a.m. - Arriving back at Ye Olde Academy, I set to work hauling the band's gear to the KWCH. At first I had no help at all. Then, on the second trip, I had one student helping me. Then there were more. Finally, I switched from hauling gear to hauling personnel. Around this time Mr. Ogawa returned and shared the busing load.
- 12:00 a.m. - After a quick lunch and a little warming up, I set out for the KCC to pick up some students and bring them back to Kashima. I was about halfway there when I got a phone message telling me to return to the KWCH at once. Apparently the district small ensemble contest was running late, meaning our students there were going to be delayed, so Mr. Karatsu was going to run them back instead of me.
- 12:50 a.m. - The students coming back from Kamisu arrived at the KWCH. We changed, prepped, and started warming up.
- 1:30 p.m. - The Flying Eggheads were called to standby backstage. Fortunately, the stage manager and crew were professionals who really knew their stuff. Setup went smoothly and quickly. Downbeat started right on time at 1:50. We were forced to perform cold (i.e. no sound check), but the sound was fine. The kids were nervous at first, and many if not most of the soloists that day weren't really in the groove, but the band itself turned in a fairly solid performance. (I say "fairly solid" because I know we could have done better, but considering where we were and what we were doing, the kids were responding well to the pressure. I was only disappointed with some of the solos.) We had been given a 40-minute performance slot, but for a whole bunch of reasons I trimmed it down to about 20 minutes worth of performance coupled with around ten minutes of me gabbing. The audience response was great, so I guess it was alright. After our performance was over, I was given the obligatory interview (and I hammed it up, of course). Then we dashed out as fast as we could go.
- 2:30 p.m. - Mr. Ogawa loaded the Flying Eggheads members who were in the brass ensemble into his van and dashed off to KCC. Actually, we were very lucky; the HQ of the district small ensemble contest had decided in all their generosity to swap out their time slot. Otherwise they never would have made it. Even so, I was really worried. The kids looked both worn out and stressed out. Meanwhile, I got started shuttling back and forth between the KWCH and Ye Olde Academy hauling the band's gear and members.
- 4:30 p.m. - Once the gear and most of the students were back, I loaded up the members of the saxophone ensemble (all Eggheads, of course) and took them back to KCC so they could catch the final awards assembly for the district small ensemble contest. I decided to stay and watch it myself to show my support for the kids that had given so much time and effort to both events.
- 5:45 p.m. - The awards assembly started 15-minutes behind schedule, but the results were wonderful. All three of our senior high ensembles not only got top-rank awards but were selected to represent our district in the Prefectural Championship next month. The same was true of two of our three junior high ensembles. If that third JH ensemble (ironically the most senior of the three) hadn't flopped it would have been a sweep for our school. I was especially happy because ALL of the ensembles including Flying Eggheads members made it. Those kids are truly amazing.
- 6:30 p.m. - I made it back to the KWCH for the closing ceremony of the Kashima Seaside Jazz Festival. Those are always fun because the supporters' club always puts together some kind of impromptu final performance. Every year they have asked me to perform, twice playing clarinet solos in the tune "Sing, Sing, Sing" and once playing a clarinet duet with a professional Dixieland performer (a wonderful if humbling experience!). This year I hadn't heard anything, but I had brought my alto sax just in case. So when they said they wanted me to join the performance and I agreed...I was handed a cowbell and asked to dance. You see, this year's theme was "Latin & Jazz", so we did a samba number with everyone shaking or clanking something while dancing and carrying on. The only problem was that they had only three wind players playing the actual tune, and all that excited percussion wiped them out. It was a delightful bit of noisy chaos right up until the curtain dropped. That's when they started saying, "[Moody], you should have played your sax!" Well, hey....
- 8:00 p.m. - I returned the school van after having clocked more than 100 km on its odometer,but the evening wasn't over yet. You see, I had received a surprising invitation a week or two before. Some musician friends of mine whom I hadn't seen in over a year were playing a blues gig at a local jazz pub and asked me to join them. I couldn't resist. (It also justified my having brought my sax along.) What a brilliant way to cap off the day! It was my first such gig in over a year, and it just felt great to be playing again! I barely knew (and sometimes didn't know at all) the tunes we did, but I listened, caught the key and the pattern, faked it, and went total balls-out on my solo breaks, often trading fours with one of the most awesome guitarists I've ever had the pleasure of working with. That coupled with the fact that I was remaking old acquaintances and making new ones while drinking draft Guinness (and me being someone who doesn't get out very often) made for one unforgettable evening! We jammed from 9:00 till 1:00 a.m.. I'd promised my wife I'd be home by 10:30. Needless to say, I wasn't. Fortunately, she was rather understanding.
Midterm exams at Ye Olde Academy started today...