I apparently committed blasphemy. At least, that’s the impression I got this evening at rehearsal. I introduced an electronic synthesizer to a baroque orchestra.
It all started with a conversation that went something like this…
Bing: I don’t know if we’ll have a piano available for our Cliffs Valley gig.
Me: I’ve got a Yamaha S90 that has pretty decent piano sounds. You’re welcome to use that if we need.
Bing: Turns out they have a grand, so we don’t need it for this gig. Does your keyboard have a decent harpsichord sound?
Me: It’s OK as a harpsichord. Since it’s a synthesizer I guess you could tweak it to get the sound you wanted.
…and thus began my keyboard’s debut as part of the continuo for our performance of Handel’s Messiah with the Greenville Chorale and Hendersonville Symphony Orchestra. Our regular accompanist, Betty Bennett, would actually play the instrument. However, I’m not sure either Bing or I were aware of actually how much tweaking would actually be involved.
At Monday night’s rehearsal the keyboard sounded a bit overpowering. The default harpsichord setting was too rich and sustained to be believable. My little bass guitar amp wasn’t helping matters. During the rehearsal we toned it down a bit until it got a passable sound, and afterward I stayed to work on the patch parameters until we got a more suitable harpsichord sound. Tuesday and Wednesday evenings I worked to refine and reprogram the patch so that it had a dryer, less sustained sound, then wrote it to the keyboard’s memory.
And that brings us to tonight’s rehearsal. Charlie Jones from Pecknel Music was kind enough to loan us a better amp so that my little bass amp wasn’t overpowered. As I was setting up the system, I got an overpowering feeling of animosity from some members of the orchestra. I guess I was so focused on getting everything set up Monday night that I missed this. Or, perhaps, it wasn’t until the orchestra actually heard the keyboard. Regardless, there were open sneers from the concertmaster. The alto soloist asked Betty, “Is that what they’ve given you to play?” Of course, if I weren’t involved – if I hadn’t provided the keyboard, I’d probably be asking the same thing. “Do you mean to say they are going to use that for a harpsichord??”
Overall the instrument sounded fine. You could still tell by sound that it was electronic and not a real harpischord. However, there was the visual element to consider, too. All of the electronica right in front of the conductor’s podium just looked completely out of place. I shuffled cables so they were hidden as much as possible, but hiding it was impossible. I wondered if there were a way to drape something over the amp and back of the keyboard without interferring with the sound, but Bing said it would be OK.
So this weekend we give three somewhat-less-than-authentic performances of Handel’s Messiah – once at the Peace Center Friday night and two times Saturday at Brevard College. Despite the electronics, it should still be a good concert.