Mame recollections: Jan-Feb 2016

Playing in Mame was such an extraordinary experience, for so many reasons, that I decided to write a blog post about it.

I hadn’t played for Stephen Hearson in one of his shows for many years. I thought it was 20 (maybe it was 15) but it was certainly a long time. He had asked me a few times in the intervening years, but I was never able to commit to the time required.

On 20th January in the morning I received a FB message from Stephen asking me if I could play in his forthcoming production of Mame at the Stoke Repertory Theatre. I was immediately tempted because my recent orchestral playing had been unfulfilling, and both my regular orchestras didn’t need me for their spring concerts. And, wonder of wonders, I was free for all the dates! So I agreed, and arranged to collect the music on 25 January.

I was seriously out of practice, so I immediately started a regime, with mouthpiece buzzing, long notes, scales and, eventually, looking at the music itself. I was able to practise using my Silent Brass system (which developed a fault towards the start of the shows, but that’s another story). By the time of the first band call, on the Thursday before the show started (18th February), I was in reasonable shape, playing wise. But the music was hard and the first trombone part very high! So at the band call I alternated between the first and third parts, and since there seemed to be a need for more bass, in the performances I mainly played the third part. The real challenge was playing loud enough for a section of 3. However even if other players had been available, they wouldn’t have fitted into the pit! I must also pay tribute to our conductor, Joe Hearson, who did a fantastic job, not helped by not having a full score to conduct from.

But how do you survive a normal week of work, with a show every evening? It was gruelling to say the least. Fortunately the weather held, so my drives to the theatre (a bit further than Stoke station/Staffordshire University, 6 miles or so each way) were relatively easy, although as the week went by I found myself getting there earlier each day! The show started at 7:15 pm and finished at 10:15 pm, and I was getting home at about 10:45 pm most days. I can’t eat much before playing, so I would typically have a protein bar before the show, a coke zero or diet coke in the interval, and a late dinner when I got home. This seemed to work well, and I’m very grateful to Angela for coping admirable with my strange eating schedule!

On the Saturday of the week the shows were running (23-27 February), we did a matinee as well as an evening show. For a physically demanding instrument like the trombone, that was quite an ordeal. But I got through it somehow.

Playing in Mame had the effect of getting me back into regular playing, and also thanks to someone who was at one of the performances, I was asked to join the North Staffs Symphony Orchestra, which I’ve been trying to join for nearly 30 years!

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