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  • Jessica McAllister

From Comfortable to Crazy

Updated: Dec 2, 2018

Last month, I came up against a situation that tested my limits as an event violinist in every conceivable way.


Fortunately for you, it makes for a #hilarious #new story!



When Bob [all names have been changed] contacted me about playing for a corporate dinner in Park City, I was thrilled. I love weddings, but sometimes it's nice to play for something else. . . just to shake things up.


He asked if I knew any popular Asian Chinese songs. I thought to myself, "Uuuuuh, no. Should I?"


I offered to find some online, but he opted to just stick with my repertoire. The event was barely 2 weeks away, so I was secretly relieved. A few days later, Bob asked if I could provide a list of pieces I was going to play. "I'd like to put it in the program," he explained.


Say what, now?


A program?! I thought I was playing background music during dinner. Should I be concerned?


Bob took another day and a half to respond to my inquiry requesting clarification. He pointed me in the direction of Sally, the onsite coordinator. Unfortunately, Sally wasn't much help, either. She said she was meeting with some people that night and would have a definitive answer for me the following day.


Well, the following day came and went with no answer from Sally.


"Ooookay," I thought to myself. "I'll plan on playing everything on a stage with a huge spotlight shining in my face. Then, if it turns out to be background music instead, I'll be golden!" Better to over prepare than under prepare, am-I-right?


I sent a list over to Bob and worked hard on my chosen "program" pieces for the next week. I was mentally gearing up for a huge performance.


I was feeling comfortable and confident.


Little did I know, "comfortable" would quickly morph into "crazy".

The corporate dinner was scheduled for Saturday from 7:00-9:00 PM.


On Friday at 9:00 AM, Sally asked if I could learn some pieces that her clients would recognize.


The day before the event? Is this real life?


I looked longingly at my polished repertoire. Adding one or two new pieces shouldn't be that big of a deal, right? I started composing a reply.


"Su-"


Another text came through, listing TWENTY THREE new popular pieces. . . but, hey, they weren't Asian Chinese, so at least I recognized some of them.


Here are some examples:


Hotel California

Scarborough Fair

Say You, Say Me

Unchained Melody

My Heart Will Go On

(Everything I Do) I Do It For You

Baby One More Time

We Will Rock You

etc. . .


"We Will Rock You" for an unaccompanied #violin? People, come on.


Brittany Spears? Backstreet Boys? Westlife?


Come, now. Let's think about this.


"I can definitely look and see what sheet music I can find," I told Sally, "but you need to understand that I charge $50/piece for any special requests submitted less than 2 weeks prior to the event."


And that's when I made a horrible mistake, my friends. I took pity on the company and offered a BOGO-free deal. Don't ever go that, guys. Think of your sanity.


Sally said she would let me know.


10:00 AM - no response.

12:00 PM - nothing.

2:30 PM - I sent another message to Sally, asking if I should purchase the sheet music.

3:27 PM - Sally replied, "Let me ask."


Uh. . . yeah. You might want to get on that, there, Sally.


9:00 PM - Sally texted "Ok, sounds good."


NINE O'CLOCK the night before the event, everyone. I went over the exact price with her, so there was no confusion.


"Sounds good."


Ooooo-kay.


I crawled into bed around 2:00 AM after purchasing, printing, and transcribing until I could hardly see straight. I tossed and turned for hours, stressing about whether I could learn so many new pieces in such little time. Had I bitten off more than I could chew? Had I finally met my match?!


"What was I thinking?!?" I whispered to the ceiling. "Can I even do this, physically? Let's not even talk about mentally. I must be crazy."


The next morning, my sweet husband knew I wouldn't get very much practicing done with my two little kids running around, so he loaded them up for an extended trip to their favorite place; Costco.


It took me about 4 hours, but I was able to run through all the pieces 2-3 times. And I tell you what, some of the rhythms in those 90's pop songs should be slapped. [If you're familiar with #violinists at all, you know we are not inherently skilled at complicated rhythms and "swinging" things. Percussionists, we are most definitely not. They have my utmost respect!]


In particular, I was concerned about my ability to pull off "Baby, One More Time", "Hotel California", and "We Will Rock You" as an unaccompanied #soloist. . . but I was willing to give it my best. Fake it 'till you make it, right?


It was about an hour until I needed to leave, and I was starting to feel like I could pretend to be "comfortable and confident". I was remaining remarkably calm, all things considered. Well, that was until Sally texted me and asked for a $100 discount.


Oh, Sally.


Sally, Sally, Sally.


I must say, I applaud your tenacity. Here I was, thinking it was daring to ask a musician to learn 23 new pieces with less than 24 hours notice. Not offering so much as a "thank you" when presented with a BOGO-free deal was pretty bold, too. But, man, I underestimated you!


My husband helped me formulate a professional reply, because I was running on little sleep and couldn't be trusted.


Luckily, Sally seemed to take the "nope-I-already-gave-you-a-huge-discount" in stride.

I arrived a little early so that I could set up and run through the pieces again before I was scheduled to start. Unfortunately, that didn't happen.


Basically, they said, "We're not really sure where to have you set up, but one thing is sure. . . we want you to sit in the restaurant waiting room until after cocktails, when the President is finished giving his speech."


Oh, okay.

Fast forward one and a half hours, where I'm still hanging out in the waiting room on a tiny wooden bench. I was enjoying listening to the acoustic guitarist/vocalist do his thing in another part of the restaurant, though. I'm not sure who he was, or I would give him a shout-out. He did a great job!


Anyway, when they were finally ready for me, I quickly unpacked and said a silent prayer that I could play perfectly while "cold". Ask any #musician and they'll tell you: if you want them to sound their best, you need to let 'em warm up first. Playing "cold" is, for lack of a better phrase, a nightmare.


Unaware of that fact, most the guests had their cellphones out; anxious to film me.



In hindsight, I'm glad they'll have that to look back on, because I'm fairly confident that no one could hear any of my other pieces. It was SO loud in that little room! I could barely hear myself. A few pieces in, someone busted out a wireless microphone and set it on the table next to me. I don't think that accomplished anything. In fact, I was quite certain I wasn't any louder, but the guitarist/vocalist I mentioned earlier sure seemed to be.


"Uhhhh," I thought to myself, "does anyone know where this microphone is being broadcast? Because if I'm being heard throughout the entire restaurant, I'm gonna kill over. I hope that poor musician isn't having to compete with me!"


All I could do is cross my fingers that one of the waiters would come switch off the microphone if that was the case. However, I'm pretty sure they were too busy uncorking bottles of wine to even check. Every time I glanced over, they were uncorking something.


I decided to just keep doing my thing and hope for the best, so I started up the next piece. Surprisingly enough, it was the only piece everyone clapped for. Turns out they really enjoy jamming out to "We Will Rock You".


I was surprised, to say the least.


Another thing they seemed to enjoy was cheering at the top of their lungs. In the hour I spent playing, they probably cheered 10 times. It's too bad it was in a different language, because it sure sounded exciting! When the guests weren't cheering, they were toasting.


I played my best (and my loudest), and when 9:00 PM rolled around, I quietly packed up my things. I looked around for someone to say "Thanks" and "Goodbye" to, but everyone was busy taking pictures of their food. And cheering. And toasting.


So, I slipped out into the hallway and started toward the door.


"Tough gig, huh?"


I turned around to see one of the waiters on his way to the kitchen.


"Oh, yeah. It was. . . interesting. Could you even hear me in there?"


He gave me a sympathetic look and avoided answering.


"That's kind of what I thought," I said.

So, yeah. I think it's safe to say that I learned some new things.


I learned, yet again, that I have an extraordinarily supportive and empathetic husband.


I learned that I can do hard things and push myself, but I also learned that having realistic boundaries is important.

I also learned how to appear comfortable and confident even when I felt completely crazy. Because as any #performer knows, that's half the battle right there.


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JESSICA MCALLISTER

 FIRST STRING VIOLINIST 

801.828.6860

 FIRSTSTRINGVIOLINIST@GMAIL.COM  

         . . . SALT LAKE COUNTY, UTAH . . .