It’s early December and I am knee deep in Messiah season, pumping them out on a daily basis for ensembles all across Chicagoland.
Messiah Messiah Messiah Messiah Messiah….I eat, drink, and breathe this piece morning, noon, and night this time of year. Just what I think I’ve escaped, it pulls me back in with yet another local choral rendition. These Messiah gigs can range from the sublime to the ridiculous and everything in between. I’ve had to bite my cheeks from laughing, and I’ve been genuinely moved by the music….often on the same day!
When I run into another freelancer this time of year, I usually have two questions for them:
- How Many Messiahs?
- How Many Nutcrackers?
These are bread-and-butter gigs for any freelance musicians this time of year, and I’m doing several of each the entire month of December.
I wrote a little piece last year around this time about a funny crash-and-burn performance I did of Handel’s Messiah. This kind of wacky events really are par for the course. Sometimes the train wrecks are, in fact, the only thing distinguishing one Messiah from another.
One day I played a quadruple (yes, a quadruple) service day that featured a full Messiah at the end of it! Imagine playing three separate gigs, in three separate towns, and then slogging through three hours (if the conductor’s moving the tempos along decently) of a Messiah performance. My fellow musicians started to wilt on the vine, as did I. D major, G major, A major, Bb major, E minor–they all blend together into a soupy mess of tonality at the end of a day, and it is all you can do to keep your head from exploding.
I had a wacky little experience playing Messiah this past weekend. The wackiness came completely from external factors and not from musical ones; in fact, all of my Messiahs this weekend were extremely polished and a real pleasure to play.
My wife got into a fender bender earlier this week, leaving us with only one functioning car. This might have been only a minor inconvenience for many couples, but for two freelance musicians (she plays harp) it wreaks logistical havoc on our schedules. We suddenly find ourselves trying to figure out how to get a harp and a bass into a car that can really only fit one or the other.
This Sunday, my wife had a harp gig in Evanston (our hometown), and I had a gig in Skokie (plus some teaching later that day), the town immediately west of us. I was pondering how we could possibly coordinate our schedules without renting a car (which would obliterate our profits for the day). Things weren’t looking good.
Suddenly, the perfect solution came to me:
I would walk to all of my gigs for the day!
That way, my wife could have the car, and I could simply trudge around Evanston and Skokie. That would work, right?
Filled with smug satisfaction from my awesome problem-solving skills, I sat down with Google Maps and typed in the addresses of where I needed to go.
Travel Distance: 3.0 miles
Hmmm….. 3 miles. Could I walk that with my bass?
I went to my wife, overjoyed at my solution.
She seemed dubious.
My conviction in this plan was unwavering, but she eventually convinced me to at least accept a ride to the gig. I would then proceed to walk about 2.5 miles with my bass to my first lesson, then another 2 miles home.
Now, sitting at my computer in my nice cozy home, I can only think one thing:
Am I totally insane, or just insane when it comes to calculating reasonable walking distances with my bass?
As my wife drove me to the gig, I couldn’t help but notice that everything outside had an eerie icy sheen to it, and that the icy drizzle that had started the day before had continued through the night and following day. My car was encased in a block of ice before we left, and I had to hammer away at all the windows to chip off a solid 1/2 inch layer of frozen obstruction before we could take off.
I also couldn’t help but notice that the sidewalks and streets were all glistening with that same icy sheen that I had so vigorously chipped away from the car.
I set my bass down in the hall, already dressed in my tuxedo for the performance. Time for coffee! I’m a coffee junkie, and any break in my schedule automatically becomes a coffee break. The neighborhood in which I was playing my gig offered few options for coffee, but I spied a 7-Eleven at the end of the street and began to walk that way.
At least I tried to walk. I ended up slipping and sliding my way down glistening icy sidewalks, trying to use my dress shoes as ice skates on my way to get a cup of Joe.
I paid for my coffee, walked out the front door, and….
……found myself on my back on the ice, my just purchased cup crushed in my right hand, my arm on fire from the scalding black coffee, my tuxedo shirt soaked with my wasted brew.
I stood up, cursing and frantically patting at my burned flesh, grabbing snow from the 7-Eleven parking lot and rubbing it on my skin. My head had hit the concrete, and my neck felt twisted and weird, but I hadn’t torn any holes in my clothes, so I got up, dusted myself off, and limped back down the ice toward the concert venue.
I went to the bathroom and tried to soak my tuxedo shirt sleeve in water to prevent the inevitable coffee stain (most orchestra musicians have nasty stains like this on their clothes, especially if you catch them in the right light), then played the program. It went off smoothly, and I packed up, ready to get my multi-mile walk going.
Having now done this walk, I can say in hindsight that I am a freakin’ idiot. This was probably one of the dumbest things I have done in recent memory. I had exactly one hour to make it to my next appointment, and it took me the entire hour to walk the distance with my bass. This would have been a breeze under normal circumstances (even with my bass), but everything….was covered… in ice!
And I mean everything. Every sidewalk was a glassy and treacherous surface, every tree was encased. Heck–even the snow was encased in a top coating of ice.
I took one step out the door of the concert venue and immediately felt myself start to slide around, my feet doing a frantic dance on the ice to keep me and my big old bass upright.
It quickly became apparent that no walking would be able to be done on these sidewalks. It took ma a solid five minutes to simply traverse the parking lot to the first street, and I saw an elderly couple leaving the concert in front of my start to take a dive into the ditch as they made their way to their car.
I began talking to myself:
"Jason, you’re an idiot."
"What are you thinking?"
"This is death. You are now doing to die. Isn’t that great? It is now time to die."
"It was nice knowing you, bass. I know that you will be broken before the end of this walk. We’ve had some good times…"
I figured that walking in the street was the best option. The problem, of course, is that cars also use the street. And nothing was shoveled, meaning that I had to cross-county ski my way down the icy tire treads cars had carved on the street, listening for traffic creeping up behind me, and then step over into ice-encrusted 18 inch snow with my bass and hope that the oncoming traffic noticed me (in my black outfit and black bass case!).
Eventually, I had to try to cross some major streets. It was simply unavoidable. I somehow got out into the middle of the turning lane of a divided road, cars whizzing by me on both sides, looking for an opening to do my gimpy ice shuffle across the street, praying that folks in cars were paying attention and that no one wanted to do a left turn.
I had to also cross the North Branch of the Chicago River. Again, this is an unavoidable obstacle for a guy trying to get from where I was going to where I needed to be. All the sidewalks on the major streets, however, were total ice sheets. Certain death. And climbing an ice sheet in a tuxedo up a bridge over a river with cars cruising by was not my idea of fun.
Unfortunately, there were no other options. I ended up going for it, holding on to the icy railing with one hand, my bass with another, legs stretched out, whispering prayers to myself, trying my darndest not to fall and die.
I made it.
I was then in an industrial zone of Evanston, trying to get to my next appointment, freezing yet also drenched in sweat, right arm aching from the burns earlier that day, 45 minutes into carrying my bass, and hating life.
I slipped and slid my way to the next appointment, arriving just on the button.
I didn’t mention that I had walked several miles in the middle of an ice storm in my tuxedo carrying a bass over divided highways and frozen rivers.
That would make me seem weird.