he Star that bids the Shepherd fold,
Now the top of Heav’n doth hold,
And the gilded Car of Day,
His glowing Axle doth allay!
–John Milton, 1608-1674, Comus
Day 5, 18 October 2003
Actually, if you think about it for more than a millisecond, it’s really astounding that something like this hasn’t happened to us already.
Having executed, relatively flawlessly, eighteen performances since I joined the group, an Unfortunate Incident was really quite overdue. Our standard five-person lineup consists of two individuals who are within 45 minutes of Ye Olde Plantersville (Darryl and I) but the remainder of our group has travel time that borders on hazardous duty–members of the Texas Renaissance Brass travel from as far away as Rice and Pasadena.
So, while it was most ill-fated that Eric would have a catastrophic automobile failure Saturday morning, is wasn’t exactly a surprise. In some ways, it was akin to poor Karen flopping down on the slippery gazebo last year–the echoing, meaty thwack still lives in my aural memory–statistics were in favor of it happening to somebody eventually. Lucky Eric.
As a result, while one of the kind-hearted herald trumpeters (thanks from all of us, Matt!) was racing back to Magnolia to assist Eric, whose car had to be towed to a shop, then arrangements made for repair, THEN Eric conveyed to the Festival, the rest of us were inhabiting the New Market Gazebo. There aren’t many quartets in the book, a deficiency I’ll work on changing, as soon as I have a few spare hours, but we played through all of them, with multifaceted Darryl inventing horn parts in his head, and by turns one of us taking the third of the chord when it was apparent that it was, unfortunately, in the horn part (the horn book was, of course, in Eric’s car).
As it turned out, the only thing wrong with the Diva-mobile was a broken serpentine belt. Total cost, towing, parts, and labor: $60. I sincerely hope that Eric thanks whatever gods he may worship (bowing towards Mecca, lighting a candle, beheading a chicken, etc.) for letting him off so easy.
I notice after our first set that I’m not playing very well today; I’ve missed a few notes in the first set, and the timbre of my horn is more comparable to a bull in mid-geld than to a brass instrument. It’s been a hectic week, and I suppose the sleep deprivation is starting to takes its inevitable toll. My week starts on Monday and Tuesday with cramming 40 hours of information technology consulting into two days, force-feeding Unix servers in seven different states a varied diet of PHP, Perl, SQL, and other cool acronymic supplements (every other day of the week I’m usually coding or designing graphics, screen layouts, etc. until at least 2am).
Wednesday starts the private lesson segment of the week; I’m the low brass instructor for a local school district (Tomball) and on Wendesday, Thursday, and Friday, I teach a total of 35 private lessons (trombone, bass trombone, euphonium, and tuba) at six different campuses (campi?). Thursday nights I conduct, along with Darryl, the Woodlands Concert Band, a very good civic band located in, duh, The Woodlands. My portion of this concert series, which starts next Tuesday, is Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D minor, the Berceuse and Finale from Stravinsky’s Firebird, and P. D. Q. Bach’s March of the Cute Little Wood Sprites. Needless to say, I’m pretty trashed most weekends, but I calculated Friday evening that I’ve already put in 60 hours of consulting since Sunday night last, and the week isn’t over yet.
In fact, the entire group seems just a little on the listless side, just enough to be noticeable by ourselves–small wonder, really; here’s a quick sketch of today’s squad, and what they do besides suspend their disbelief for two days:
Darryl: Darryl is the first trumpet and the leader of the Texas Brass, which means in addition to knowing all the music inside and out, he has to rustle up the gigs, deal with the agents, keep the books, purchase and collate the music, keep the website up to date, and myriad other thankless tasks. He also is the instrumental music director at a local school, teaches about thirty private lessons per week, as well as having a number of gigs out and about every week–as well as being the artistic director and principal conductor of the Woodlands Concert Band mentioned above. Plus, his stepdaughter and grandkids just moved into his house. Eeeyow.
Eddie: No, I have no friggin’ idea why his nickname is “Tiger.” What can I say about Eddie? Oh, there’s the obvious stuff, e.g., he plays like a fucking MACHINE–put it in front of him, and out pops the music–he gigs like a madman (in fact, that’s what he does, period), he is the composer of over a hundred works, as well as the author of a trumpet method, and runs his own sprawling, megaplex of a website. The best way to describe Eduardo is “philosopher-king,” with a touch of Miles Davis thrown in for good measure. Last year, he’d stretch out in the bed of his truck and sleep between sets, as he had most often been out at a jazz or salsa job until 3 or 4am. This year, he is our Saturday 2nd trumpet, and most often strips out of his Renaissance garb and into his tuxedo after the last set, standing next to his truck, and then whooshes off to another gig.
Chris, our Sunday 2nd trumpeter, is a Master’s student in trumpet performance at Rice. As such, he’s in about a gajillion ensembles, including the orchestra and multiple chamber groups. He also freelances a great deal, and has about as many private students as I do, in the same school district. Chris spent a year as a member of the Monterrey (Mexico) Symphony before coming to Houston as well. (Sorry, Chris, don’t have a good picture of you yet)
Eric makes me sick. In a good way. Let me expand a bit on this so you understand.Professionally, he’s somewhat akin to Eddie, in that he’s a monster on his horn. Beautiful, singing tone, brilliant sight-reading skills, and quite knowledgeable about the composers and the social milieu from which they sprang. Half of the year, he’s not even in Houston–he’s playing in an opera orchestra in Sarasota, FL. Additionally, he speaks at least two other languages passably well–French and German–and, perhaps most importantly, he’s witty as hell. Pick a topic, any topic, and he can intelligently and capably discuss its essential crux as well as its hidden details. And, he’s a snappy dresser. And he probably weighs 80 pounds less than I do, the bastard.
Paul is our Saturday tenor trombonist, alternating with Karen (see below). Paul is a graduate of Rice, and like most players who have lived through that Temple o’ Higher Learnin’, he’s a abundantly proficient player. (although I will confess that on the first weekend, when some of the more difficult works in the Texas Brass book popped up for Paul to sight-read, I cackled in a most ungentlemanly manner, remembering the hot, bitter tears I figuratively shed last year when pieces like Le Jeune’s Revecy venir du Printans landed multiple, solid clouts on my balls.) Much in the fashion of Eric, Karen, and I, he has an arid sense of humor. Why do I persist in calling him “Big Paul?” I don’t know. It just sounds good. Other than this, I don’t know what the fuck he does. Leave a comment, you bastage.Karen, I know you’re reading this. I’m sorry I had to use last year’s photo. I’ll take a new one this weekend. Please do not hurt me.
Karen is our own Unsinkable Molly Brown. Wonderful musician, funny as shit, actually gets most of the more esoteric humor I spew out of my gaping maw at times. NOTHING SLOWS THIS WOMAN DOWN. From last year’s Diaries you may recall that being great with child (and buddy, I mean fucking GREAT with child) did not keep her from performing with us. As mentioned above, and also in last year’s screed, she had a truly terrifying plunge to the wet floor of our gazebo–and, cat-like, twisted on descent to land on her bumpus and kept her horn held high, out of harm’s way. Truth be told, if I had fallen, I probably would have broken both legs and fractured my goddamned pelvis. She got up and started playing. Fuck. During the week, she’s a assistant prof in a southeast Houston college district, teaching applied lessons and conducting the band, as well as freelancing. And she designs and sews all her own Renaissance garb.
Then, there’s me… *sigh*
Needless to say, if I ever actually allow myself to dwell on the company I’m keeping, I really feel intimidated. I’m surprised that I’ve managed to fit in as well as I have; were the roles reversed, I’d welcome myself about as ardently as a plague rat. Usually I can cover well enough with a sharply-honed wit, simulated yet convincing stage presence, and dazzling feats of inspired faking. Truth be known, however, about the best I can really muster with these guys is shining episodes of mildly energetic idiocy.
Eric and I wander around a bit after our last set; I have in mind to somehow acquire a new hat, but nothing catches my fancy. One of the shows we see (and hear) is this group of bagpipers with Celtic dancers, rather like an exceedingly diminutive Riverdance. If I plug up my ears, everything looks kosher. However, the pipes are playing what appears to be an old Pantera tune–or maybe it’s Def Leppard–I’m getting old and can’t tell the difference all the time any more, not that there ever was much difference to begin with. I psychologically beat the anachronism monster in my soul back down to a grousing mumble.
Eric and I both notice that while we spy some exceptionally interesting patrons, some exquisitely so, nothing really shocks us anymore. One thing most assuredly did shock me, however, and I relate this tidbit as a cautionary tale–and I mean no offense to the hardworking vendors at this particular shoppe, nor do I wish to demean the wares; there may be those of you out there who find this particular cuisine appetizing. If so, by all means, take, eat–I speak only for myself.
No matter how appetizing it sounds, I do not recommend ordering a “battered pig.” It is not a sandwich. It is not like anything you have ever eaten. Well, I take that back–it’s kind of like a corn-dog. In fact, it is a heavily battered, then deep-fried pork sausage on a stick. Call it a “corn-hog.” It resembles nothing so much as a severed, impaled horse penis.The chips were good, though.I’m so tired and wrung out by the end of Saturday’s shenanigans (and the lingering psychic trauma inflicted by the corn-hog) that I simply fold into the Cherokee and wobble off home; I’m asleep by 9pm. As I drift off, it occurs to me that the Festival is nearing its halfway point.
Day 6, 19 October 2003
Due to our revolving personnel, sometimes making sure that the musicians have the correct identification gets to be a pain. Yeah, we could trade off parking tags and identification cards, but the last thing any of us want to happen is to be pinged by the management as “those damn rule-breaking brass players.” So, to avoid this, I have agreed to meet Karen outside the TRF precincts at 9:15am to hand off her official, real, legal hang-tag and ID. I’m usually rolling into the Fest at around 9:35 or so; this morning, it’s more like 9:05, and there is NOBODY on the road. Rather Lost Highway-ish.Our pre-agreed meeting place is this little “church” just across the railroad tracks after one turns in to the TRF employee entrance. No, I mean RIGHT ACROSS THE TRACKS.
I think it’s the “Believer’s Fellowship,” but I can’t remember. The interesting thing is that it is housed in a mobile home. We have these in Alabama as well–you can tell this is a hoity-toity Texas mobile-home church because the roof on this one is shingle, not tin. Oh, and there’s no visible livestock. Very upscale compared to where I grew up.
We dive into our opening set, and immediately a division is noticeable. Those of us who were performing yesterday (Darryl, Eric, and I) are in no mood for uptempo, chops-o-steel stuff yet. On the other hand, Chris and Karen apparently ate lots of red meat last night, rare, and are hankerin’ for some killer stuff. My face, from nose to chin, is tingly and a bit numb. Apparently, so is Darryl’s. He wins. We play chorales, thank God.For the sixth day in a row now, we’ve had delightful weather and good crowds, and as a result, both our musical aptitude and deposits made to the tip-basket reflect this. Excellent! After last year’s dismal turnouts, this is a phenomenally welcome change. Obviously, the tips are cool, but on a more professional level, we always play better with a crowd–and we’ve had good crowds. Much easier to get “in the slot” when you have an audience, especially the satisfyingly appreciative ones we’ve had so far. In my daily saunter down to Istanpitta’s performances, I’ve noticed the same thing.However, when I visit their gazebo today, I am singled out, almost immediately upon taking my seat, to be the “audience volunteer” for the story that accompanies a Cantigas de Santa Maria. Short version: I am a glutton, I eat like a pig, I choke on a rabbit bone, I die, I am resurrected. Santa Maria! Somewhat embarrassing, but having Stephanie (and, of course, Al) stroke my belly was noteworthy.
During our last set, we were paid a visit by a remarkable individual.I am at a loss as to how to describe this fellow. He was obviously somewhat learned in the ways of musicology; the simple fact that he actually knew who Johann Christoph Pezel (1639-1694) is a decent indicator. He requested work after work by Pezel, applauding with great energy and, er, force, after each. For other TRF/RenFaire performer-types who are reading this: Do you occasionally get a patron at your stage who is just a little too attentive; whose eyes are just a bit too bright; whose skin is just a wee bit too pasty for comfort? Not threatening, not rude; in fact, exceptionally garrulous, to the point of wanting to talk while you’re performing? This is the guy we had.
Indeed, he had some shocking news to impart, namely that a very familiar work by J. S. Bach, the Musette from the Notebook for Anna Magdelena Bach, has been recently discovered to have been composed by Herr Pezel, mentioned above. Karen and I blinked, gave each other a blank look, and then immediately and cheerfully agreed with him. “Won’t Anna Magdelena be angry!” I pointed out.For the rest of the day, snippets ‘twixt Karen and I took this form:
K: Hey, did you know that the Little Fugue in G minor was really written by Rachmaninoff?
R: No shit? I thought that Bach was a contemporary of Stravinsky?
K: No, you’re thinking of Johann Freiederich Pezelbach.
R: –and his pupil, Sebastian Cabot Phillipglassenbach (etc.)
I did manage to make it by Wyndnwyre’s stage, and got a shot of them; as fate would have it, Therese’s face is behind the harp. Poop.
I didn’t even get by Istanpitta’s last set; as with Saturday, I was just plain trashed and went home–and to sleep. However, Monday, I did a fairly exhaustive internet search on the whole “Pezel is Bach” thing, to the point of calling one of my old music history professors and asking him to look into it. No references of any kind, ANYwhere, about this. (Just in case you were on the edge of your seats).
The cool things I discovered were that several of the other groups at the TRF have websites of note; I’ll be adding them all (eventually) to the links section on this site; for the time being, while you wait patiently for the weekend, here are a few to keep you busy.
The Texas Renaissance Festival Beefeaters: Yep, the Beefeaters have their, and it’s quite cool. I can now say with absolute confidence that the Beefeater who gave me my crash-course on Rennies last year was none other than Sergeant Major Macbean. Macbean rocks.
Queen Anne’s Lace: As you may remember from last week’s writing, QALace occasionally performs with The Texas Brass on Sundays.
Ded Bob: Holy shit. This guy is a fucking riot. Judging from his website, he’s somewhat hyperpolitical, but the barbs of sarcasm and satire are always on the mark.