Baroque jam session at CMU: first time my parents ever watched me perform music

Three days ago, I suddenly saw this poster on a bulletin board in the hallway at work at CMU:

CMU poster for Baroque jam session

A night of music by some of these cool dead dudes. A chance to hear CMU School of Music majors do their thing, 18th Century style. An opportunity to bring your own instrument & play along.

I thought to myself, I have to go to this event, even at short notice!

I also experienced terror at the thought.

But I went, and survived. It was a life-changing experience for me.


I noticed that the contact person on the poster, Maria, was someone I had just recently seen a couple of days ago, at the Pittsburgh Renaissance and Baroque jam session by Chris Norman and David Greenberg. She was the Baroque oboist, student at CMU, who had been something of a center of attention during the session, because of her having a Baroque-tuned instrument rather than a modern-tuned one.

So I wrote Maria asking her if I could come play, and she said OK. She said the format was not a real jam session, but that it would be people bring stuff to play.


There was a complication: my parents were scheduled to drive in to visit me and Abby and stay for tonight. This meant that we had to clean up at home in preparation for their visit, make dinner, etc. If I was going to this Baroque music jam session, then it was going to be a hectic day. I figured that we could all attend together, and then my parents would actually finally see me play music in public, for the first time in my life.

Seriously: back when I was in elementary school and middle school and high school and piddled around without enthusiasm on the flute, they were similarly unenthusiastic and didn’t go around coming to my band concerts and applauding me or whatever. I don’t actually remember their presence at all; maybe my mother dropped me off or something and came back, when I needed any aid at all. I remember thinking the detachment odd because I had classmates whose parents hovered over their kids’ music and sports involvement.


I had to figure out what music to play. I couldn’t count necessarily on any accompanists. I quickly decided to work on something for solo recorder, and happened to recently have discovered a book of pieces for solo soprano recorder. I chose one set of theme and variations, “Doen Daphne D’over Schoone Maeght” from Jacob Van Eyck’s “Der Fluyten Lust-Hof”, to work on. This music is earlier than Baroque, strictly, but hey, I thought maybe it would be good to provide contrast.

I also wanted to play some Baroque music, so my attention immediately turned to Henry Holcombe’s Air in E minor that I had discovered in a volume of “English Airs and Dances” half a year ago and immediately fallen in love with. I was not prepared at all to play this on a Baroque flute, so I decided to risk embarrassment by playing on a modern flute instead.

The event

So Abby and I took my parents to the Skibo Coffeehouse at CMU where the event was happening. A lot of familiar faces were there; I’ve been going to CMU student music recitals lately, primarily of flute students, and therefore have been seeing some of the same faces of graduating students and their friends. So I was feeling very intimidated because these students are good. I had seen and heard them doing their thing. I wondered whether I had made a huge mistake by coming to play. I checked in with Maria, then decided to sit around and watch for a while.

It turned out that a lot of what happened was random sight reading, and also some people playing an instrument that wasn’t their primary instrument. In any case, it was all pretty casual and in fun, and a lot of mistakes were being made, so I felt much better about the prospect of eventually taking my turn.

There were also people who had come just watch, either because they had seen the poster earlier or because they happened to be in Skibo for a meal and decided to hang out.

My parents seemed to be enjoying their evening of entertainment. I explained to them that it wasn’t a concert, that these students were just having fun sight reading. They were impressed with the sight reading skill, and the voices of the young men and women who sang.

My turn

It started getting late, and Abby was very tired. She left to take a little walk to get some air.

At some point, Maria asked me whether I wanted to play something. I felt I had to go now, so I couldn’t wait for Abby to come back. I offered to play the Holcombe piece for flute, and asked if someone could play continuo, since I had a score with the figured bass. A cellist stepped up. But as I got on stage and prepared to play, we suddenly realized that I was playing a modern flute at modern pitch, while the cello was at Baroque tuning. I felt so embarrassed. Someone I had seen in recitals playing clarinet volunteered to play continuo on the digital keyboard (which of course could be set for any tuning), so we proceeded. I was so nervous that I somehow botched up some passages, but I tried to play what I felt, even if my technique and mental condition were not entirely up to it. And so we did it, including my on-the-fly ornamentation during the repeats.

Apparently Abby had returned to see that I was in the middle of performing, and she was upset to have missed me. I told her that it was OK, not a big deal. There would be plenty of future opportunities for her to see me perform.

We listened to some more student performances, then it really was getting late, and my parents wanted to leave, because they had to drive next morning to my sister in DC. So I announced that I had one more piece to perform and then had to go.

I played the solo soprano recorder piece. I think the audience liked that, because it was so different from what had gone on all evening. I didn’t play it perfectly, but I felt much more relaxed and capable on recorder than on flute, and I enjoyed hearing my ringing sound in the space of Skibo, with its very high ceilings. I thought I did pretty well.

Then I packed up and we went home.


This was not only really my first time performing alone (in the recorder piece) in public, but also the first time my parents had seen me perform music, and the first time Abby had seen me do a solo. So it was a very special evening for me. I felt like, if I could accept myself playing among these much better musicians, despite my being nowhere as good (yet), I was going to continue to seek out all opportunities to share the music I love and feel.

I don’t know how to explain it, but working up the courage to participate in this Baroque jam session, and actually carrying through (despite almost chickening out by waiting until the evening was almost over), meant a lot to me.

(Update of 2012-07-28)

Three months later, I ended up playing the Van Eyck piece in the summer recital of the Pittsburgh recorder group.

(Update of 2012-09-08)

It took me four months from this Baroque jam session before I performed Holcombe’s Air in E minor again anywhere, and that time I finally played it on a Baroque flute rather than a modern flute!

(Update of 2012-11-01)

My parents were visiting me and Abby yesterday for the first time since this Baroque jam six months ago. Yes, they were stopping by for the night to break up the long drive to visit my sister in DC again to see their baby grandson again and help out with care again for two weeks.

I did some flute playing for them last night (on Irish flute, modern flute, and Baroque flute) and they seemed to enjoy the diversion. They still remembered how totally nervous I had been six months ago at the Baroque jam session and have been supportive of my musical activities of the past year. I am very grateful for that.

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