Tales of Baritone Horn

After a busy weekend with various bands, I took a vacation day on Monday. My “vacation” consisted of trimming a hedge and mowing a lawn at my father's lot, and mowing the lawn at my parent's house. As it was in the mid-90s and one of the hottest days of the year, I subsequently passed out and lost the rest of my day off. As the saying goes, if I can't take the heat, try, try again. I think that's a saying. There is a sun that I got too much chance this weekend and it's braining my affect. Still, let's see if I can recall some highlights from my fun but busy weekend:

• On Saturday afternoon, one of the bands I play for was booked to entertain a former senator and his family. It may well have been one of the easiest gigs we ever had. We arrived and met outside the yacht club where the gathering was being held, and the senator led us inside. Since our trumpet player is partially blind and couldn't see where he was going, and the band leader who booked the job had another engagement, I had to step forward and follow the senator as he waved us on from table to table, and eventually out on to the dance floor in the middle of the room. We picked up probably every child in attendance, all wielding inflatable guitars that they used like swords or baseball bats to pummel me repeatedly. When we finished our first song, I turned to the crowd of children separating the senator and myself from the rest of the band, and they all threw a fist in the air in a rock and roll gesture of triumph. The other musicians pushed their way through, and we played about four or five more tunes before being led back outside. From beginning to end, the job took about 15 minutes at most, leaving my father, the partially-blind trumpet player, and myself plenty of time to get to our next gig with another band out in Queens.

• I always enjoy the job we played on Saturday afternoon. The old Italian women from the region of Italy where their club originated sing hymns and balance vases with flowers on their heads, maintaining some tradition from the old country. Since we arrived early, we were the first ones they told to play only hymns, as they had some complaints about us playing the ”Faccetta Nera”. It's a great song to play, disregarding the lyrics or the fact that it was a symbol of Mussolini and the Fascist movement. Musically it's fine; politically, not so much. Depending on what region of Italy our audience is from, it's either a really popular song or cause for great disgust. In general, the ladies of this particular society didn't want any marches or songs that weren't solemn or religious. We told our band leader when he arrived, and he still called out a march as our first song, though not a fascist one. We managed to play mostly hymns, but at the end when we arrived at the outdoor chapel where they were about to have a mass, our leader asked us to play the Reginella Campagnola, an upbeat melody also known as the “Woodpecker Song”. One of the women came up waggling a finger frantically, looking at me as though I was the one to choose the song. She told us that was not an appropriate song for church. After that, we played one more hymn and we were done. It will be a miracle if we get hired again next year.

• On Sunday, I headed to Little Italy on what I thought was the hottest day of the year, before I mowed two lawns on Monday. I caught a subway downtown, hoping it would take me to my destination. It wasn't the line I originally intended to take, as signs indicated track work was being done, but it was one that normally stopped at some of the same places. When I didn't recognize some of the names of the stops, I began to wonder if I was even still in Manhattan. Eventually, enough people got off the train that I could make out the garbled voice of the woman on the loudspeaker. I thought she had been saying the train was making all local stops, which it was, but then she listed exceptions, of which my stop was one. Wherever I was, I got off, and darted up and down a set of steps to get to the uptown platform and change trains. When one of the stops was the Brooklyn Bridge, I realized I had actually left New York before doubling back on the uptown line which was making stops that the downtown line wasn't.

I had still left early enough that the subway snafu was a minor inconvenience. The band leader was already pacing even though we had an hour until the procession. His son was a little calmer and told him we had plenty of time when he started yelling for everyone to get outside. We were going to be in the hot sun enough that day, and there was no need to stand in it sooner than necessary. As the church emptied and the society posed for photographs, we played a few tunes, joined by “Wah-wah”, a local mentally-disturbed shouting Chinese man that follows the feast every year. Sometimes he has a drum, as he did this year. Other times he has a trumpet. I'm honestly not sure what his real name is; my guess is that it's “Walter” and people are just imitating the way he's pronouncing it. It may well be something like “Wah-wah”, but I doubt I'm spelling it correctly.

Our first stop outside a funeral home offered plenty of homemade wine, which was probably a mistake. Alcohol dehydrates. At one point I closed my eyes during a song, and the drummer had to tap me on the shoulder for me to realize the band had started walking forward again. Eventually we got to a bank of restaurants, and one actually offered us cold water, which is more of a rarity than you might think. Years ago, people would feed the band at a feast; now we're lucky to get beverages.

Four hours later, we arrived back at the church, playing ”When the Saints Go Marching In”. Inexplicably, “Wah-Wah” suddenly appeared brandishing a guitar, the drum he'd followed us with all day nowhere in sight. He only knew about three chords, which actually put him on par with a lot of the bands I liked when I was in college. We finished the day by playing the courtyards of a nearby apartment complex, which turned out to be interesting since the security guards outside each place were not informed of our plans apparently and had to call their superiors for verification. Afterwards, our bass drummer very cleverly ducked out without telling anyone, because the band leader and his son were trying to get a free ride home from him since he had been the only one to drive in. So, they both took the subway back to the train station with me instead. I missed my train by 3 minutes and had to wait a half hour for the next one, which wasn't bad. I even had a random sighting of my old friend “Sparkplug”, who happened to be in the city that day walking through the train station while I was waiting. When I got on my train, I caught movement out of the corner of my eye and saw the band leader and his son standing inside the train on the next track, waving frantically. My ride home was uneventful, save for one woman loudly arguing with someone on a cellphone, and another who kept giving her baby keys to play with, which he would promptly throw on the floor. These things woke me up a few times, and it was nice to finally get home and recover from my adventures, until my next journey....


Blogger Lorna said...

why does a subway trek in New York sound so continental and sophisticated and a ride on the Ottawa bus like a horrendous chore? BTW, I saw District 9 on Sunday and am still recovering---it was a good movie, and the technology was amazing, but I could have done with fewer body parts.

8/18/2009 7:36 PM  

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