Sometimes I get hired to perform with someone famous and cool who happens to be passing through Houston and needs string players. Usually, the artist will bring their own backup band and hire the extra musicians out of each city they go to. Saves them money and gives people like me an opportunity to perform for 10,000 screaming people, which is a bit of a different vibe than a symphony concert. The music itself is typically simple, but often in horrible, awkward keys. There is usually one quick orchestra rehearsal, a sound check with the artist, and the concert—-all in one day. It can be tiring, but it is always a lot of fun.
My most recent performance(s) like this were last week, with Michael Bublé, in Houston one night and San Antonio the next. In each city, he employs a string orchestra (approximately 16 musicians?) made up entirely of women, clad in black evening gowns. We were each given a fancy white flower to pin to our dresses. The band, which he brings himself, contains about the same number of musicians as the strings, and they are all men. Each of us had our own microphone and a set of earbuds, so we could hear the conductor if he needed to speak to us, and in some cases we had to play with a click track, which is an easy way for everyone to hear a steady click to stay together. (For those students out there who don’t think it’s important to be able to play with a metronome—-you may have to do it for a living!!)
Now these concerts vary in quality. I have performed with artists who have pre-recorded the entire show and literally just show up in their fancy costumes and lip sync, and the audience is none the wiser. You would be appalled. Sometimes we are there just for show and although we are playing, we aren’t really amplified and you can’t hear us because the strings have been pre-recorded too. One thing that’s pretty consistent is the little teleprompter screen. Next time you attend a concert, take a look. There is usually a little TV-like thing facing the artist so they don’t forget their own lyrics. Some of them will have written out their entire show, including all of their jokes, and just read it every night. Others are a little more comfortable with improvising on the spot. I have to say that I was most impressed with Bublé. He is the real deal. No lip-syncing for that man and since I had the pleasure to perform with him on two separate nights, it was nice to see a variety of different jokes the second night. He does a fantastic job of interacting with his audience, and after rehearsing with him and talking to him behind the scenes, he is the most down-to-earth, sweetest man with a beautiful wife and three kiddos (who were at both concerts.)
Luckily for everyone involved, we are instructed not to take any pictures of the artists or ask for autographs or draw attention to ourselves in any way. Otherwise, it would be a mess. I would have loved to talk to many of these stars, but they are people too and God knows they get enough of that day-to-day. Sometimes they will actually go out of their way to talk to us (Bublé) but most of them will hardly nod in our direction. It’s all professional and it is a lot of work for everyone involved. Honestly, every time someone makes the effort to hire real musicians and choose live music over a synthesizer, I am a happy girl.