Playing recorder and flute at the Holiday Ball!

So on Friday, after just two weeks of practicing music for the Pittsburgh Contras and Squares Holiday Ball, the moment of truth finally arrived.

The event went pretty well! Here is a report, with some photos and videos.


Abby had said that we were supposed to show up dressed “festively”, so I thought, OK, I’ll wear something green and something red, for the holiday season. I immediately thought of a green shirt and red pants I have. Abby came up with the idea that I should wear a hat, and so I picked out one of my hats (which I only wear for costume parties) and she put a green band around it. I feared being cold (and rightfully so, it turned out), and so I added a blazer and a tie to the outfit. A good number of people seemed to like this colorful outfit!

Abby and Franklin posing before event


I had never been to the Swisshelm Park Community Center before, but since Abby had, she had warned me that it was cold on stage at this time last year. Indeed it was. I was very, very happy to be wearing a hat and my blazer. In the future, I’ll remember to bring my Handeze fingerless gloves to gigs anywhere (and pack a hat and layers of clothing), to keep my hands warm when not performing.

On stage

Around twenty-five musicians eventually gathered on stage. There was just enough space for all of us, although it was crowded. I got put in the “wind section”, armed with my main instrument I had finally decided on for this gig, soprano recorder (which I had started practicing the music for only a couple of days before!!), along with my secondary instrument, flute, which I planned to use only on the Hallelujah Chorus and some waltzes, and finally, the tin whistle, which I did not have enough time to play well enough for most of the music, and therefore planned to possibly use on only one piece.

Franklin posing with soprano recorder

Franklin posing with flute

Abby sat to my right with her tamburitza. This was the first time we have ever played music together at an event!

Abby posing with tamburitza

Off and running

Marlin, the caller, kicked things off and the bagpiper led the Grand March and after he played for a while, we started playing. Before each group of dances, Marlin gave a brief lesson to the dancers. We had jigs, reels, waltzes.

Throughout, Donna and Allison split the conducting, with Maro at the keyboard.

Some videos

I managed to get some videos with my digital camera while on stage, because I didn’t play continuously. We often did three or four or even more repeats, such that I would sit out and rest and have an opportunity to switch instruments or take photos. With twenty-five of us playing, there wasn’t a need for any one individual to be playing lots of notes all the time (except for Maro at the keyboard!). We also changed things up so that we’d alternate among the “reeds”, “winds”, “fiddles”, “strings”, etc. for variety.

Here’s a clip of me playing soprano recorder during Coleraine:

Here is a view of some of the others during Coleraine:

Here is dancing to Whalen’s Breakdown:

Something unexpected

I mentioned earlier that I had planned to possibly play tin whistle in one piece, which was the fourth in a medley, of which we had been told we would not be playing the third. Since we were not supposed to play the third, I had crossed it out and not even sight read it once (given that I had less than two weeks to try to learn thirty pieces we were going to play).

Guess what? Somehow, after the second piece in the medley ended, I got completely confused, because we went into the third one that we weren’t supposed to play. This third one was Whalen’s Breakdown, which I got video of above. Eventually I joined in and started playing it, but not on tin whistle.

Overall experience

Time went by surprisingly quickly. Getting set up and ready on stage, the time passed quickly (I was glad we arrived quite early). I was surprisingly hungry after we took a break after the first hour, and was grateful to enjoy a plate of cookies I gathered from the table near the entrance, where dancers and musicians had brought in food to share.

Originally there had been talk of some of us musicians sitting out the first or second half because of space constraints, but since it turned out that there was enough space for all of us who ended up participating, Abby and I did not need to leave. She asked me if I wanted to stop playing and dance instead for the second half, but I was all excited about playing (and had worked so hard to practice the music) that I said I’d like to continue playing. We can always dance some other time.

Although I knew from my practice that I couldn’t play all the pieces (at the speed required) or all the notes, I was happy to contribute in my own small way where I could (and I was not seated very near any of the microphones, ha!). There was safety in numbers, definitely. I did the best I could.

Goals for the future

Next year, I’d like to play in this event again, but I have a couple of specific goals for next year already if I do:

Since I think tin whistle is particularly suitable for the music in question, I’d like to get a better one and work on playing it.

Of course, right now I am bushed, and am taking a rest from this music, but I’ll think about it again after a month or two.

Thank yous

I would like to thank Lynette, Donna, Allison, and Maro for all they’ve done for this annual Holiday Ball Orchestra over the years, and their openness and friendliness to new participants like me. I had a lot of fun exploring music new to me, and learning to play it and feel it.

I would like to thank the dancers for enjoying and showing appreciation for our playing for them.

And of course, I would like to thank my wife Abby for encouraging me to join her in playing for the Holiday Ball!

(Update of 2012-12-14)

The following year, I played music again in the annual Holiday Ball.

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