One minute to go”, the stage manager called to me, as the chatting people in front of the stage grew quiet, I had just hit the coda, and doing a quick calculation in my head reckoned to be about thirty seconds from the end of the piece. The music unfolded and the ending arrived. Loud cheers from the stage manager, and those close to her, as much from relief as at the vigorous end to the piece. Going overtime would have meant the end of the record-breaking attempt. To that point, it had been an eight and a half day continuous concert with various artists. Stouffville is trying to break the What it, and to do so must get to at least 16 ½ days, which will be on April 2, 2017.
It is a strange thing for a solo classical guitarist to do, perhaps even more so if you are playing your own music. In this way, both the Guitar Society of Toronto and the Canadian Music Centre, were represented, as I am a member of both organizations. When my old high school buddy, Mike Burns, one of the organizers of the event, asked me to participate, I responded in the affirmative within seconds.
There was an excitement bristling through the Earl of Whitchurch pub when I arrived at 10 am to sign in for my noon hour playing slot. An eager community was watching a husband and wife duo sing songs from the ’60s and ’70s. There was no table service during the event, so you ordered, paid, took a number and magically the food appeared at your table.
Thirty minutes before my set I am ushered to the “on deck chair” just to the side of the stage. The soundman comes over a few minutes later to confirm my simple needs: an armless chair and a direct input box. When the fellow preceding me finishes, I take the stage, play a few chords to help set the levels, look to the stage manager who says go. The first set of pieces are designed to warm me up, but with the noise level in the room the voice of a Quaker friend goes through my mind, “just need to do some heavy meditating and the room will go with you.”
The second set of pieces requires a special capo, and the countdown started at the applause. Removing the first capo is easy but took ten seconds. Now, I have to place the special capo over the correct strings. “Fifteen seconds to go,” the stage manager prompts. Not just over the correct strings but evenly. “Ten seconds to go!” Not just evenly but you have to press the strings down a bit to prevent tuning problems. There is an increased intensity as the stage manager calls: “Five, Four, Three, Two.” I begin the next piece. This was one of the most challenging things I have ever had to do in public: one has to execute fast, but not hurry. Things must be done with care, or the result is tuning problems [or worse], which for an old pro are unacceptable. Every bit of self-control was required to get this done on time with the necessary precision.
The rules are very strict: no more than thirty seconds between songs, so again, the whole project could have been scuttled as I dawdled through the capo change. There was a digital countdown clock to my left from the stage, so as I announced titles of the various pieces my eye stayed on it. The stage manager emphatically continued to say “ten seconds,” but by this point in the proceedings I just smiled, talking for the right amount of time was easy because I had done that many times before. Just as hearing the “One minute to go,” was easy, because playing the notes on time was so much easier than changing a capo.
The town has assembled a squadron of volunteers who help out in more ways than I can name. Most important are the overnight listeners because the rules state that there has to be at least ten people in the audience listening [not sleeping], so if someone has to make a trip to the washroom they may have to wait for another to arrive and sub them out. At one point things were getting scary last week during an overnight stint, and an audience member said, “Don’t worry, I’ve called the police.” Two squad cars showed up and four police officers came upstairs to drink coffee at 4 am. They drop by each night now to encourage the effort.
24 acts a day for 16 days, probably around 300 different acts given that there are a few who get to repeat. An amazing amount of musical activity for such an area. An amazing amount of support.