It’s not every day that I perform at a Christmas Carol event, with the pressure of getting everyone’s favourite carols perfect, and the huge organisational undertaking that most carol events entail. However, when one township asked if I could step in to replace another artist who’d been forced to pull out, I agreed.
When I met the organisers of the event, I immediately fell in love with their town. They had set up an outdoor stage on a historical rotunda that looked out over the main green space of the town. The place slowly filled up with families and groups until finally I looked out to see the whole place full of people, who started lighting their candles and holding them high.
I was the headline artist of the evening, however, there were a few other groups making an appearance, including a couple of choral groups. My keyboard was set-up on the stage of the rotunda, and was the only fixed piece of equipment that was to stay on stage the whole evening.
After being introduced by the emcee, a local minister, I did an initial set of songs and led the crowd through some great carols. With the capacity crowd holding their candles in the air in a sea of lights, singing along in full voice, it was just magical. After the final song of my first set, I walked off stage with the glow of having shared a wonderful moment with everyone.
The emcee came back on to continue the night.
I had agreed to let the choral accompanist use my keyboard for the choir songs, and I remembering hoping that my keyboard wasn’t too high for her to play. I was contemplating this as the emcee shared around the message and meaning of Christmas. He had some notes he’d refer to that he’d rested on top of my keyboard. He then went on to introduce the choir.
The choir members shuffled past me onto the stage of the rotunda. The lady pianist set up a music stand and looked to the choir conductor. The conductor lifted her hands and the choral singers all breathed in. The crowd looked on with expectation.
The pianist started to play. The choir started to sing. As soon as I heard the piano sound, I knew that something wasn’t right. I couldn’t see the face of the pianist from behind the stage, however, I could see the tension in her shoulders and feel the apprehension radiating from her.
It took me a while to try and work out what I was hearing. Then it suddenly dawned on me. The delay effect had somehow been switched on on my keyboard. Every time the accompanist played a note, the note would repeat a series of times before slowly fading out. That sounds kinda groovy when it’s a single note or strum and you are The Edge playing guitar riffs for U2. When you are playing classical Christmas choral pieces it sounds a little like a two year-old playing a piano with fists for the first time. It also has this weird crescendo sound when all the notes on the keyboard are repeating on and on and on.
At first, the crowd were oblivious to the scene. The first one to take notice apart from me and the accompanist was the conductor, closely followed by the choir. The accompanist was now much louder and more intrusive than the choir. The choir were basically singing against a wall of notes, repeating on and on.
I could see that the accompanist had a decision to make. Did she continue playing and feeding musical notes into this repeating avalanche of noise, or did she stop altogether, abandoning the choir to their own unaccompanied devices? She made her decision: she continued to play.
The sheer resolve of this lady earned my respect. She was no flighty “run away when a technical glitch occurs” accompanist.
I looked around the crowd of thousands. It dawned on me that no other person present could actually fix the issue apart from me. For a fleeting moment, I wondered if I’d be too distracting in walking back onto the stage during someone else’s performance. Then I thought I heard an attempted key change with notes thundering forth in a heinous display of delay. I knew I had to do it.
I feel like I have a slight advantage in these situations. Most of my life, I have worked in churches, where solemn occasions are so often the norm. There is a technique I have perfected when you need to move from your chair in the midst of a sermon or prayer. It’s often used when a preacher will come near the end of their message, “While the keyboard player comes back to the platform…” I’ve also used the same technique if I need to visit the bathroom at inopportune times. It involves standing, quietly walking with arms straight down by your sides, and eyes fixed on the floor in front of you. There may be a temptation to make eye contact with those you pass. It should be avoided. I call the technique, “A Slight Moving of the Air”.
I made full use of this technique as I wandered back out onto the stage. I also pulled in my shoulders, shrunk a little in height and attempted to turn my 6’3” into that of a small ninja-like squirrel. I silently approached the accompanist, although being silent was easy with the swell of delayed notes attacking all of our ears.
With the reflexes of a striking viper, my finger clicked the delay button. The ensuing clarity of sound caused people to later talk about the quality of their lives before and after the delay button was pressed. I felt a weight physically lift off the choir, the conductor and the now liberated accompanist. As I moved like a shadow from beside her, in my peripheral vision, I saw her silently mouth the words, “Thank you,” as a tear of gratitude silently flowed from her eye.
As I left the stage, I realised that the whole situation had been caused by the emcee placing his notebook a little too firmly atop my keyboard, turning the delay effect on and leading to this particular kerfuffle.
I’ve since put a policy of “No Items On My Keyboard Of Any Kind”. And I police it like the catholic school nun from the Blues Brothers. And I’m truly amazed at how people so often attempt to put things on my keyboard. Guitar picks and capos, CD’s, the entire works of Shakespeare…
I went on to perform my final set of songs without incident.