Over the past three months, WGBY, the PBS television station in Springfield, MA, held a competition for regional choral groups in several categories. I am the accompanist for one group that participated.
We made it to the semifinals! The preliminary rounds were videotaped and made accessible on the web. The semis involved 3 groups in our time slot, broadcast live.
Most of the singers were probably on TV for the first time. This might seem like it’s no big deal, but things were almost completely different from a concert performance.
When we arrived at the Hippodrome Paramount Theater, someone from the event met us outside. The conductor and I had met him before. It was nice to see a familiar face right away.
Upon entering the lobby, we were met by volunteers in yellow T-shirts whose job it was to tell the participants where to be at all times. Some were friendly and laid back ~ others were like robots. Our first destination was an area behind the balcony.
Having people to direct us was helpful. But we had very little time to get ourselves together.
Next, we were led to the audience area in front of the stage, where we sat and waited. The judges were introduced: Christopher Shepard, conductor of the Dessoff Choirs in New York; Alice Parker, the conductor, arranger, composer and clinician; and Eric Bachrach, founder of the Community Music School of Springfield.
Two groups sang before us, and we had no stage rehearsal.
Then it was our turn!
The conductor and I were first on stage, followed by the chorus proceeding to the risers. The piano bench, although built to be adjustable, was stuck in the lowest position. A book light was wedged precariously between the music rack and the front of the piano. When I pulled the music rack toward me, the light went out. So much for that!
There was no opportunity to adjust the bench or look for another one. Raising the lid of the piano was not allowed. And getting the music to where I could see it comfortably wasn’t going to happen, either.
One television announcer was not enough ~ there were two. The first, who was standing about 1/2 way back in the orchestra section, talked for a long time while we waited. After that, Kevin Rhodes, who is the music director of the Springfield Symphony Orchestra, introduced the chorus, the conductor, and me. He gets all kinds of points for announcing my name and pronouncing it correctly! And at the end of the time slot, he announced it again!
The stage lights went on following the introductions. One light from the side of the theater was right in my eyes (not unexpected).
The page turner stood between a large piece of equipment and the piano, to my left. He didn’t have much room. I asked him to turn from the top right corner of the music, so he stretched his arm across the top of the score.
In order to see the conductor 1/2 way across the large stage, I had to scrunch down and look between the page turner’s arm and the top of the music.
OK, sing. Now!
When it’s finally time to sing, they mean it. The cameras are rolling!
Our 9 minutes (the limit) went very well!
Important details to remember for next time
I am happy that I knew the music extremely well. I can’t say that I could actually see it with adequate color contrast during the show.
When appearing on live TV with people who may have less experience, I will talk through what to expect and suggest ways to handle the unique situation. Adrenalin can’t be at maximum level during waiting times, or it will crash too soon. Performers need a way to chill while they’re waiting, then flip the “on” switch when it’s time.
Checking out your spot on the stage ahead of time is helpful. I was able to eye mine from the audience seats, at least. I planned a path across the stage, and knew that there was a space between the curtain and the piano. The bench was visible from the audience seats as well.
It’s crucial to know that there will be many possible distractions. A huge camera was moving constantly above our heads, for one thing. Acknowledging that it’s there is good, but focusing on it would interfere with your concentration.
Also, putting yourself in enough situations where there are judges makes a big difference. You can develop the ability to ignore them, more or less, or at least not allow their presence to interfere with your performance.
Videotaping your performances and making a demo CD would also provide valuable experience. Nerves, the waiting game, how to chill, and the “on” switch would all have to be dealt with.