#jazzcongress, music, music biz, self-acceptance

Getting Off The Hamster Wheel

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Like many of my fervent enthusiasms, it began innocently enough; a new collaborator suggested I record a jazz CD. Of course, this had occurred to me before and we even made a CD a decade prior – but after production and replication, we’d run out of money and had no budget for promotion, so the CD gathered dust in our closet.

But this time would be different! We’d hire press agents and radio promoters to spread the word and garner airplay! We’d book live performances at jazz clubs and visit radio stations around the country! This time we’d get noticed and on the charts and succeed! At least that was the plan. The reality was slightly different; finding a club willing to take a chance on booking an unknown artist was virtually impossible. Getting radio programmers – even the ones we knew personally!? – to spin a cut on their station even once was iffy! Add to the mix my own profound ambivalence about performing… well, it was a longer-than-long shot.

Even so, there were some victories; I was very proud of both of my jazz albums and after the 2004 release of Future Street and the 2006 release of Round Trip, I finally charted on JazzWeek and became friends with some jazz radio programmers. I got to visit friends and family across the country on my tours. And I introduced some original songs to other artists who wound up performing and recording them.

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Alas, it ultimately wasn’t as rewarding as I’d hoped, either financially or emotionally. First I began to turn down gigs that involved schlepping keyboards, PAs and other gear, and after a few more years I found myself dialing back my involvement in the jazz-o-sphere at large. While I’d enjoyed the annual IAJE conferences and JazzConnect/JazzCongress, it became apparent to me that, like Henry Gibson recited on Laugh-In, one was expected to “keep-a-goin’!” despite any setback or frustration – and I’d had some: Believe Them The First Time

Now, this doesn’t seem to stop my initial reaction when I notice that other jazzers are releasing new CDs or getting covers of their original songs; this type of news pops up on FaceBook, YouTube, and my email box all the time, and I find my Fear Of Missing Out kicking into overdrive! …until I remember how much work and financial outlay are involved in producing, promoting, performing, etc. to create even the smallest ripple of attention, let alone acclaim – and how fundamentally uninterested I am in those aspects. I continue to watch with appreciation and rejoice in the business and artistic triumphs of my colleagues, especially because I know what it takes to accomplish – but I honestly don’t miss running on the hamster wheel!

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ummm…. not-so-much, any more!

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music biz, music, Jingles

A Dime A Dozen

We’d been pounding the pavement and hitting the phones hard for the first 7 months of 1981.  As a new jingle company, we rode elevators up to meet with potential advertising clients, along side competing music producers who were established and in many cases, offering cocaine as well as music. Totally sold on the idea of meritocracy, we were sure the creative directors would hear the difference between how OUR music fit the bill so much better than the other guys.  I look back now and wonder how we kept going, with “nobody winkin’ back” for so long, as my dad used to say.

And then my partner Mark took a meeting with Tony O.  Upon hearing our demo, Tony recognized some music that he himself had worked on and soon learned that the disco-esque charts for a soft drink had been written by Mark while in another company’s employ!  Suddenly we had an actual real-live client who liked us!!

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Tony wasted no time in asking for a new jingle for La Yogurt  (click on underlined link to hear it!), a regional brand that had been using a lackluster version of Frére Jacques in radio and TV ads. Given an afternoon, a list of the available flavors and the direction to imagine all the various times and places La Yogurt could be consumed, we created and demoed 4 different jingles for presentation. When one was chosen, we hired “jingle queen” Linda November and hit-singer/songwriter Paul Evans, as well as “the usual suspects” of studio musicians (like the wonderful George Marge on ocarina!) and an East coast market jingle “hit” was born!  The inspiration for the back-&-forwards trading of lines was somewhat inspired by the chemistry of the Polaroid ads featuring James Garner and Mariette Hartley that were running at the time. Our jingle proved versatile, running for a number of years, and we used the musical materials to compose YOGURT VARIATIONS  (click on link to hear excerpts) for the New Britain Symphony the following spring.  Tony invited us to the International Radio Festival of NY and La Yogurt took home the Gold Award for best radio spot in 1982!

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Almost immediately thereafter Tony tapped us to create the new jingle for Lee’s Carpets  (click link to hear!), which the agency and client both loved.There was a disruption in this love-fest when our production invoice hadn’t been paid within 90 days, so we re-sent it, waiting another month to follow up with the billing department at the agency. When we finally were connected, the accountant practically laughed in our faces over the phone, sneering, “You wanna get paid?  Ha!  You guys are a dime a dozen!”  We called Tony and eventually we got a check, but it was creepy – and we did NOT “relax” right away!

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A couple months later, the BIG prize account came up: Kinney Shoes  (click link to hear).  With no direction besides the tag line “Kinney Can”, we worked feverishly to create a winning concept. We wanted to build on the established reputation of the brand for being the family-friendly “Great American Shoe Store” while showing that Kinney had kept up with changing times. Encouraged by Tony, we were so excited about the anthem we created that we sank thousands of dollars of our own money into the production, including various versions  (click to hear NBAs version)  for different shoe lines.  We got the best-of-the-best musicians and singers to bring it to life, including Florence Warner  (click to hear) and her angel-voice! We were SURE this was the “big one” that would put us on the map as a jingle company!

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Alas – we eventually learned that on the day of the big Kinney presentation, Tony had been ill and failed to play our tracks for the client. He hadn’t even shown up to the meeting.  Or at least that’s what we were told. Another version of the story was that our tracks had been presented, but all the folks at Kinney were offended that they hadn’t been invited to the recording sessions, so our music was rejected out of hand.  We felt strongly about our work, so much so that we entered it into the International Radio Festival competition (where it earned an Honorable Mention, even though it had never been bought or aired).  18 months later we sent a 5-page single-spaced letter to Tony, begging him to re-present it to Kinney, as we’d heard through the grapevine they were unhappy with the music they had chosen and were looking for something new.  We got no response.

Tony was a vibrant man with fierce affection for his family and friends, as well as strong appetites for tobacco, liquor and food. His enthusiasms were infectious, so that when he told us he was going to audition for a local production of The Music Man (as Prof. Harold Hill, of course!) and he asked us for help preparing the song “Trouble”, we learned it along with him, and found it the perfect accompaniment for marching crosstown from our west side offices to Madison Avenue appointments.  When his boss was having a “big” birthday, Tony asked us to produce a special birthday song; Jerry, You’re the Bess We Got!  (click to hear excerpt) for the party, which we did happily – gratis. And when Tony’s daughter showed interest in learning to play the flute, I cheerfully lent mine so she could try it out for a semester. Tony wasn’t “just a client” – we considered him a friend. And we were pretty sure he felt the same way about us; we weren’t “just a supplier”. He invited us to dinner at his home in Bernardsville, NJ and we met his whole family; believe me, that wasn’t the case with most clients, no matter how well you got along and enjoyed working together!

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Woolworth/Woolco was set to roll out a new line of Christie Brinkley sportswear, and this time our jingle was chosen!  Juxta-positioning Christie in her casual attire and then crossfading to YOU (aka “normal young American woman!) wearing the identical outfit?  Well, it was a winning idea; there you’d be, Lookin’ Christie!  (click link to hear).  Unfortunately, right before the ads could air, Woolworth pulled the plug on Woolco, all their stores shuttered and that was that – another big break bites the dust!

Our finances faltered, a few of our key clients retired and we decided to try our luck in a different market. But even after we’d moved to Chicago, Tony kept calling us from NYC with work.  And he wasn’t shy about letting his colleagues know about how much he enjoyed working with us!

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The Woolworth company had other retail chains, and we produced jingles for *J.Brannam  (click to listen)  (JUst BRANd NAMes clothes and accessories), Frugal Frank’s (shoe outlet) (click to listen) as well as demos for the flagship Woolworth’s  stores (click link to listen).  One of my favorites was Susie’s Casuals (women’s clothing) (click link to listen), the spirit of which was inspired by the Mary Tyler Moore TV show theme song; “hey, girl, you’re makin’ it!  your chance is here and you’re takin’ it! The world will soon be awakenin’, and when they do, all they’re gonna see is YOU!”

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There were some semi-risqué demos for Palmolive soap (international) – one of which  sold and was played worldwide (click link to listen).  And we took a shot at a jingle demo for special Snorks  kids sneakers for Kinney Shoes (click link to listen), after we moved to L.A.  We even hired Tony at one point, to perform a voiceover for an industrial film we were scoring for a different client – recorded in the friendly confines of his San Francisco hotel room while he was on the west coast for business. Those 3-packs/day gave him an authoritative vocal growl and he knew how to work a mic.  Eventually the lack of proximity became somewhat of an issue and his music work went to other suppliers, but our relationship remained warm.

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The last time we got together, Tony was working from his home in Bernardsville, NJ and we met at the diner where the final shot of THE SOPRANOS was filmed a decade later. Tony looked happy and talked about his newest campaigns with zest.  We always made it a point to look him up to meet when we were back east.  And though he and his family never reciprocated, we sent Christmas cards every year.

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Until a few years ago.  His wife finally sent a note to let us know that Tony had passed on in 1999. We were stunned; we’d been sending holiday greetings to a ghost for 15 years!  Once we looked back, a sense of betrayal overwhelmed us, as we realized how compromised our relationship had actually been. Being treated with contempt by a snarly accountant was the tip of the iceberg; the Lee’s Carpet jingle was actually supposed to be a lucrative account, with over 250 dealer “lifts” being edited with our music – each of which was to have been paid separately.  This should have put us on Easy Street financially, as we were in the vocal group as well as among the musicians on the date. We found out later that the money that had been earmarked for all those residuals had been sidelined to the ad agency’s retirement plan. So even though these spots ran for several years, with many more customized versions, we never saw any of those payments, and neither did the singers and musicians we hired.

We realized that this was the case with almost ALL of the work we’d done for Tony, we hadn’t received residuals for virtually any of the music we’d produced! Though this practice is widespread in the arts, (see previous blog  Things We Do For Love). we’d been in denial of how entrenched the corruption had been at the agency and never dreamed Tony would have let this happen. But he had.

It’s a mixed bag and difficult to reconcile such a relationship; while we were cheated out of the money we’d honestly earned that would have enabled us to stay in NYC, through our work with Tony, we had the opportunity to create some music that we’re still proud of to this day. We got to work in the recording studio (our favorite place!), with the best musicians, singers and engineers (our favorite people!). And, for better or worse, we got to hang out with Tony O.  Click thru on the links peppered thru this blog post to hear the  Tony O. Hit Parade.

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Tony’s Dartmouth fraternity brothers miss him. And so do we. Sometimes.

 

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Home, politics

My Undumpy White House

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As accustomed to the frequent barrage of BS from the current administration as I’m becoming, I confess to being more than a little taken aback by #45’s critique on Tuesday of his current digs; “That White House is a real dump.” Over the past 196 days, #45 has said and done some doozies, but something about dissing The White House itself, a spectacular home which is paid for by our taxes, just boggles my mind. I picture him leaving his dirty socks all over the West Wing, littering the White House with greasy fast food wrapping, the way he’s been littering our country with trashy hate-filled speech and Twitter tweets.

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The comment kept coming to mind the past couple days, until it occurred to me to consider my own concept of “home”. And I realized with a start that MY home is my body – where I live, the physical manifestation of my being – and that in the past I have been treating MY White House as “a real dump” – every time I don’t take care of it. Every time I overindulge in food or decide to stay up too late or make myself jittery with too much coffee. Every time I blow off exercise and fritter away hours window-shoppping and doing stupid puzzles online. I’m offended at #45’s lack of respect for his home because I’ve been disrespecting my own home.

I’m actually grateful for the wake-up call. I can only hope that #45 will tune in and hear himself as clearly as I am hearing him now. Because where we live is NOT a dump, unless we make it so. You don’t have to be a billionaire to figure that one out!

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growing up, learning

Blue+White Haze

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The invite had said “Freshman Orientation & Mixer” for the Saturday evening before classes started, so that’s what I’d expected; a convocation that would explain the rules and regs of life at the Hartford branch of UConn, to be followed by a dance to meet with other new college students.

I’d sewn most of my back-to-school wardrobe, and chosen my favorite never-before-worn dress for my intro to college life. In hindsight, bearing in mind that this was September 1968, and the dress in question was probably more appropriate attire for THAT GIRL heading to a secretarial job interview than a college student, maybe not the best choice – but I’d put so much thought and care (and money!) into it…

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Bright red wool, with shiny black buttons, black specialty-silk thread triple top stitching around the scoop neckline and a black belt at the empire waist – much better suited to a young career woman than a 16-year-old coed… but I thought I was stylin’!!!

What I soon found out at the “mixer” part of the evening was that this dress painted a bulls-eye on my back, making me a target to be singled out and terrorized by mean-spirited sophomores who couldn’t wait to “pay forward” the hazing that they had suffered the year before! After being marched across campus in the dark, we freshmen were herded into a room and pelted with raw eggs and verbal abuse, with no escape. One particularly nasty Husky girl emptied an aerosol can of whipped cream into my décolletage and shoved multiple young men at me, commanding them to “lick it up!”

I had never felt so humiliated in my life. After the sophomores got bored with bullying us, we were “allowed” to go to the dance, but all I wanted was to go home. I couldn’t believe what I’d experienced, and that this activity was sanctioned by the University. I was ready to quit college then and there, but since I wouldn’t get my high school diploma for another 10 months, I knew I couldn’t.

I never wore that dress again.

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growing up, learning, music biz

Believe Them The First Time

I can forgive myself for wanting people to be better than they are – to make good on their promises, show up on time and behave honestly – despite many experiences to the contrary. I’ve certainly let myself down, so why shouldn’t other people? But there have been a few instances that stand out.

I’ve learned major lessons from each CD we’ve released; the first one (in 1993) taught me that expenses will run over – there will be tracks that need to be “fixed” and some that will need major reworking, so count on needing more time and money than you’d originally planned. The second one (in 2004) taught me that radio promotion is not enough – you’ll need publicity to make any kind of a splash, no matter how awesome you know your recording to be. The third CD (in 2006) taught me “Caveat Emptor” – in bold relief. And that Maya Angelou was a very wise woman.

We’d been shopping for a publicist for a while, asking our jazz friends about their experiences. No one we knew would recommend anyone (which may tell you something about the nature of the publicity industry!?)  So when a collaborator began to sing the praises of one couple he was working with to promote his jazz career, we were excited to meet them!

When she said, “I don’t know what we can do for you”, that should have been the first clue to heed, since:Screen Shot 2015-11-08 at 10.58.50 AMBut we were impressed with their big fancy house in a fashionable part of town and their list of successful clients in all media and we were tired and time was growing short for our release date and we desperately wanted to work with someone (anyone???) who was connected in the biz, to get the word out about the new CD!!  And yet:Screen Shot 2015-11-08 at 10.58.50 AM

And then there were their adorable dogs, and the photos on the walls of their past triumphs and we could see how wonderful it was going to be when they promoted our wonderful CD and got us reviews in all the trades and even a mention in People magazine andwe joined those triumphant success stories on the wall, and… and… and…
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Even though she had told us that she didn’t know what she could do for us (and she was right – she did not know and wound up doing virtually nothing!!), she was more than happy to take our sizable check. And great was our ultimate disappointment.

If only we’d believed her the first time.

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learning, music biz, self-acceptance

Gaslit* at the Gaslight

*gaslit = freaked outscaredunnerved into questioning ones own sanity (Oxford).

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While I was hardly “born in a trunk”, both of my parents were theater-folk; they’d met doing shows at Syracuse University and continued to perform in plays and revues throughout my childhood. My sisters and I would “run lines” for them when they prepared for a performance, type copies of my dad’s plays for 10¢/page (pre-Xerox!) and be an enthusiastic audience while they rehearsed and performed at tiny theaters around CT.  My father had a number of his one-act plays published and even had an off-Broadway show produced in NYC in 1965. The Fourth Pig

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My first (unpaid) theater gig was playing for an awards ceremony for the Mark Twain Masquers in Hartford when I was 15, and I later earned a few shekels accompanying dance classes while at UConn. I always liked actors personally but grew impatient with the number of rehearsals they wanted to do. (we jazz musicians like to “wing it” more than some other performers!)  When I participated in the terrific ASCAP, BMI and ASK workshops, I also discovered I wasn’t too thrilled with the degree of compromise required with working in the musical theater – the endless rewrites for non-musical reasons, for example. While it can be exciting to collaborate with other talented people, the old adage of “too many cooks” DOES come into play at a certain point – usually, for me, earlier than anyone else. (Which is ironic, since I truly love musicals – I’m just not crazy about the process of creating them, I guess!?)

So I’ve resisted involvement in many theatrical endeavors, despite my high regard for most thespians. In 2008, however, I agreed to sub for the pianist at a musical melodrama theater – an extremely underpaid gig that extended almost 2 years before I had enough financial wherewithal to walk away… umm, make that RUN away! For years afterwards I told myself that it was the unreasonable demands of the music director, some of the actors and staff that had made me so miserable during that period, when every single day for 7 days a week I would dread the one or two performances I’d have to play each Sunday. It was only after I’d subbed at another musical melodrama theater that I realized that, crabby and unappreciative as the cast might have been, they hadn’t been the problem – for me, it was the job itself! Juggling last-minute changes while responding to what’s happening on the stage and always being “on!” is nerve-rattling and I just don’t have the constitution to sustain that for 2+ hours. When it comes together, you might feel like Superman…

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but when something goes wrong (as it frequently can!), there’s hell to pay, whether it’s actually your fault or not!

Technological advances and shrunken production budgets have had a dreadful impact on the current state of musical theater; to be filed under “Spinning Straw Into Gold”,

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the last gig I was hired to play seemed easy enough when I checked out the songs via YouTube videos; the score was non-challengingly melodious and traditionally orchestrated, like musicals in the 1940s-60s. When I got to the first rehearsal, it was revealed that ALL of that orchestral music, (save a solo cello, solo flute and the music director’s piano) would be MY responsibility, courtesy of a jury-rigged computer-keyboard setup with multiple pedals, sampled sounds and sheet music indicating multiple instrument changes within 2 bars – an impossible scenario for low-tech me.  I knew that there was no way I’d ever be able to perform, let alone master this part, no matter how much I practiced, so I bowed out that afternoon. I later learned that playing this particular show had reduced more than one highly skilled professional pianist to tears.

My cap is off to theater musicians – especially music directors – who are able to run the show AND make superb music doing so. They create unique magic for an audience, and they are more-often-than-not ill-compensated for their alchemy.

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…… after all, fingers take a beating, doing this sort of thing!!

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music biz

Music for a Joyous Occasion?

After it became apparent that the ad agencies of Michigan Avenue (the Chicago version of Madison Avenue) weren’t going to pull our scorched jingle company from the fire, it was time to make a new plan. Our pastor suggested we use our musical skills to play weddings and funerals, so we did some research, asked friends who had played those types of gigs, got feedback from other clergy, constructed a song list of the most requested religious and secular titles, bought 2 new VERY heavy amplifiers and began marketing ourselves. We made hundreds of cassette demo tapes, took out ads in the Chicago Wedding Guide magazine and sent out thousands of the following pamphlets to every church within 20 miles:BrochureCovers  BrochureBlurb

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The wording for this sort of thing can get dicey, (especially with funerals) because we’re talking about providing music for…. death. Grieving people are at their most vulnerable and it’s important to strike the proper note of concern and compassion, while projecting sufficient confidence that the music you’ll be adding to the service will be reverent, inspiring and tender. Interestingly enough, the few funerals we were called to play (all at our own church!?) were relatively easy gigs.

The weddings, on the other hand…. ah, the weddings!!  The term “Bride-zilla” had not been invented but such things did exist!

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We met more than a few GROOM-zillas, too….

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not to mention PARENTS of the happy couple….

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While we had our own ideas, wedding music is generally “chosen by committee” and everyone has input except the musicians! Thus we wound up adding a LOT more titles to our song list.

I know now that even by late 80s’ standards, we were charging way too little for our services – but we really needed to get some gigs, and we hadn’t figured out how much actual WORK was involved in providing music for a half-hour service, let alone a (gulp!) 90 minute Catholic wedding mass, complete with communion for the entire congregation!  We also underestimated the toll schlepping those 2 amplifiers, keyboard, EVI gear and mics, stands, etc. would take on our bodies and our spirits – especially when we got home and still had to carry all that gear up the rickety winding stairs to our 2-flat apartment.

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We DID have a few nice moments playing weddings; there was one where the happy couple wanted “their song” performed during the mass AND during the reception right after AND during dinner. (They had hired a DJ for post-dinner dancing so we actually got to go home and feed and walk our dogs after 5 hours). “Their” song was  ALWAYS by Atlantic Starr – and we sang the played the duet over and over, to their obvious delight! By the end, all of the guests as well as the complete wedding party were singing along with us!

But most of the weddings were grueling – a high-stress situation with no relief until the check finally cleared.  Brides and/or their mothers were always adding MORE special songs we had to perform, and higher choir lofts we had to schlep all our stuff up to… not to mention waiting until everyone was gone before we could break down, pack and head home, where another schlep  awaited us. It got VERY old VERY fast.

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The end came after a June wedding at a Catholic church. We’d agreed to provide an hour’s music, collected 50% down of the $150 fee we were charging and then things got more and more bizarre; MANY midnight phone calls amending this song and substituting that song, micromanaging every detail imaginable. It was hotter than Hades on the wedding day as we schlepped all of our equipment to the choir loft where I was to play on the out-of-tune organ as well as my keyboard.

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We were there early, before any of the wedding party had arrived, so we got to really “case the joint” – and this was turning out to be a BIG wedding! Outside the church was parked a huge video truck and inside were no less than 7 cameras, each with its own cameraman.

Of course the wedding didn’t start on time, but we were instructed to entertain the guests until things got going. 45 minutes later we got to play Lohengrin, and then there was the lighting of this candle and that candle, the mother-of-the-bride’s special music, the groom’s family’s music, etc. etc. etc.  The mass went on for almost 2 hours and then we FINALLY got to play the recessional, pack up and head home. As we got to our car, we noticed the arrival of a huge stretch limousine with a hot tub in the back!!!

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That was the final straw. We had just sweated and played and sang for almost 3 hours, (not to mention all those midnight phone calls) for a payday of $150 for both of us, and this couple was going to ride away in a hot tub!?

And what was waiting for us at home? More schlepping up 2 flights of stairs!  And two very sweet schnauzer dogs, thank heavens!

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