Shearing Sheep

While working at Keyboard, I did a number of interviews with well-known artists. Usually over the phone, because I don’t fly. George Shearing told me a story when I interviewed him, a story that struck me this morning as apropos.

Shearing was blind. He also had a sense of humor. As a young man, he had played piano in an all-blind jazz band (a nice publicity gimmick, and I’m sure they were pretty good too, and appreciated the work). This would have been in his native England in the 1930s, at a time when jazz bands typically had a dozen or more players.

On one occasion the band was onstage, ready to start their show. The audience were in their seats, but the curtain hadn’t yet been raised. Suddenly one of the musicians called out, “Wait! Don’t open the curtain!”

“Why not? What’s wrong?”

“I dropped my glass eye!”

So the curtain stayed down while a dozen blind men put down their instruments and crawled around on the floor searching for the glass eye.

I recalled that story this morning while thinking over last night’s rehearsal of the Livermore Symphony. It was a first rehearsal of new material, and a certain amount of groping was to be expected. But the conductor had chosen difficult repertoire, pieces that could never be played with confidence by at least half of the members of the orchestra no matter how much rehearsal they had. Asking them to sight-read accidentals and tricky syncopations at tempo … no.

I’ve learned lots of new material while rehearsing with pop groups. What you do is, you go over and over and over a single piece until it starts to come together. You don’t hop from one horribly mangled passage to another without pausing to improve it. That’s just a way to make more bad music in less time. What I heard didn’t sound like musicians rehearsing; it sounded a lot more like they were crawling around on the floor, searching for a glass eye.

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