My writing teacher advised a fellow classmate to include conflict, surprise, and humour in his travel writings. It occurred to me that such elements are also present when we give concerts. We have to travel to get there. When it doesn’t go as smoothly as we expect, there’s conflict. Often we encounter surprises.
In fact, musicians are always dealing with the unexpected.
First of all, we never get to perform under ideal conditions. We might rehearse under ideal conditions but these are never those of the live performance. Even if we get to the venue early and rehearse, we never get the real conditions with the audience present.
Secondly, there is that uncertainty of demand. In cultural economics, it’s called the “nobody knows” principle. No matter how well we predict, we’re never sure how many listeners will actually turn up. Demand is uncertain. Unless we get sold-out pre-paid concerts, we may get less than a full-house or standing room only.
Thirdly, anything that requires and involves traveling from A to B is subject to the unexpected.
How can we as musicians and concert producers deal with the unexpected?
Take real life, for example. Last Thursday 17th December, I woke up to a white Christmas that arrived a week early. That it would snow and continue to snow for several days was unexpected for this time of the year. Public transportation got suspended. Lessons and rehearsals got canceled.
Weather plays a major role in the business of music that we’re in.
Because of this snowy weather that befell the Netherlands, several musicians couldn’t get to their gigs on time or at all. The hosts at the Rood Noot (pronounced with long o) waived the entry tickets for the few brave guests that showed up. On the other side of Utrecht, a sold-out house concert (by reservation but not prepayment) took place in spite of empty seats. Elsewhere concerts got canceled or rescheduled.
If weather plays such an important role, we should check the forecasts and plan accordingly. We should be able to adjust to the weather, as fickle as it may be. Delay the start of the performance. Change the programme. Reduce or waive the entrance fees. Have a contingency plan.
The loss of something increases the relative value of something else.
Because my lessons and rehearsals got canceled, I valued and spent more time on the rehearsals that didn’t get canceled. Today I explored new repertoire with a cellist from 4 to 10 pm, with a 2 hour break for dinner. Under normal circumstances, it would have seemed too indulgent. If not for the cellist’s long bus and train journey back to the Hague, I would have happily continued until midnight.
Musicians, if you are reading this, how do you deal with the unexpected? Any interesting stories you’d like to share?
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