Summer Outdoor Gig Guide
Summertime is the perfect time for outside weddings and parties. However, these events can present additional challenges for harp players. Here is a list of some of the things you need to be sure to take with you whenever you're playing a party, wedding, or other function. I have broken down the list into categories, and will expand on some of them. The items marked with an asterisk are particularly important if you're going to play outside. By the way, it is always a good idea to assume that you might be playing outside unless you know for certain that the entire event is indoors.
I suggest that you make up your own list, adding or deleting items as they pertain to you and your harp. Get the list laminated and keep it in the pocket of your harp case, or in your notebook of music. Be sure you have EVERYTHING you'll need before you leave the house!!
Since I live in Southern California, this list is geared to warm-weather climates. Be sure to add "winter" things to your list (such as hand-warmers) if you live in colder areas.
Here I list some of the things that you need to know and take with you regarding the event. Most of this information should be in your contract.
A. You need to have a contract and take it along.
B. Be sure you know how to get to the location before you leave your house. Print out the driving instructions from mapquest.com or another map site on the Internet. Also check to see if the venue has their own website. If they do, they will often include driving instructions to their location. You should always have a Thomas Guide or other such map in your car at all times . . . just in case! Know the exact location of the event if it is in a hotel or country club (i.e. the name of the room).
C. Where should you unload your harp, and where should you park? Will a parking space be reserved for you?
D. Who should you speak to when you first arrive? Often this will be the wedding coordinator, or perhaps the hostess if it is a party. Be sure you have the phone number of this contact and/or the venue where the event will be taking place. It is also VERY IMPORTANT to know who will be paying you. At a wedding, this is often the best man or the wedding coordinator. Find out in advance WHO will pay you and WHEN, and bring that information with you.
E. Besides the fact that it is very common courtesy to know the name of the bride and groom if you are playing their wedding, it is often imperative! I played at a wedding where the mother of the bride hired me and was my only contact person. Then, when I got to the hotel there was a list of a dozen weddings, all taking place at the same time, and NONE of the names of the brides or grooms matched the mother's name that I had. Luckily, I knew the name of the ballroom where the wedding was to take place.
F. Bring along any other instructions you may have been given, such as which pieces they want at what particular time, what time you're supposed to start and finish, and any other pertinent information.
Most of the items on this part of the list are self-explanatory. If for some reason I'm not bringing my own stool, and am going to use a chair that they provide, I also bring a small pillow. This comes in very handy if the chair is very hard, or it is too low. I ALWAYS bring two tuning keys: you never know when one might wander off!
If you're providing your own amplification, be sure to bring whatever accessories are needed, such as microphone or pick-up. If your amp needs to be plugged in, be sure you bring plenty of extension cords, as well as an adapter so that your 3-pronged plug will fit into a 2-pronged outlet.
Many harpists keep their music in a 3-ring binder with plastic sheet protectors. This way, they only have to carry one notebook, instead of several books of music. By the way, it is perfectly legal to xerox any music that you have purchased to make up this notebook. It is against copyright laws to xerox music that you have borrowed, but it is perfectly okay to make copies of music you have bought to make notebooks for your own use. Some harpists compile various notebooks for different types of events: one for weddings, another for parties, etc. However, if you're going to be playing outside, it is also important to bring some kind of clips to keep the music from blowing. It is very frustrating to be playing page 1, and suddenly the wind blows you to page 5!
A space blanket is EXTREMELY IMPORTANT in the summer time. We used to sell these here at the Harp Center, but we don't any more. But you can purchase them at hardware or camping stores. They are light blankets that are silver on one side, and usually blue on the other side. Whenever you're driving in your car, with the sun beating down on your harp, you need to have a space blanket covering your harp with the silver side up. This helps deflect the direct sunlight away from your harp, keeping it cooler while you're driving. Also, you can use it as a ground cover if needed when you get to your gig. A small throw rug, big enough for you and your harp to sit on, can also be very useful for outdoor weddings. And don't forget a dust cloth or dust brush. Most of us don't think about dusting our harp until we're at a gig and we notice that it looks terrible!
Be sure to bring your business cards. Sometimes you need to be discreet and just keep them hidden but available if someone asks for one. At other events it is okay to put them on display.
I have a clause in my standard contract that says that the people who hire me are required to provide a shaded area for me to perform in. However, this doesn't always work . . . and so we must be prepared to play in the hot summer sun. For these times, it is important to have sunblock with you so you don't turn into a lobster. Also, depending on the event and whether it is appropriate or not, you might want to bring a festive sunhat and sunglasses. Of course, these will be more acceptable at a backyard pool party than at a funeral with a full Mass!
I once played a wedding at some beautiful public garden. When I arrived, the first thing the wedding coordinator did was to spray me down with insect repellent! And boy, was I glad she did! Even with that, I was dive-bombed by insects throughout most of the wedding. Insect repellent isn't something we normally think about taking to a wedding . . . but now "I don't leave home without it!"
Female harp players should be sure to bring an extra pair of stockings in case you get a run or a hole in them. And, although this sounds obvious . . . harp players of both sexes should remember to bring along their shoes. I mention this because many people wear different shoes when they drive a car than when they play the harp. No matter how fetching they may look, it usually is not considered professional to play a gig in your pink bunny slippers!
name and phone number of who to contact
name of who will pay you
name of the bride and groom
other event specifics or instructions
your cell phone
extra set of strings
pliers / wire cutters for bass strings
clip pick-up or microphone for tuner
extra batteries for tuner
cart or dolly for harp
chair, stool, or bench
microphone or pick-up
music and/or list of songs
clips to keep music from blowing
dust cloth or dust brush
business cards and card holder
extra pair of stockings
brush or comb
Now go out there and bring beautiful harp music to a waiting world!
This article was first printed in "The Harp Lover's News" Volume 4, Issue 4, 2nd Quarter, 1997, published by the Sylvia Woods Harp Center.