Weather Affects Outside Performances

"Notes da Capo" by John L. Puffenbarger

September 2002

The last "Notes da Capo" article reported incidences of weather affecting WVMEA conferences. The article contained stories that were recounted by members who attended the Retired Music Educators meeting last March. Retired members also recalled when weather caused problems for their own ensembles.

One retiree recalled an incidence in Parkersburg when heavy fog drifted off the Ohio River and covered the Big Red football field. When the Parkersburg High School Band performed its halftime show, the music sounded great, but the spectators could not see the band.

During the late 1970s, the West Virginia University Band made an appearance at the Black Walnut Festival in Spencer. It had rained a couple of days prior, leaving the high school football field slightly wet. At the end of the band's performance, band members knelt on the ground for the finale. This was great showmanship, but when band members stood up, the right knees of their pants were covered with mud. What price glory!

Singing outside in the evening can be hazardous. One time at the West Virginia State Fair, Jim Nabors told a story about singing a lyrical song at another state fair. At the end of the song, he was to have sung a long note. But as he took a deep breath, he sucked in a bug, which stuck in his throat. The pit orchestra played the ending, but Nabors could not sing the note, much to his embarrassment.

Many choirs perform outside at spring festivals and concerts. Spring weather, however, brings allergies too some students and teachers. Mary Ellen O'Dell recalled a time when she tried to demonstrate a vocal passage to her students in Clarksburg. She started to sing, but no sound came out. Her allergies had "frozen" her vocal chords.

Traditionally, the Fairmont State College Marching Band performed a halftime show at its annual homecoming football game. One year, the field was muddy by the time halftime arrived. During the band's performance, several members lost black loafers due to the suction of the mud. When the show was over, band members had to make a second appearance to retrieve their shoes.

A retired band director recalled a year when bands at a regional festival in Morgantown held warm-up sessions in Morgantown High School classrooms. Directors spent many minutes with the strobe tuner fine-tuning brass and woodwind instruments. After warm-up sessions, bands went outside and walked a short distance to the band to finish, causing the instruments to get cold and ruining warm-up efforts.

I have had firsthand experience "with cold weather. The Buckhannon-Upshur High School Band has a tradition of superior intonation. One year, the high school played Clarksburg Victory High School in an important football game. Winning the game might have meant a position in state playoffs. At halftime, the BUHS band marched on the field looking sharp. But when the band began to play, the sound was all but sharp! It was the worst sound I had ever heard the band produce! When the band marched off the field at the end of the show, several brass players exclaimed, "Look at the valves - they're stuck!" Later, I learned that the temperature that evening had dropped to about 28 degrees. No wonder the band sounded so bad!

The following year in December, I attended the Midwest Band Clinic in Chicago. Several band directors from West Virginia left the hotel to go downtown to Berghoff's Restaurant for dinner. While walking in IS-degree weather, we passed a Salvation Army brass group playing Christmas carols. I asked the bandsmen how they kept the valves working, and they said they had purchased a solution at a pharmacy that contained alcohol. I believe it was 91 % isopropyl alcohol- a rubbing alcohol.

The BUHS band was invited to the second inauguration of governor Arch Moore. Since the celebration was in January, I bought isopropyl alcohol and used it on our brass instruments. I was happy when we passed the reviewing stand playing "Hail, West Virginia" in tune. Thanks to the Salvation Army for providing a solution for stuck valves.

Today, twenty-four hour weather forecasting makes it easier to plan for outdoor events. However, even the most sophisticated equipment and the best-laid plans can be upstaged by Mother Nature.