PNA Winterfest: Rolling With the Punches
posted in performance on december 1st, 2007
Yes, winter has – yet again – been fested. I guess we really like winter around here. Who knew?
Anyway, Winterfest this time around (sponsored by the Phinney Neighborhood Association) was a whole different ball game than last week’s gig: no Peña-huge support group of musicians and dances, but just the Zamani Flamenco trio: Rachel, baile (dance); Stephanie, cante (vocals); and yours truly, toque. Overall impressions: it wasn’t perfect, but there were no major train wrecks and no decomposing produce thrown. This is a good thing. And I think we all learned something. This is a very good thing.
I won’t speak for my fellow musicians, but I know my lesson is all about the importance of "rolling with the punches." I.e., that there’s a big difference between missing a note and messing up a whole song – or set.
We opened with a Sevillanas. I’m a fan of these for starters because they’re not especially technically demanding and since they’re a fixed form, there aren’t any arrangement surprises. This one, I think, went over pretty well. Here it is for your bemusement:
The second number we did was a Tangos. This is where the "punches" I refer to in the title come in. Remember my mutinous nervous system from the last post? I haven’t shaken it off yet. I had arranged the introductory falseta for this Tangos to be about twice as long as I play it here. In the fifth bar, however, when the Moraito melody line came in I found myself in the most ridiculous of panics: is that first note on the fifth fret, or the sixth? In general, there are no fret markers on a flamenco guitar; since we use capos for almost everything – and we move them around depending on the tonality we’re after and the range of the singer – they would probably be more confusing than helpful. In any case, I lost my point of reference and had to guess – and guessed wrong.
I recovered the next beat, but by then I was shaken. It’s amazing the thoughts that can go through one’s head between beats. At this point they were something like, "I could keep going and probably play the rest of the silly thing in the right key – but if I do goof something up, the trip I just had could turn into a full-on plunge-off-the-balcony-pelvis-shattering-catastrophe. One mistake: largely unnoticed; two mistakes: now you’re permanently labeled – ‘Oh, yeah, Andy – that guitarist that can’t keep track of his frets. Lovely turtleneck; shame about the music.’"
So I chickened out and closed, hopped over the next few bars and went right to the end of the intro. To the careful listener (which I’m sure the vast majority of the audience was not), this sounds, I suspect, rather inelegant – but still potentially "correct." Kind of a short intro, doesn’t really develop musically very well, lunges a bit into the song. But, aside from that first missed note, at least it sounds like it was played the way I intended it. Rolling with the punches. Here’s the clip:
The bit in the middle goes for the most part, I think, pretty well. Brilliant? No. But "correct"? I think so. And at this point (remember this is only my second small group performance) that’s all I’m going for. There is a bit of chord confusion at the end – I should have hung on a C7 one more bar than I did. Having realized that I’d gotten out of sych with the vocals, I closed three or four bars early to avoid making the same mistake as the progression continued. Same frenzy of thought as above. Because I signaled it clearly, however, we all ended at the same place. Rolling with the punches.
Notice Rachel (the dancer) here – she’s a model of composure. If Stephanie and I hadn’t reacted, I don’t think anyone would have been the wiser. In fact, I don’t really think anyone was much "wiser" anyway – you might not have been if I hadn’t pointed it out. But this is the lesson – or at least what I got out of it: it may be the hardest thing in the world not to react, but the musician’s reaction might just be the only thing that signals that something has gone awry. Granted, major train wrecks are a different story, but if you’re making changes on the fly, there’s no reason to let the whole world in on it. If your fellow musicians are astute, you can get away with murder up there (musical murder, that is) and come out smelling like roses – instead of decomposing produce.
Just for kicks, here’s out third number, an Alegrías. I’ll spare you the analysis – the song is long enough as is:
And that, my friends, is enough for today!
Now go play!