Ravenna Flamenco

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A Summer Retrospective: Peña, Weddings and Wine

posted in performance on september 8th, 2010
guitarist in an empty theater

Hel-looooo! Has it been six months (and change) already? (That’s an honest question — my math skills are iffy … . ) Well, if it has, I declare it high-time this hiatus be over!

Before you ask, no, I haven’t finished my doctorate yet (see previous post for details). I have, however, finished a complete draft of my dissertation and, while I still have revisions (and an eventual dissertation defense) to tackle, I’m okay with classifying this as enough of a hurdle passed to get back to Ravenna Flamenco.

But enough about degrees — let’s talk about music! As I mentioned in my previous post, while I had stepped down from playing dance classes and from full involvement in La Peña Flamenca, my goal was to keep up my repertoire and to stay open to playing any really interesting opportunities that might come up over the summer.

So, as a way of getting back into the swing of things, here’s a brief rundown of some of the more eventful musical pursuits of my summer.

La Peña Flamenca de Seattle The peña summer show was one of the “maybes” on my list of doctoral hiatus time sacrifices. Obviously the “maybe” evolved into a “yes.” It went well, playing-wise; I always feel better about (and have more fun at) a show when I’ve been assiduous about rehearsals, but — thanks in no small part to the acumen of my fellow peña guitarist, Markus — I was able to get through the show with no catastrophic stumbles.

I can’t say as much, however, for the house sound-system. The theater was warm. This wasn’t the warmest summer we’ve ever had here in Seattle (and hardly “warm” at all by the standards of most of the country), but it was, clearly, too warm for the PA. About half-way through the show it started to “warble.” I don’t know how else to describe it: the sound sort of peaked and then dropped off, rhythmically. It did this for about a minute or so before someone in the sound booth killed the master volume.

The effect on stage was a bit surreal (in all senses of the word). This sonic oddity was actually in compás for a moment, which made the whole thing fleetingly transcendental. Of course, it quickly fell out of compás (there’s only so much one can expect out of an overheating sound board), at which point we just shrugged and played through it.

The sound did eventually come back on and behave, but between warble and recovery there was about five minutes of no sound support at all — just guitars, cante, and dancers. This was actually pretty cool. The theater seats 150+, so I don’t know how well people were able to hear, but the change in atmosphere was palpable — in a good way.

Christine & Jared Janowiak’s Wedding For this gig I used my own sound system — which behaved like a proper, civilized amplifier. And that was a good thing: Coconut and Jared’s ceremony was ridiculously beautiful — warbling would definitely not have fit in.

This was the fourth or fifth wedding I’ve played — and the first for which I’ve played flamenco for close friends. I feel like I’m getting to the point with most events where I don’t really stress out about the music. With weddings, however, there is one exception: the processional.

Now I know everyone is looking at the bride, but there’s nothing else to listen to but the music. There’s something about that “she’ll-only-walk-down-the-aisle-once-in-her-life” moment that makes me feel like if I were to mess up the music, it would be a personal affront to morality, humanity, and the universe as a whole.

My solution to this is to suggest ridiculously easy selections for the processional — something along the lines of “How would you like a quarter note arpeggiation of Dsus2add6add11?* I think that would be beautiful!” I haven’t had any takers on that yet, but I did manage to get away with accompanying Coconut down the aisle with an alegrias escobilla (which I believe I actually have played in my sleep (and which, IMHO, sounded great)).

  • Dsus2add6add11 = all open strings

That said, I don’t mind also saying that I also took advantage of their kick-ass location for some photo ops:


Look! I can be “cleaned up”! (It’s amazing what a tie can do — and who it can fool into thinking I don’t spend most of my time sitting at a keyboard in flannel pants.) In any case, the wedding was good fun and it was particularly nice to be involved in such good friends’ “big day” in an expressive way.

The International Food Blogger’s Convention This gig came my way via a colleague referral (which was great) and what seemed like at least a half-dozen other “agents” and intermediaries (which was … odd … more on this in a later post). The gig itself was for the Sherry Council of America (!!), who hired me to play for a two-hour wine tasting & tapas reception.

In other “to-be-covered-in-later-posts” topics, I’ll definitely give some attention to preparing two hours worth of solo flamenco guitar music. This was the first time I had played a stretch that long without dancers, singers, or other accompanists. It turned out well — everyone (including she who paid the bills) was happy with the music — but preparing the program definitely called for a different approach than preparing for other kinds of gigs.

There were a couple things, however, that did catch me off guard. One was the number of times I had my picture taken. I suppose I should have figured there would be a lot of cameras there (these are food bloggers, after all — hundreds of them — and they photo and note documented the hell out of everything) but I don’t think I’ve been photographed that much since my wedding (and I’m pretty sure that was only because I was standing next to the pretty lady in the white dress).

Courtney Cox

The other surprise was a general and widespread lack of spatial awareness among the attendees. For the most part, this wasn’t a problem, but there was one particular trio — led by a woman that lookedexactly like Courtney Cox — who, despite the fact that they didn’t seem to be listening to the music (at least not in a way that did anything to impinge on their very lively conversation) set themselves on a glacial-speed impact trajectory toward yours truly.

I noticed the approach when they were still a comfortable distance away. I also noticed the vector. Courtney was steering a collision course, a Titanic to my iceberg. Of course, I figured that no sane human being (or even blogger) would actually meander into me while I was playing.

Wrong. Mid-farruca, very slowly and very obliviously, in comes Courtney with a nudge to my headstock, just forceful enough to throw off my rhythm. I actually had to point out the fact that she was leaning into my guitar (does Courtney have some sort of nerve damage to her backside that prevents her from telling when she is leaning on things/people?). She was apologetic, which was nice, but I did have to explain that it’s easier for me to do my job when folks aren’t leaning up against me. She was shocked.

I eventually convinced Courtney & Co. that farther into the room would be a better place to stand (i.e. better than standing on my toes). Perhaps next time I can bring some traffic cones. Or one of those little kiddie-fences (do they make those in an “electrified” version?).

Anyway, Moving On … . Now that I’m “back,” I’ve been giving some thought to what’s up next for Ravenna Flamenco. The blog, of course, demands more catching up. I’ve also promised a Facebook follower that I would finally finish the Soleá dance accompaniment article (I should finish this whole series, in fact — such a slacker I am!). And of course I’ve picked up a lot of new music that’s just begging to be tabbed out.

Otherwise, I’ve got a few big changes coming down the proverbial “pike” — and if all goes well, you’ll see these sooner rather than later.

In the mean time (as always): go play!


tags: nemesis, pena, ravenna flamenco, sherry, tapas, wedding
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