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Musical Mishaps Series. Today: “Asleep at the Switch?”

Musical Mishaps Series. Today: “Asleep at the Switch?” featured image

Without fail, something goes wrong during a live performance. Usually it’s something minor, like the musicians didn’t quite come in together, or a light is quietly buzzing that no one noticed at rehearsal. Other times, it’s quite urgent, as you’ll read below. I put out the call to my musician friends on Facebook. When I first read the responses, at one point I was laughing so hard, I was crying and blowing my nose, and I had to step out for a short walk to regain my composure. I had such an overwhelming response that I had to group them into categories. I’ll feature them every week or so. Thanks to everyone who participated!

I left out names (to protect the guilty).

The FYI:
-A lavalier mic (“lav” for short) is a small hands-free microphone used for television, theatre, and presentations.
-Most double bass players use a four-string bass, not a five-string bass.
-Haydn’s “Farewell” Symphony features musicians blowing out the music stand candle and leaving the stage, one by one. Today, usually an electric music stand light is used that the musicians turn off.

Asleep at the Switch?

From a soprano:
While making my operatic debut with Calgary opera, I entered the stage about to sing, and the lighting board blew – total darkness. Orchestra continued so I walked to the only beam of light there was, the exit light. I made my debut in the dark!

From a comic soprano:
I was warming up offstage while my pal was performing a gorgeous, serious aria and they hadn’t turned off my lav. Lip buzzing, “nya nya nya”, all the crazy singer warm-up sounds. They had to stop the show. Even though it was a tech issue, I peeked around the curtain, and did a slumped walk-of-shame across the stage and left. Audience went nuts. This is why I only do comedy – even mistakes are funny.

From a member of an orchestral bass section:
City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra. Bass section. Simon Rattle conducting the end of the 2nd movement of the Brahms 1st Piano Concerto. About to go straight into the last movement. I hear, “Pssst! grab the bass!” I look to my left, grab hold of my bass with my right hand and jump off my stool and grab the bass to my left as it goes flying, as its owner passes out and crashes to the stage. I am stuck standing holding 2 basses while she is carried off the stage. I jump on the other stand, only to realize I am playing a five-string bass. The art of faking kicked in.

From an oboist:
For a symphony school show we all had little candles clipped to our stands, and had to blow them out as we finished and exited the stage, ultimately ending in the dark. I forgot to blow mine out, so the piece ended with an illuminated oboe seat. Derp.

From a guitarist:
Celebration Square in Mississauga, playing in front of about 15,000 people at a Bollywood show. Monitors sounded great at sound check, but then when it was time to perform I could not hear myself AT ALL. So I’m trying to get the stage manager’s attention, but she’s standing behind the choir looking off into la-la land, not paying attention to the stage. So I’m yelling at her trying to get her attention from in front of the choir, unaware that the overhead mics are on. I then hear one of the hosts, who is currently talking to the crowd, pause and say, “well, THAT was loud…”. I never did get her attention despite the commotion (apparently managing the stage was the last thing on her mind), so I suffered through the rest of the set with no monitors. Then, to make things even worse, it was very windy and my charts almost blew off the stand. They were barely hanging on by one of the clips, which was particularly nerve-wracking as the style of music was not very familiar to me and there’s no way I could have faked it if I had lost the charts. Probably the most stressed I’ve ever been at a gig, but after everything, it apparently came across well out front!

Are you a musician that endured a crazy onstage mishap? Audience member who witnessed one? Write me at [email protected]

Previous topics of Musical Mishaps: “We Should Have Had a Full Tech Rehearsal”:

Next week: Blame the Page-Turner (we’re not referring to the French film or the author of this post).

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