Feb 11, 2014
Ontario Tour - February 6-8, 2014
The Ontario Tour 2014 or Moving the Harpsichord around Ontario
– From the Perspective of a New Tour Manger
Talia Harrison-Marcassa, Tour Manager
A disclaimer for anyone reading: this is only my eighth month in this job and I am a Ryerson Theatre School Production graduate. Therefore, I know very little about music and even less about the Baroque period, but I’m greatly enjoying learning from the many talented folks who work for Tafelmusik. As a result, I am not going to write about the programme or the musical importance of our tour but of the minute details and logistical challenges of taking a harpsichord on tour with you in Ontario, in the winter.
Because this is my first tour with Tafelmusik (my other touring experience being driving a van and trailer around southern Ontario with a group of 4 actors and a lot of props/set pieces that fell apart constantly, performing a compilation of Robert Munsch stories in around 100 schools), Beth Anderson, who goes on most of Tafelmusik’s International tours, but who started out on smaller tours like this one, came with us. We had spent the weeks leading up to the tour writing long and detailed emails to the presenters and gathering all the necessary items (bus snacks!) for the tour. So it felt like we’d already been on tour for quite some time when we set off. We were joined on tour by Maureen Callaghan a wonderful stage manager who regularly works on our Toronto Season. She had stage-managed Bella Napoli in the fall of 2012 when we performed it at Trinity-St.Paul's Centre, Jeanne Lamon Hall.
Patricia Ahern and Chris Verrette take a quick break at Port Perry near the lake. Photo by Julia Wedman.
Although the orchestra had toured previously to all of our 2014 Ontario Tour destinations, they were new to Maureen and I. As well, neither Maureen nor I had ever moved a harpsichord as far or as frequently as we would have to on this tour.
When we do smaller tours like this one, we take our trusted Tafelmusik harpsichord with us. The Tafelmusik harpsichord is fairly sturdy as harpsichords go. However, it is an irreplaceable instrument because the gentleman who made it stopped building harpsichords about 10 years ago. As a result, Maureen and I were slightly apprehensive of having to move this exceptional instrument on and off buses all over Ontario. However, we had not yet met the Harpsichord Dolly.
The Harpsichord Dolly is a small wooden contraption with one long side (about 1’6” long) and a much shorter side that forms an “L” shape. There are two all terrain wheels and two brown straps that tie over the harpsichord. It doesn’t sound like much, but this small contraption actually saved our lives (and the harpsichord’s) on tour.
After rehearsal concluded at TSP on Wednesday, it was time for Maureen and my inaugural harpsichord move with the Harpsichord Dolly. After much plotting about which route was best and how to best avoid the stairs, we set about getting it ready. To get the harpsichord ready to move you replace its lid and front piece that covers the keyboard. Then you snuggle it into its padded cover and tie it up.
After the harpsichord is all fancied up with it's lid and cover, it is time to attach The Harpsichord Dolly. First you set the harpsichord on its narrower edge, so sitting on its stand, as it would be when played but with the keyboard vertical to the ground instead of horizontal. Then you attach the integral Harpsichord Dolly. This is accomplished by one person using one hand to stabilize the harpsichord (so it doesn’t fall sideways to its death) and using the other hand to hold the dolly underneath the flat keyboard end of the harpsichord, which is hanging off the end of the stand. The second person quickly crosses the straps over the top of harpsichord and attaches them on the other side. Now you have a dolly that is loosely affixed to the harpsichord. Next each person grabs an end and you pick the harpsichord up off the stand and place it (still on its side) on the ground. At this point, you make any adjustments necessary to the cover and straps on The Harpsichord Dolly to make sure the instrument will be safe on its journey.
Now it is time to wheel the harpsichord to its destination. This part is actually quite easy. One person takes the narrower end of the harpsichord on their shoulders and with the other end trussed to the dolly on wheels, it is relatively easy to maneuver. Corners and doors are a bit tricky since you can only see on one side of the harpsichord and the wheels are on a fixed axel so don’t turn well but that’s why you have a buddy guiding the other end and watching your other side.
Trinity-St. Paul’s was a good venue for our first harpsichord move. Since the renovations, you can wheel the harpsichord right off the stage and around to the doors with the wheel chair ramp. Once outside, the elements as well as pedestrians make moving this large instrument slightly more exciting, but still doable. Both Maureen and I were amazed at the number of people who simply stood and stared as the two of us rolled a large instrument down the sidewalk with no regard for the fact they were standing directly in our path.
Loading up the tour bus. Photo by Tim Crouch
For this first move, our fabulous bus driver, Gord, had already shoveled us a path to the bus bay that was our ultimate destination. With coaching from Tafelmusik’s harpsichordist, Charlotte Nediger, we ascertained that the harpsichord had to be loaded into the bay narrow end first so that the wheels of the Dolly could stay on the ground supporting the heavier keyboard-end as long as possible. This would have been easier had it not been February with snow-packed along the edges of the sidewalk. But Maureen and I, with the assistance of our bus driver Gord and Beth, grunted and tugged until we got over the snow bank and edged the narrow half of the harpsichord into the bus bay. Then we pulled and shoved until the harpsichord was almost all the way under the bus. This process is complicated by the fact that, since it's February and very cold, the harpsichord needs to have several layers of moving blankets lining the bus bay for it to sit on. These inevitably get caught on the straps or don’t lie flat making it harder to get the harpsichord in the bay.
At a certain point you have to flip the harpsichord so that it’s horizontal instead of vertical to the ground. Doing this on the heavy end of the harpsichord while outside in blowing snow with the whole orchestra watching is a little nerve racking as one slip of the hand and the harpsichord could slam onto its bottom and seriously damage the instrument. But we’d gotten it this far and weren’t going to stop now so on the count of three, Maureen and I flipped the harpsichord onto its bottom and snugged it into the harpsichord bay. We had successfully completed our first (of many) harpsichord moves.
We would repeat this process many times over the course of the tour and each time it got easier and easier. We moved it into the church in Ottawa, out of the Church in Ottawa and into a conference room in the hotel basement where the harpsichord rested overnight. Then the next morning, we moved it out again and onto the bus. At this point, we were fairly assured of our harpsichord moving abilities. Although we knew we were pros when even a small passenger elevator in the church in Lindsay didn’t faze us. Each time we became more confident and better friends with the harpsichord.
Although there were many positive aspects of this tour, including the fact that the programme was very thoroughly enjoyed by all audiences, the time spent with the wonderful Tafelmusik & Vesuvius Ensemble musicans and the further understanding I gained of touring in general. I feel like conquering the harpsichord move is what I gained the most pride from. Hopefully I will have a chance to tour with Tafelmusik again soon.
The orchestra performing with the Vesuvius Ensemble in an education concert at Dominion-Chalmers United Church, Ottawa. Photo credit: Talia Harrison-Marcassa