Musings on One Fun Gig

Today I had the pleasure of performing background music at a 90th birthday party. The "birthday boy" is looking very hearty and hale. Both he and his wife could easily be mistaken for being 20 years younger. When I first spoke to the couple, they requested that I play a wide range of music as the youngest family member is 3 months old, while the "birthday boy" represents the top end. I really enjoyed putting this program together, which had everything from All of Me and Fly Me to the Moon to Avril Lavigne's Breakaway and Super Mario Brothers; with some improvising thrown in.

The great grandchildren came to chat with me about music, Guitar Hero II and karate while I played the Inspector Gadget Theme and Willy Wonka's Welcome Song. One six-year old asked if he could play with me so we jammed on a boogie pattern while his cousins bopped to the music and "comped" when the inspiration struck.

They said my hands moved pretty fast. Meanwhile, I was thinking, "I need to practice my scales even more!" I stayed to chat afterwards with one of the grandchidlren, a former coworker of mine whom I haven't seen in years. It was a pleasant surprise to see her there.

The gig wasn't without its glitches. My break was used up over a dropped key. When the party moved to the venue's dining room, I found the piano locked. I went to get the key when it fell into the piano. Three gentlemen (four if you count my six-year old assistant) tried to pull it out because it fell in the most inconvenient spot.

I also think perhaps the Heritage Park ghosts decided to play a practical joke on me as my pages kept flipping on their own during my Beatles songs and Breakaway. Perhaps it was their way of saying that they wanted more ragtime and boogie? Who knows?

With a bit of tweaking and revising, I think I can reuse the program at future gigs.

(c) 2008 by Musespeak(tm), Calgary, AB, Canada. All rights reserved.

Gig Music Selections

I just drafted up my playlist for the "rock music" wedding this upcoming long weekend. The book I am using for most of the ceremony is a lot better than I thought it would be. Pretty decent arrangements. Here are some of my favourite books that I like to use at gigs throughout the year:

Classic Rock

Lounge Music Collection

Lounge Music look inside Lounge Music (E-Z Play Today Volume 162). By Various. For Organ, Piano/Keyboard, Electronic Keyboard. E-Z Play Today. Softcover. 104 pages. Published by Hal Leonard (HL.100049)Smp_stars50 (6) ...more info

 Best Fake Book Ever

I recently purchased a jazz fake book but the title escapes me. I'll add that onto the list at a later date, once I've had a chance to try it out.

(c) 2006 by Musespeak(tm), Calgary, AB, Canada. All rights reserved.

Wedding Music and Wedding Gigs

What goes into preparing for a gig? A little bit of administration and a sufficient amount of practice. Things never go according to plan, so you also need to be prepared for anything. I played at a wedding on Saturday. I don’t mind sharing it since it was an interesting gig (and the couple were wonderful to work with, so I hope they don’t mind that I share this).

The bride contacted me in the summer to perform at her wedding. We played phone tag for a couple of rounds first. She was in the process of finalizing the date and venue but wanted to check my availability.

One week later, she dropped of a deposit to secure my services, with the balance to be paid at the ceremony. By mid-September, we had enough information to negotiate length of the engagement and cost.



This wedding was a little different from the norm. The couple wanted cocktail music prior to the ceremony. No processional, signing of the register or recessional music. After the ceremony, they asked me to play Forever in Blue Jeans by Neil Diamond.



They made several special requests, which I was fine with since they gave me ample notice. A little My Fair Lady, a little classic rock and some rumbas. I wound up purchasing a fake book with over 1,000 songs in lead sheet format. It was a good excuse for me to learn how to improvise an accompaniment. Slowly but surely, I am getting better at it.



I began practicing in earnest for the gig three weeks before the wedding. However, a horrible cold impeded my practicing two weeks before the wedding. That’s when we finalized all the details that were required on the booking agreement. The bride paid the outstanding balance when she submitted the signed contract.


The families were in the throes of last minute preparations when I arrived. Musicians feed off of the excitement in the air on performance day. But my stomach churned when I reached the piano. The damper pedal was broken. Of all the pedals, it had to be the one pianists need the most for pop songs.




After a mild panic attack, years of lessons kicked in and I remembered finger pedalling, which involves holding notes longer than written and blurring the sounds together that way. It went all right but I was completely thrown off by the loss of my favourite tool. My right foot kept reaching for the pedal that wouldn’t work.


I had a couple of false starts in Forever in Blue Jeans but smoothed things over with comedic patter. Other than that, was quite pleased with my faking prowess that evening. I had a healthy break when I dined with the guests (prime rib, yummy!) and sat through speeches.

Want to know more about what it’s like to perform at gigs? I’m writing my first novel (it’s fiction but inspired by reality). Not sure when it’ll be published, seeing as I’m only on Chapter 3. Stay tuned!


© 2005 by Musespeak™, Calgary, Alberta, Canada. All rights reserved.

Lost and Found....Odds and Ends

Here I was, happily posting blog entries when I was surprised by an e-mail from a friend a few days ago. She asked where my blog content went. Sure enough, "Musings" disappeared. My friend and I inspected the code and I explored my settings - all to no avail. This evening, on a lark, I changed the template to blue (Calliope's colour - Calliope is my writing moniker) and now everything is fine. The weekend's gigs went well. I was a little disconcerted by Saturday's wedding however. Small weddings in large churches make me feel odd to begin with. Small weddings in large churches where 90% of the guests don't sing along are especially disconcerting. I especially worked hard with the priest to pick mass settings that were familiar to the couple's families. I tried to lead in the singing but wound up sacrificing the chords I so studiously figured out the night before. What can I say? It was a quiet crowd. Lovely ceremony though and the couple looked fantastic.

Yesterday's gig was an adventure. I managed to improvise on four boogie woogie rhythms. The first attempt was the best, by far and garnered some applause and cheers. It was a good thing I practiced improvising as I wound up ditching the slow songs in favour of more upbeat tunes to match the crowd's mood.

There was a cowboy singing duo, complete with a washtub and amplified guitar in another room during cocktails. During dinner, we were located on opposite ends of the dining room, which was fine. However, as the evening progressed, the cowboys inched closer and closer to the piano. With 10 or 15 minutes left to my gig, I turned to the people sitting closest to me and said, "I think it's time for me to go get dessert." I wound up relaxing and listening to the cowboys for the rest of my time. There was no way I was going to win against an amplified guitar and cowboys who were challenging the patrons to sing and dance. As I was packing up to leave, the cowboys took over the piano area completely.

Ah well, them’s the breaks. It was an adventure and the food was delicious. Another gig came through the pipes this morning. Another wedding but it’s a cocktail music + wedding music + dinner music combo all in one place. Guess what they’ve asked for? You’ve got it, honky-tonk and boogie woogie.

© Musespeak, Calgary, AB, 2005. All rights reserved.

Adventures in Teaching and Playing

My students and I are starting to get used to our school-year routine (a couple of students who forgot about their lessons the week before). Even Maestro is learning to be the model teaching assistant. With the weather cooling down, I thought it was apropos when a student played "Jingle Bells" at today's lesson. This week, I asked several students to try chording (or faking) a pop song they are currently working on. For the non-music folk, it means that instead of playing what's written on the page, they will play chords in the left hand. Most pop folios write the chord symbols on top of the music. Chording accomplishes three things (at least that I can think of): it helps students learn their songs more quickly, it gives them the freedom to embellish their own accompaniment and it helps them better understand the song's form and structure.

I'm chording more these days. For the wedding that I'm playing at this weekend, I have no idea whether I will be asked to play the music for the parts of the Mass. I have a version of "Glory to God" but last night, I just realized that it's not the one we usually sing at church. Thankfully, I borrowed a hymnal from church a few weeks ago. I found the version that we usually sing. However, the hymnal only has the vocal melody. No chords. Nor chord symbols. Nada. I had to fiddle around with it and figure out the chords. It's not perfect, but it's definitely passable. After all this effort, I bet Murphy's Law will kick in and that the congregation at the wedding will just say the parts of the Mass that are often sung. Then I'll be off the hook. I should be prepared though - just in case.

(c) 2005 by Musespeak(tm). All rights reserved.