Roger Melone, associate conductor and chorus master of the New Mexico Symphony Orchestra, often says of live performance, “This is live music, without a net.”
I'm sure Roger would agree with one of the Iron Rules of the Performing Arts: “The show must go on!”
These rules are often tested when the orchestra performs at the bandshell of the Albuquerque Zoo. In most circumstances, this is a terrific performing venue. The bandshell is well-designed and projects the sound out over a beautifully manicured lawn that can seat around 4,000. Subtle, highly professional sound reinforcement insures that even people in the back can hear perfectly well.
Still, there are hazards to outdoor performance. Just recently, in May 2009, the NMSO chorus joined the orchestra to perform a lavishly orchestrated medley of Gershwin themes here, closing the first half of the program. The second half featured both of the big Gershwin orchestral pieces, American in Paris and Rhapsody in Blue, both special favorites of mine, so I found a place on the lawn to enjoy them. Unfortunately, near the climax of the second piece, a V-22 Osprey flew over at low altitude. Them suckers is loud.
One of the sorest tests of our professionalism came on May 7, 2001, when the orchestra and chorus performed Orff's Carmina Burana here.
The bandshell is separated from the lawn by a moat that connects to the waterfowl pond nearby. Generally, when the orchestra starts up, the various wild birds will move off.
Not this night. As in all decent zoos, the staff encourages their charges to breed. On this occasion, the stage of the bandshell was the locus of a battle royale between two small, black-and-chestnut ducks, obviously contending for the attention of the lady ducks.
“Kree-kree!” one duck would shout in challenge, and the other would reply. Back and forth they moved, squawking and posing in the moat and, eventually, right on stage.
Much of Carmina Burana can be pretty loud and rambunctious, and during these passages, the ducks were visible but not audible. It was in the quiet passages that they really got annoying.
So, try to picture a smiling, well-dressed Roger Melone on the podium, waving his Scepter of Conducting as these ducks do symbolic combat on the stage.
And try to imagine us in the chorus, trying desperately to keep straight faces as one of the ducks walks up right next to the podium and craps on the stage. Certainly the audience didn't hold back their laughter.
I've never asked Roger whether he was completely oblivious to this, or whether he noticed, but maintained his professional demeanor, as he always does.