Showcase Performance – another day in life of classical performers.

Guy Few and I flew to Charlottetown last Thursday evening (September 29) to perform at Contact East and to connect with old and new friends.  Contact East  is a large showcase event that brings artists, presenters and agents together annually in the Maritimes.  This year’s sessions were held in Charlotttetown and Summerside, Prince Edward Island.   

This was the third industry showcase experience that we have had as a duo and it was fantastic.I got immersed in the moment, happy to submerge myself in playing, listening, meeting new people, all the while wishing that I could attend more events and write about every moment of the experience.   I loved being there with Guy who is so experienced, has many friends already in this troubadour business and is so good at making new friends and openly celebrating their music.  For his part, Guy has concluded that I am a ‘conference person’ who gets inspired by the interactions and performances, much as I am inspired by actually performing.  Our experienced managers (Andrew Kwan and Erin Sparks) were unobtrusively yet completely supportive.  Heaven.

In some ways, we were simply doing the things that we do every day of our performing lives… thinking ahead, planning the show from different perspectives, rehearsing and preparing the music, making reeds, making contacts, listening to other artists, talking to our mangers, reaching out to new people.  And like every other performance, we also did not know exactly what to expect so all of these things become new again.  Any performance requires attention to countless details and preparing an industry showcase has some unique features.  First, you need an organized management who applies on your behalf… of course you can also do it yourself (!)

Long before we left for Charlotetown, we spent time choosing both the music and the commentary that would best represent us… it took a couple of run throughs to chop the presentation down to the allowable time.   Short pieces, such as Flight of the Bumblebee, could be played in their entirety; longer works (St-Saens Sonata) had to be represented by a single movement and we even represented a section of a large concerto by playing a segment of the slow movement senza orchestra.   It is very important to choose vibrant music that represents us and equally important to keep the audience wanting more!We took the time to run our showcase for students and ourselves and later edited the talking parts of the show, choosing from the many personal stories that we have used in our concerts over the last 6 years.  It was tempting to wing the showcase because it contains material that we have used in many times before, yet we fine-tuned our mental road maps so that we could navigate from one piece to the next, deliver our broader message and still connect the music.   Since we are each strong minded and opinionated soloists, advance planning has been shown to aid considerably in creating a smooth flight!

Already a superior experience to the standard orchestra audition, the showcase presentations lasts no longer than 20 minutes and take place in a live concert setting before a large audience of presenters and agents.  The conference took advantage of diverse venues in Charlottetown and Summerside, and our venue was in a the venerable Mack Theatre in Charlottetown.  We had a sound check in the afternoon.  The room sounded fine without amplification and the sound guys were ready to monitor things.  The lighting guys found beautiful projections to go with our show.  We got used to the upright piano… our fist time ever using an upright for the St-Saens sonata!

Our first day was full of highlights and one of the best was the presence of a very young bassoonist whose mother had made a four hour drive to bring him from New Brunswick to meet me.  Nico came to the morning masterclasses at UPEI, listening to all of my coachings of the flutes, clarinets and saxophones, and then came to the evening show case.  He and his mother were the only members of the public who were invited to attend, thanks to the kindness of the organizers of Contact East…  a table directly in front of the stage so that they would have the best possible view.  I felt like I had true family with me in the audience!

The actual show went better than I could have dreamed… a couple of glitches fed smoothly into our patter (e.g. my bracelet got caught in my ornate bustle just after Guy’s classic “Princess” story and the audience of supposedly jaded professionals laughed their hearts out… one big manager told us afterwards that our mini-concert demonstrated exactly the direction that he wants to see classical music going… high performance standards combined with joy in the moment along with communicativeness, extreme clothing… exuberance that is normally associated with other genres.

Every experience will always be different and each experience gives you a potential road map for the next yet you can never collapse into certainty that these will be the same.  Every trip needs a new map, and just like the evolution of GPS, we are constantly honing our responsiveness when it comes to delivering the music and the stories.  The important thing is to always be working then connecting with real, live people.  This conference was an amazingly stimulating micro-cosm;  surrounded by great artists in multiple disciplines and stages of their performing lives was so enlivening.We have no obvious preparation for this kind of work in our schooling, yet our training as classical musicians gives us all of the discipline to develop any kind of music that we want.  Our depths and interests as human beings are the things that drive us to create a  show for others, to bring the music and stories out into the open for people to comprehend the common ground.