Archive - Aug 19, 2010

You just never know

This evening, I was scheduled to perform at a picnic at the senior living campus in Bemidji. 

I left about four and on the way over decided to listen to Bach organ music. It has been a few months since I have delved into the Bach, so I enjoyed it. 

One of my fantasies is to learn a Bach piece well enough to perform it on a large, famous pipe organ. 

The daydream has more details: Ten years ago, I went on a Pipedreams tour with the show's velvet-voiced host, Michael Barone. We toured historic instruments in Mexico, and I got to play a huge, if poorly maintained, pipe organ at the national auditorium in Mexico City. I was out of practice and wasn't able to take proper advantage of the opportunity. 

Since that time I have gotten a church organ of my own and have been practicing. I dream of going on another Pipedreams tour with host Michael Barone, perhaps to Bach's old stomping ground in Germany, and doing it right. 

Michael, of course, would be there with his recorder and would put my amazing performance on his show as soon as he got home. 

When I arrived at the picnic in Bemidji I knew I wasn't going to have a pipe organ, but I was a little taken aback at the scene: Two huge tents filled with people in a parking lot with a little electronic keyboard sitting on the tarmac in vast space between. The wind was blowing. I hoped the speakers could make the keyboard loud enough to hear in the tents where the elderly people sat visiting with their families. 

The sound check was a little sobering. The guy who owned the sound system had spent two hours trying to get the speakers loud enough. He eventually had to leave without solving the problem. So we had to make do. 

I decided to go into denial and go through the line and eat chicken, which was very good. I sat down at a table near an elderly resident of the complex and her grandkids and was treated to a discussion typical of kids who don't understand the limitations of their grandparents' technical and youth culture expertise and go off on something poor grandma just doesn't understand.

As Grandma sat hunched in her wheelchair drooling watermelon juice, her ditzy great grand-daughter went on and on about how her stupid brother Aaron got busted at work for having a screensaver with bare boobs on it. I don't think Grandma understood the screensaver concept, much less the bare boobs. She just gazed at the girl lovingly, happy to have somebody visit. 

Thus amused, I went back out on the tarmac to visit the lonely keyboard. It seemed to work, but the microphone just sputtered. We plugged it in different ways and got it to screech, but it never would work well enough to use. 

I was stymied. Without a microphone, how would I project across the parking lot to two equidistant tents of people, half of whom can barely hear? 

Just as I was fretting about this, I saw a familiar figure walk by, a figure so out of context that I did a double take: It was Michael Barone, host of public radio's Pipedreams program, walking around in a t-shirt and jeans. 

It couldn't be, I thought, so I yelled, "Michael!" and he turned. I introduced myself and he remembered me from the Mexico trip. 

So, what's Michael Barone doing in the parking lot of an assisted living complex in Bemidji? Well, his partner had lost her mother three days before and they were having a viewing right at that moment in the community room in a building at the other end of the parking lot and Michael decided to get out for some fresh air and to see what the picnic festivities were all about. 

I said I was performing soon but that there was no sound and that I didn't know how it would go and Michael said it will go fine and people will love it. He said he was going to talk to his partner and tell her I was there. 

So: Instead of impressing Michael Barone with a Bach fugue in an historic church in Germany, my big moment arrived in windswept parking lot outside of an assisted living complex in Bemidji on a little electronic keyboard attached to speakers that didn't work with the renowned broadcaster in the midst of a wake. 

Story of my life. 

We finally got the people out of the tents and into chairs closer to the keyboard. The microphones were useless, so I sung my lungs out over the wind. I stopped singing early and used the loudest 19th century evangelist voice I could muster to tell my usual jokes. Enough of the people in the audience could hear so that I was pulled along. Although my voice was very raw by the end, it went fine. 

Michael didn't show up again, as far as I saw. Maybe he came while I was struggling through a George Jones tune and left so as not to embarrass me. 

Sometimes reality is stranger than a weird dream.

In the end, it went fine. But my throat is sore.