The strangest gig I ever had

Back in early 2005, I got what turned out to be the strangest gig I have ever landed. I was chosen to be a soloist for a recording session with the University of Texas Wind Ensemble. The piece was the Finale to “Circus Maximus” by John Corigliano.

My solo? I ‘played’ the very last ‘note’ in the piece…on a shotgun.

Specifically, a Mossberg Model 88 12-gauge, firing a 6DRM Equivalent (full-charge blackpowder) blank. The guy who hired me for this gig found me on the internet, looking for a firearms instructor. He wanted somebody that could be depended on to handle the gig safely.

Since I wasn’t familiar with the Mossberg, I took it to a private range that I use for my CHL classes to test-fire it with some blanks, just to make sure there were no surprises when I went to use it in the performance. Good thing I did… Unsurprisingly, the blank had about a quarter of the recoil of a buckshot round — but all that energy that would have pushed a load of buckshot downrange went into noise instead. Even with earplugs and over-the-ear muffs, it was uncomfortably loud. After about the fourth round, the owner of the range came in demanding to know just what the hell somebody was shooting in his range.

When I got to the place where the recording was being done (a huge Methodist church in southwest Plano near the tollway), I saw with some dismay that the ‘event’ I had been hired for was indoors. Actually, nobody had told me in advance what sort of event it was going to be. When I got to the hall, I went up to the conductor (Dr. Junkins, of the UT Wind Ensemble), and asked him if he was familiar with how loud a shotgun was, and he replied that his group had performed the piece once already. I warned him that everyone in the hall who wasn’t wearing hearing protection would experience pain. He chuckled, and assured me it wasn’t all that bad. (The first performance had been in Carnegie Hall, which is about twice the size of the auditorium we were in.)

Well, we went through the piece, he gave me my cue, and I fired. The hall reverberated with the explosion. After about 15 seconds of watching Dr. Junkins standing there like somebody had just sucker-punched him, I quipped, “Was that loud enough?” That got a chuckle from the band. Then they gave me a spontaneous ovation. It was hilarious. Rolling-on-the-floor, sides-in-pain, tears-streaming-down-the-cheeks hilarious.

We ran through it again the next day, only this time, when Dr. Junkins announced the Finale, the (very cute) 1st-desk oboist ran out to where she had left her purse, and pulled out a jar of bright orange memory-foam earplugs, and passed them around. Everyone got a pair, and inserted them, including the conductor.

Made believers out of them, I did.

Turned out that by the time the recording engineers got enough faders in-line so that the preamps didn’t complete saturate during the shotgun ‘note’, you couldn’t hear anything else at all. So they announced that they wanted to record my ‘solo’ several times by myself, and invited anybody who so desired to leave the hall. You would’ve thought by the reaction of the band members that somebody had just yelled “Fire! Fire! Fire!” About 15 seconds later, I was all alone in the large auditorium.

After about 6 rounds, they found enough faders to put in that they could record the shotgun without overloading, so they could mix that in later.

The recording was supposed be out around Christmas of that year, and they assured me that my name will be in the album liner. Not only that, but they mentioned that I might get to perform live with the Dallas Wind Symphony that Fall at the Morton H. Meyerson hall. Unfortunately, none of that actually came to pass. Oh, well, that’s the fleeting nature of fame.

Oh, I should mention that the composer was at the recording session, and I actually had a fairly lengthy conversation with him. I was looking over the score, and I quipped, “Oh, I see the problem! There are only 4 f’s on my part, and I was playing 12!” (The guy who hired me for the gig had no idea that I was actually a musician. My first real W-2 job was as a violinist with the El Paso Symphony the year I was a senior in high school.) He (John Corigliano) laughed, and we chatted about the piece, the first performance, and the general difficulties involved in recording it. Then one of the engineers walked in and addressed him by name, which is when I realized who he was (I’m sure glad I didn’t bad-mouth the piece!).

All in all, a great time was had by all. You could say we had a real blast!


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