How often have you planned, worked and wished for something, only to experience disappointment when the long-anticipated event arrives? Those of you with a certain cynical tinge around your edges might say, “Always,” while even the most optimistic among us certainly know that such letdowns are an inevitable part of life in this less-than-perfect world.
If you’ve been reading here for the past few months, you know that the Global Jam — our company’s stage band composed of players from around the world — has been working since the start of the year to prepare for our 5th annual performance at the company’s annual conference (and if you need to catch up on the background, click on “Global Jam” under “Music” in the CATEGORIES widget in the right column).
“Oh no,” you’re thinking. “He’s going to tell us that after all this buildup, the Global Jam bombed, were booed off the stage, fell apart in backstage squabbles and onstage tears and vitriol, and had their tickets home revoked.” Just imagine two dozen musicians wandering the streets of Orlando, playing in the parking lots at Walgreen’s or Cracker Barrel, cases open on the ground in front of them, trying to scrape together money for standby tickets to Singapore, Amsterdam, Capetown and — my god — Canberra! Maybe a few could catch a pickup job in a band at Disney World or Universal Studios, but the rest would be trying to busk their way to the far reaches of the globe, or recall the address of that relative who moved to Charlotte — and where is Charlotte, anyway?
Fear not. It was just a cheap writerly trick. If the first line had been, “The Global Jam made our triumphant return to the stage, and, boy, did we rock!” then you wouldn’t have needed to read the details. I’ve gotten you to read this far, at least.
Our performance was to be on a Tuesday night. By mid-day Sunday, most of the band were in town, rehearsing. They worked throughout Sunday and Monday, playing several times through the entire set list of 30+ songs. This was more than a rehearsal, it was a reunion. Many of the band have been playing together for 5 years, or a least several years, and because we’re from 11 different countries, this week is our sole opportunity to see one another. There’s also the all-important job of welcoming our new members — 4 of them this year, from Brazil, Vietnam, Australia and the Netherlands — and helping them quickly feel that they’re part of the group. The rehearsal room is a nondescript meeting room, but we have a reasonable amount of audio gear and — a luxury — an audio technician to help balance things out so that it’s not just a massive cacophony in the little room. That’s not easy with drums, multiple guitars, 2 keyboards, as many as 5 horns and woodwinds and four or more singers. In an atmosphere like this, rehearsals can break down into something like the Kitchens of Hell, but the sheer terror of needing to get 24 players to coalesce the individual parts we’ve been practicing on our own into an ensemble ready to play before more than a thousand people exerts a powerful disciplinary force.
Some of the band have brought their own instruments, but the greater part of the gear is rented, and that means rehearsal consists not only of getting together as a group, but making certain that everyone can play the rented “backline,” which is the industry term for instruments, amps and related gear. We have some pretty good stuff on hand, including, for you guitar players, 3 Marshall stacks for the 3 guitars. It’s a lot of detail, including pickups for the two flute players and a violin which our audio genius, Craig, brought with him from Portland, Oregon, since he couldn’t find a good violin in Orlando.
By mid-morning Tuesday, the “push” begins: packing up all the gear and rolling it to the ballroom, and then assembling it on the stage.
1 p.m. Sound check. Since our audio tech has been with us for more than two days, and he’ll be mixing our onstage monitor mix, this goes pretty fast, and by 2 p.m., we’re ready to play through the entire set. We have until 5 p.m., when we have to give the ballroom back to some other rehearsals for the Wednesday program. We work hard and fast, and we skip a couple of numbers that we think are fairly solid, in order to save time for the tougher ones. The space onstage is very tight, as we knew it would be, dictated by non-band considerations, since the band is just 3 hours out of an entire week-long program that has to accommodate more ordinary stage business. A key part of rehearsal is making certain that everyone is ready to make the changeovers between numbers as quickly as possible, since the personnel on each number shift around. There are music stands all over the stage, primarily to hold a large chart that shows the set list and who’s playing on each number. It’s each band member’s responsibility to be onstage and ready to play for each of their numbers. We don’t have a stage manager to wrangle people. You’ve just got to be there when the drummer gives those three or four clicks to kick off the next number.
7:45 p.m. We’re onstage. There are nearly 1200 people in the room. The stage is surrounded by a vast dance floor laid down for the occasion. We’re all dressed in black, and it’s time. On the 4 giant screens, the Global Jam logo — a spinning globe wearing headphones — sets the scene. I get the job of calling up the master of ceremonies, and he introduces us. As he’s speaking, the first lineup is getting in place. He throws it to the band, there are two drum clicks to cue the 2-count lead-in, and we’re live: “Mustang Sally.”
I won’t give you a song-by-song breakdown of the performance, though I’d enjoy it. The band were wonderful. Flat out wonderful. They rocked AND they rolled. After a few numbers, we had the crowd dancing, and they continued dancing ’til we wrapped at 11 p.m. There were great moments and it was a fantastic demonstration of what a group of people who work hard and who work together can accomplish. We performed lots and lots of great dance numbers, which included songs in German, Dutch, Mandarin, Vietnamese, Portuguese, Spanish and even Australian (“Land Down Under,” performed mostly by our excellent cadre of Aussies in their native tongue).
None of you who are musicians are all that surprised. Music is the one universal language, and, other than a few issues around nomenclature, if you have a sheet of music in front of you, we all read it the same. If you don’t read music, but you play or sing, you can learn the music of Frankie Valli from Ho Chi Minh City, and, probably, you grew up hearing it.
For one night each year, that’s our privilege: to set aside any differences and focus on being a band. There is nothing more powerful and more uplifting than to stand on the stage next to Gwennie and Vivek and Jill, who can sing with the best, while over on the right are Jeroen, Mark, David and Julian making the room glow on horns. Fred and Seth are filling the room with keyboards and beside Fred is Detlef on congas and vocals. Charles, Pavel and Lem wail on guitars. Niels on harmonica! Nick on violin! Alicia, Elaine, Huy and Sharon are singing background like a choir of 20. Joe and Bill trade off on bass and Iron Man Jim holds down the drummer’s throne. We could be any band, anywhere, but we also could only be THIS band, here.
Play on, brothers and sisters!
© 2012 Brad Nixon