Having an outdoor event on a crisp NY fall day is an attractive idea. Sunshine with fall foliage can be gorgeous and romantic. That time of year cooler temperatures may keep away mosquitoes and other small party pests. So why would a classical or flamenco guitarist find fault with this?
Classical and flamenco guitar require many fine motor skills. Maximum flexibility is needed in the fingers, arms, and shoulders in order to execute complicated passages. You’re often playing the melody, chords, and bass notes all at once. As the temperature goes down, these skills are rapidly degraded.
About a year ago, I played at a wedding and reception in a lovely forest setting. The attendees were very friendly, a tent for the reception was tastefully decorated, and great food was in abundance. The ceremony and reception were both held in this setting, and for the ceremony I played Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring as the recessional piece, which came off without a hitch.
The reception followed. The attendees became well-lubricated and were having a splendid time as the sun set, but as it became cooler, I began to lose technique. I realized that I would have to toss out my original plan, and instead substitute the easiest pieces in my repertoire. Fortunately, I know a lot of tunes, and the celebrants were too busy with revelry to even notice my gradual skill regression to the point where a C-major scale sounded like a difficult prospect. Jesu is a very difficult piece, and if it had been that cool during the ceremony, it may have been a mess. Thankfully, the change was gradual from warm to cold, so the evening was still a success. And this was in late August!
In the past I have played at other outdoor events where it was cold the whole time, and the music and musicians suffered. There is a sort of hierarchy of skills that changes with the temperature. Speaking for myself, if the temperature is 65 degrees (about 18 degrees celsius) or above, I can perform optimally. 70 is just about perfect. Above 90 is pushing it, but still may be OK because the joints are highly flexible, and I’m very heat-tolerant. But as we move below 65, things rapidly go bad. Below 60, classical or flamenco pieces become problematic, but strumming three-chord rock or folk tunes is probably OK (or possibly Smoke on the Water, and maybe my bad impression of Bob Dylan). As we get down towards 50, all bets are off – most people don’t hire a classical guitarist to play one or two notes. Notice that these temperatures probably don’t sound cold to most people. But it’s different for musicians. Or at least for me – I’m sure there are hardier types that can play other instruments in cold weather, but I’m betting you won’t find classical guitarists in this group.
So if you are planning to schedule an outdoor NY state event during the time from September 1 though late spring, you may want to avoid hiring a classical or flamenco guitarist. I’m happy to play during that time period, but indoors!