Cello in the wild: playing outdoors

Little did I know when I decided that playing with others would be one of my goals for the year it would include playing in all sorts of venues. I played my first outdoor gig with the Rainbow City Orchestra on Saturday. The gig was a fundraiser for our parent organization, the Rainbow City Band, since they’ll be hosting the annual conference of LGBTA bands this year on the University of Washington campus. It’s a great cause, and I’m really proud to be the ally of a community that is so welcoming and open hearted.

Now I know how buskers feel!

Seattle weather smiled on us, Saturday was one of the warmest days of the year (Don’t say anything about it being July and summer just about everywhere else in the country unless you want to get punched in the keyboard) and I was much less nervy than the last two performances. For one, there wasn’t really a standing audience. We played in a location frequented by passing tourists, so people drifted by, hung out for a bit, then drifted on.

Here was our playlist:
Brandenburg #5 – THE Bach
Celtic Dance – Mark Williams
Rondeau – Mouret Leidig
Vortex – Robert Longfield
Pavane – Gabriel Faure
Woodsplitter Fanfare – Brian Balmages
Ferdinand and Miranda – David Foster – Pilkington
Carillon – Georges Bizet
Sleeper’s Wake – THE Bach
Ships of Ireland – Soon He Newbold

At the last minute we axed Ferdinand and Miranda since we ran long. I would have preferred to lose Ships of Ireland, which sounds to me like something that got cut from Pirates of the Caribbean for being too “piratey” but everyone liked it, so who am I to complain.

We switched up the order a bit, so instead of sitting next to the bass, I was between the other cello and the viola. Good for me because our violist is a teacher and has impeccable tone. A lot of our lines were very similar and my Brandenburg actually improved from being so close to her.

That said, I’m not sure I’m digging the outdoor scene:

1. Traffic: Stringed instruments got nothing on sound systems, exhaust modifications and sirens. Holey crap the world is loud. A couple of times I couldn’t hear myself.

2. Audience: It was weird to be playing as people drifted by. Low pressure and cool in a way, but kind of odd to watch people stare at you as though they can’t figure out what you’re doing – or try to skirt around you as quickly as possible. It’s kind of nice to have an attentive group of people to play for. I think some musicians would welcome the challenge of “wooing” a crowd into an audience. I’m not there yet.

3. Conditions: Maybe it’s just because my cello and I are still getting to know each other, but I was super anxious about bringing it -and playing it – outside. Given how warm it was I had all sorts of “new parent” anxieties about the wood and the heat (all 75 degrees F of it). I even brought a little throw rug in case I had to set it down at some point between songs. Of course, I refused to set it down, wrapping my body around it as I flipped through music.

I’m glad I had the experience. It was interesting to hear how different my cello sounded outdoors than indoors, and to learn to focus with all the distractions that come with being near a busy street and a major Seattle tourist attraction. Once again, having the cello in my life is pushing me into experiences I never thought I’d have, and I am the richer for it.

Have you ever played outdoors? Prefer outdoors to indoors? Have a great story about an outdoors gig? Share!


About Eddie

Watch what happens when you give a writer a cello.
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One Response to Cello in the wild: playing outdoors

  1. Yee says:

    I take it you bought a new cello 🙂 Never played outdoors before, but I would probably be using the old cello as the outdoor cello because of all the issues your described…

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