Words that you do not want to see on the day of a recording project in a heritage church that does not have air-conditioning:
Extreme heat alert
Severe thunderstorm watch
Planning a recording takes a huge amount of advance work. Emails fly back and forth as I collect dates and data from the other soloist, the conductor, the composers, the orchestra, and the venue. And after all of that sometimes, the things beyond our control add a completely unexpected level of challenge. Weather and family always come first in this situation.
Monday, July 17 dawned bright and hot. I had time to make a new reed and then Guy and I went early to the St Anne’s church on Gladstone Avenue (near Little Italy in Toronto and across from the Cadbury factory). We stopped to buy snacks for our orchestra. Our engineer, Ed Marshall, arrived early to check his gear which was already in place. We had already moved the pews and set up the orchestra during the previous day’s rehearsal. Our extra drummer arrived early (he hadn’t been available for the previous day’s rehearsal) and we moved the viola section over to make room for him in the centre of the group. Our composer/guitarist arrived and we found a spot for him and his monitors behind the bass section.
Our spectacular conductor (Eric Paetkau) string players arrived and everyone commented on the heavy humidity and the heat.
We got into position with two drummers, electric guitar, and chamber strings (including our jazz bassist friend Daniel Fortin) and Guy and me as solo trumpet and bassoon.
The session went hard and fast and we played flat out for about three hours of the four-hour session (with two 20 min breaks). Everyone was hot but it went really well. Our composer (Michael Occhipinti) gave very good comments and our conductor was amazingly quick at coordinating the jazz style with the classical players. There was just enough time at the end to record a short piece by Glenn Buhr for corno da caccia, bassoon and strings and we thought it would be a nice way to end before lunch and heading into the late afternoon session for the solo bassoon piece (Le Dernier Chant d’Ophélie by Mathieu Lussier).
My instrument was hot and gluey with sweat, but I had complete confidence that it would work. And that is when something strange began to happen. I could play for about 30 seconds, then keys would begin to gently stick. I really couldn’t tell which ones were doing it and the panic clouded my mind. We opted to break early so that I could talk to my repairman and take the horn into an air-conditioned space. Shane Wieler, my repairman, pointed out that this was the hottest day on record to date and it might be out of our control. But we both were puzzled because my 15,000 series Heckel is an extremely stable instrument.
During that time, my elderly father called me in a panic from his northern home (a three-hour drive from Toronto)… he really needed company and needed to get to Toronto to be with me. It has been a very hard year in terms of health for him. In the 45 minutes before I had to be recording again, I called 3 friends and found someone who could drive him part way so that I could then plan to drive an hour north and collect him after the recording session.
When we returned for the late afternoon session, I hoped against hope that it would work… we got about 4 minutes into the piece when the humidity took over again. I could not see any springs out of place on the bassoon and I used paper to clear the humidity from the pads, but it instantly took over again the minute I began to play.
Just when I realized that I was in trouble again, my cell phone began flashing my son’s name. My boy never uses the phone, so I thought it must be important. I answered, and he had forgotten his house key and his Dad was not home and not answering any calls. So I quickly tried to find a solution to that problem before trying a few more times to get through the session.
In the end, I had to cancel the session and will rebook for September, which will cost me thousands of extra dollars. The conductor asked if I could borrow a bassoon… I said no. These projects are so expensive and require such a level of preparation that I must be playing on the best bassoon available, which of course is my own! Not to mention that there would be no way to find a pro instrument in time to finish the sessions. I am now seriously considering buying a backup instrument.
We packed up for the night. The next day was scheduled for Guy’s recording of the trumpet concerto (Impressions d’Alameda) and we hoped that we might be able to slot in the short piece at the end of that session. Guy and I went for a coffee, then I drove up north to pick up my dear old Dad.
We are now in the process of finding dates that will work for the same orchestra members in September, which is a big challenge. And I will have a backup bassoon with me this time! And I will make sure that people are watching over my son and Dad before the sessions start, just so that fate will have to get inventive.
Life is complex and I think that I actually like it this way. The good news is that our engineer did the first edit on the following day, so we will have the luxury of hearing two of the pieces before we go in to record the last four pieces. This is an unprecedented gift.
I have a lot more to tell you about the rest of the sessions, but now have to get ready to go to Hamilton to speak to the young members of the National Academy Orchestra about a multifaceted life in music… I think that I know what to tell them!