Monday, March 23, 2009

Hairspray and perfection

Last night my wife and I went to see Hairspray at the Civic Center. Honestly, this was maybe only the third or fourth "Broadway" show I've ever seen. I'm more of an opera person, but that probably isn't a surprise.
I've done musicals. I've played for musicals. I've been in musicals, but going to them is expensive and sometimes not that great. But, last night was very good. Our seats were in a great position. We were actually close enough to the stage that we could see faces!
On the way home, in the car, I couldn't help but say that I really appreciated the production value of this show. Reading through the bios of the performers - some of them old, some new - some of them had been doing this show for a while. They had probably performed the whole production over 100 times or more! Probably WAAAAY more!!!
Light cues and orchestra cues were right on time. Sound effects were quite impressively timed. There was a moment in a song when glasses "clinked" and, yes, there was a perfectly in place sound effect for that.
As I said, many of these people have done this show many many many times. You can't help but be pretty much perfect after doing something so many times. It's engrained in your muscles by that time. I also know that the people working on these touring productions are paid professionals. This is what they do. They work on tech or sound or lights. They may or may not enjoy doing it, but that's their job.
Yesterday was also a church day. I came away with a huge headache, after being reduced to near tears, and frustrated like none other. Needless to say, yesterday was difficult. I got to church in a good mood, but it spiraled down quickly.
The bell ringers were playing for the services. That's fine. I like to include the bells whenever I can - or more accurately, whenever they feel like playing. The congregation seems to like the bells. They should...they just spent $15,000 on refurbishing the bells two years ago. That money didn't come out of thin air! I had already asked the bells if they would be finished so that our flute player could practice her piece. I was told that the bells had been there for a half hour and hadn't played through their whole piece.
Now I feel that I have to back up and tell you that traditionally, the bells arrive at 7:00 a.m. before the 8:30 service and run their piece so many times that it makes your ears bleed. So the fact that they hadn't run it yet and it was 8:05 stunned me. I also knew this was bad news for the flute player.
Our flute player is also our service pianist. She is good at flute, but still needs the practice time for checking volume and getting her mic right, etc. 8:15 rolled around and the bells were playing through their piece "one more time" since they hadn't done it too many times.
I feel I should also interject that I start my rehearsals at 7:00 p.m. sharp on Thursday evenings, and although I know that choir is a time for fellowship and comradery (sp?) it's also our only time to work together that week. Needless to say, I run a tight ship. That's probably on the same side of the brain that likes opera.
Back to the bells: it's 8:15, they are still running their piece, the flute hasn't practiced, people are starting to come in, AND the "pre service" CD is supposed to be running at 8:15 to "greet" people as they enter. None of this was happening and I felt like I had no control over the situation.
Again returning to the side of the brain that likes opera and running on schedule...I also like to be in control or in charge of things. ESPECIALLY if I'm supposed to be in charge of these things. This is my job on Sunday. I am the man in the big top hat in the center ring of the circus.
Finally, at 8:22, the bells were done and we could run the flute piece. Mind you, the flute piece was also the prelude, so the people in the sanctuary were hearing this piece at 8:25, even though they were going to hear it again at 8:30.
On top of all this - and this is where it ties into the Hairspray and perfection stuff...look out! - I had a sound person that was also not doing as I asked. I know that I'm not the pro at sound engineering. I know that I'm not even someone who has opened up the owner's manual to read all about it. That bores me, so I stay away. BUT, I DO know what sounds good. And more importantly, I know what looks good. I don't need a mic on the 6-foot baby grand piano with it's lid all the way open that I'm playing (and let me tell you....I don't need a mic!!) I don't need the mics that the worship team are singing into to be squealing all during a song in the middle of worship. I don't need to be told that things don't sound together because they aren't "equalizing in the middle of the space, therefore getting to your ears in a more succint fashion." I really really don't.
All I know is that I'm sitting at the front of the sanctuary on a piano bench and I don't have control over what is happening in the sound booth. I think of the Hairspray technical people. They are paid professionals. The person that was running sound yesterday is one of my most educated people...a doctor! Doing sound is his hobby. He's passionate about it. He's done sound at other churches. Does this make him a professional even though he might not be paid? Can I not expect the same level of perfection from him that I do from the sound people on a traveling Broadway show? Probably not, but that doesn't mean that I can't expect excellence.
I was glad yesterday was over. My wife was even more glad yesterday was over. Church wasn't wonderful. Not even approaching excellent or perfect. Hairspray was good. We are planning on seeing Wicked when it rolls through town in September.

1 comment:

  1. I'll echo that - James does NOT need a mic! :)

    But that IS difficult. I know at our church, our worship minister has to not-so-gently remind us of call times on Sunday mornings. Because once you get behind, then it's a stressful game of catch up that prevents everyone from serving and worshipping the way we're supposed to.

    I think working with volunteers is difficult (if you'll remember, I've done a LOT of that). Because we DO expect them to live up to the same standards we paid folks do, but we also have to handle them carefully (sometimes, TOO carefully) because they ARE volunteers.

    You could always try the guilt trip that our leader uses - "Remember, you're not doing this for me. You're not doing this for the congregation. You're doing this for God. And doesn't God deserve our best?"

    P.S. I'm glad Hairspray was good - how fun!