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Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The Shipwreck at Bay City.....

was one of those events in my personal musical history that is almost painful to relate. However, in the spirit of Christian humility and to make a clean slate of it, the task must be done! You, my loyal readers, are the ones who must judge the results….. ;-)

    It all started out well enough. I was invited to perform at a restaurant along with Pat, our church maestro friend, as a birthday present. Bay City Restaurant had a maritime theme, so I planned on singing two English folk songs that had an oceanic feel to them. The selections were "Scarborough Fair", named after an English seaside town where markets were held in medieval days, and "Spanish Ladies" telling the story of the sad plight of British sailors who had to leave their Spanish lovers behind after being ordered back to England during the Napoleonic Wars. Both of these songs are old favorites of mine, and "Scarborough Fair" was the first song I ever learned to play on the penny whistle. So, I figured, the whole job should be a synch. Oh, the plans of (wo)man are in vain!

    Several days of practice were in store, as well as some hard-hitting consultation over a birthday feast at a local Chinese buffet with my dad and Pat. Whilst dining on egg rolls, wok chicken, egg-drop soup, and sugar dumplings, the maestro reiterated his plan to finger-pick acoustic guitar while I sang and played the whistle. Then the two main men in my life both reassured me that since everyone knew their stuff like the back of their respective hands and all was bound to go well. Nevertheless, when the big day arrived, I began to feel slightly apprehensive as we headed towards our destination. I had never played in front of a bunch of people at a restaurant before. What if things didn't go as planned? What if I got nervous and goofed up on my whistle? I honestly wasn't too worried about my voice yet, since I usually sing pretty well under pressure…..usually, anyway!

    We reached the deck of the restaurant and met the maestro, who was busy with a slew of prep activities. This would be one of his first solo acts, throwing in little ol'e me as a bit of spice for the soup. He usually performs on the deck as part of a trio with two other gentlemen from his band. Therefore, the equipment was arranged in a way that lent itself better to a one-man performance as opposed to multiple performers. Too late to second guess it, though. We did a practice run through at the side of the dock, and a passing listener said we sounded good. It wasn't my turn to make my entrance for about an hour into the gig, so my dad and I headed off to the antique mall to meander the time away.

    I stumbled across copies of the LotR movies in the DVD sale shelf, reminding me to order them from the library to appease my "Ringer" pals. But before I could discover any more substantial treasures, it was time head back to the deck, and I began to get a severe case of sea-song-sickness! After my dad took a few pictures of me in my nautical blouse and navy blue skirt outside the restaurant, we reemerged onto the deck. Spotted by Pat’s family, we were ushered to sit down with them and Kathy, my Youth Group leader who provided adult supervision for the Living Stations production.

    Half-time break came, and the maestro came to call me aside for a final practice run through. But then he did something unexpected. He went over to his other brother-in-law, Henry, and inquired whether or not he knew how to play "Spanish Ladies" on guitar. Apparently, Pat had forgotten to pull up the chords on his computer, and we were in a ticklish position. It just got worse. Brother-in-law did indeed know how to play and sing "Spanish Ladies", and he was more than willing to play the guitar for "Scarborough Fair" as well. We started our practice run-through, and it was then that I had a very unsteady feeling trying to hold my melody over Henry’s jarring pirate-like harmonies. "I think that's something different them I'm used to doing," I informed the maestro. "Well, you've got to just steer the ship," he replied nonchalantly, and we all trekked up to the altar of sacrifice, a.k.a. the stage.

    After a touching birthday intro by the maestro on my behalf, the music for "Scarborough Fair" started up. The trouble was that Henry was jamming on the guitar chords and not finger-picking as planned. The speakers were blaring right behind my head, and I couldn't hear for the life of me. I started to sing, but my mic was not up loud enough, and my high notes squeaked out in a high-pitched garble of agony. I tried to play my whistle in the interlude, but I couldn't hear myself at all and played it in wrong key. Worse was yet to come. It was time for "Spanish Ladies". Still dealing with a woefully bad sound situation, I stuck my face as close to the mic as possible and belted out the first line. Then brother-in-law started his harmonies on the chorus, and the brave front I was trying to present faltered. He was standing between me and keyboard-playing Pat, jamming away on his guitar like there was no tomorrow and singing his Blackbeard-like-harmonies right in my ear.

    Despite all, I staggered on, trying desperately to hold my melody and range over the din. The maestro must have been deafened or in a state of unwarranted euphoria, for he had a gummy grin plastered on his face through the whole event. When the nightmare was finally over, I plastered a false grin on my own face, thanked my harmonist and the man in charge, and then scuttled back to my chair at the table where my platter of coconut shrimp and mozzarella sticks awaited me. The other denizens of the table were having a hard time looking me in the face, and I knew the results of my belting must have been pretty traumatic for them. "You did good, honey," said my ever-loyal father. "Yeah, it's always tough when you can't hear yourself," consoled my understanding Youth Group leader. Oh, boy. I was getting the feeling that a more appropriate song for the performance would have been "Nearer My God to Thee" as we sunk beneath the waves like the ill-fated Titanic!

    Well, that's my whale of a tale. It has some cautionary aspects to it, such as beware of throwing in last minute, "I-never-heard-that-one-before" harmonies to a song you've previously rehearsed without them; make sure the sound systems and the mic are put to the right volume; and whatever you do, when you can't hear yourself, don't try to belt it out all the louder… just makes things worse! But all in all, I am thankful for having had the chance to perform and for the friendship and fellowship that brought me to Bay City in the first place. When we were about to leave, Pat and his wife presented me with a lovely birthday bracelet. I guess time will only tell whether it's a "good luck musician" bracelet or not! ;-)

Bay City Restaurant, the Site of the Shipwreck


  1. Oh that sounds so awful! I'm glad you stuck it through though--you show'd em!

  2. It happens to the best of us musicians - I'm sure that even Loreena McKennitt suffered the same plight at some point! ;-) I've perfmored at several places where I couldn't hear my voice at all, and it was definitely confidence-sapping. I admire your bravery and humility in sharing your story!

    God Bless

  3. Thanks for the encouragement, girls! It's always nice to have fellow musician friends who are willing to stick by you when the waters are rough! Here's to calm seas for us all in the future ;-)

  4. That sounds really tough and I can definitely feel for you, Pearl! I've had some rough situations myself when something got changed at the last minute (the time I was given the role of cantoring the Gospel Acclamation at Mass approximately 30 seconds before I had to do it (right in the middle of the second reading, when it was realized the assigned cantor wasn't there!) comes to mind, as does the time when, right before leaving for my homeschool group's graduation Mass, which I was cantoring, I found out I had learned the wrong Responsorial Psalm and had hurriedly learn another one. Then, upon arriving at church, I found out I was to have no instrumental accompaniment for that or the alleluia...)
    So, yeah. : ) As Mary said, it happens to all of us. It sounds like you made the best you could of a bad situation. I hope things go smoother for you next time!!

    - Katherine

  5. Hi, Katherine.

    Ooh, that must have been a tough cantoring session! Singing something you're not really familiar with without instrumental accompaniment is not pleasant :-( I remember one time during a show at a nursing home, the air conditioner blew away the pianist's music sheets while I was singing "Once Upon a Dream", and I had to do the high part without music! It was tough!

    Thanks for the encouragement :-) I do wish we lived closer so that we could do a show together! Who knows? Perhaps someday....

    God Bless,

  6. Wow - who would think of an air conditioner as a possible enemy to musicians?! In the incident mentioned, I managed to pull off the Psalm, and people said I did well... of course, they didn't know exactly how the piece was supposed to sound... ; )

    I also wish we lived closer... considerably closer. : ) It would be great fun to sing with you! I join Ellen in her comment on your most recent post in hoping you make it to Missouri someday soon!

    - Katherine