Wednesday, May 1, 2013

The Show Must Go On

I stood there, on the small dais in the church, just into the last piece of a long concert which contained two new works for me. It was the second page of the Rodrigo "Fantasia para un gentilhombre".  Looking at the number of the bars rest I was about to count; the number was not there.  Just a small blind spot.

And then I understood why my hands had been "off" for the previous hour of the concert, why I felt a little dizzy, why my eyes were not taking in the music as they normally do.

It was a "no caffeine" migraine.

I hadn't had my usual 2 to 3 cups of coffee last Sunday morning... In fact, all I'd had was white tea.  And now, at about 4:10 PM the migraine struck.

My migraines are not the normal ones.  I don't have much of a headache, but I feel like I am wrapped in cotton, off-center, dizzy and often have pins and needles in my hands.  I am photo-sensitive, and definitely not at my best.

But, there was no turning back at the moment of realization.  Turning my head slowly, I saw that the number was a 3, lifted my flute quickly and just barely made the entrance.

I actually played almost all of the notes in the rest of the piece (which has 2 high D's on the last page) and my husband didn't notice anything was amiss.

It led me to think about one bond all of we musicians have in common: we must play on time, in tune, expressively when called upon to do so, regardless of how we feel.  No matter if we have had an upset in the day, are hungry, thirsty, tired, and so on.  The musical imperative calls us to overcome any of those discomforts and give the best we can.

This certainly lends drama to the situation.  The audience does not want to see us sweat.  They want to be transported for just those few minutes, and leave daily concerns behind.  For we who are performers, it makes us hardy, and proud when we are called a trouper.  It means we can overcome whatever ails us and get the job done.

When Anne Sullivan and I toured frequently, I had a special bag I called "the pharmacy" which included all the remedies that we should need were an emergency on the road come up.  Among all the medicinal supplies, I learned to pack duct tape (essential for hems, rips, electrical cords)safety pins, needle and thread, extra bottled water, nail files, and more.  These essentials came in handy when needed.

So, keep this in mind the next time you see a performer, no matter the genre, stand up and deliver a fine performance night after night.  Everyone of them has a story like this one.  Probably several.


  1. Joan, I cannot agree with you more! As performers, sometimes it can be so hard to "mask" our feelings, either physically or mentally! I recall a concert with my Army Band, many years ago. I was the scheduler for the band and I had booked a concert at one of the beach communities in Delaware. It was full concert to the gig....and come to discover, it was literally in the sand! The commander, and my fellow soldier musicians were not happy with me because I did not tell them. How could I, I did not know! Anyway, I was so upset but had to play my flute/piccolo. BTW, chairs and stands do not do well in the the timpani out was a feat in itself. I took quite a beating that day. Eyes full of tears, and head full of frustration, I played John P. Sousa marches for the unsuspecting audience and went on with the show. After the concert, I brushed it off to a learning experience..always ask what type of ground we will be using! The band eventually forgave me..... :)

  2. What a story! I think another good topic would be crazy places we have played! There will be some doozies out there!!