Scene: Outlying provinces off Cebu, Philippines more than 15 years ago. I was on tour with a pair of ballet dancers, a classical pianist and a local singer named Phrolo. It was a Government Outreach Tour whose noble mission is to bring arts into far-flung provinces. About 4 stops in one day were scheduled – all in public elementary schools, which meant kids!
We started performing at 7:00 AM (7:00 AM!!!) right after the flag ceremony, a daily morning ritual in Philippine public schools. My guitar playing was the main act so I always had to start the program with the other performers playing in between. Playing very early in the morning turned out to have a lasting lesson bec. I realized if I can play J.S. Bach at 7:00 AM, anything else is a breeze. This thought always gave me confidence bec., trust me, you couldn’t create a more adverse situation for me to play in.
What the organizers didn’t tell us was that they were charging the kids 25 cents, which was fine. It was really like charging them nothing. But what we didn’t know was that those very quarters were our payments too. And we’re talking about hundreds of kids per school, these were big, I mean BIG schools.
So, we collected our payments after the first stop in the form of about a dozen bags of quarters. It was already pretty hefty but we didn’t care, it was manageable. But we slowly realized after each stop the ridiculousness of our situation. After the 2nd stop, we were hauling quarters, the 3rd we thought we needed wheelbarrows. By the end of the day, I couldn’t lift my guitar case, quarters were coming out of it. We jingled all the way to the jeepney that took us back to our motel.
The next problem was counting them. Since I was the main act I got the highest percentage of the quarters. I think it was the only instance in my life when I wished I got paid less. But we were all such good sports we even played this silly game of distracting each other in the middle of counting, causing us to recount and throw coins at each other.
All in all, I think I played well that day. I can tell bec. they clapped whenever I played a difficult passage. Strange yes, and I did feel a bit like a circus performer but at least now they know there is such a thing as classical guitar. I like to think that the Outreach Tour made some impression to some of these kids.
To this day, whenever I do laundry and get upset about missing a few quarters, I think back to that day … and get upset no more.