I got a unicycle for my birthday about three months ago, and I’ve been sporadically trying to learn to ride it ever since. The video above shows about how far I’ve gotten: I can ride a few feet along a wall, and a few fewer feet out in open space. Then I fall off. I’m getting better at it, although it has been brought to my attention recently that I’ve let the tire go a little flat, and that’s probably making it easier.
One reason I asked for a unicycle for my birthday—a unicycle is not the kind of thing I generally get for my birthday unasked for—is that I’m trying to cultivate my own willingness to make a fool of myself. Since you can’t ride a unicycle indoors, at least not in a New York City apartment, my practicing has to take place on the street. And since I can’t really ride it yet, it has to take place outside my own building. My neighbors and the building’s doormen have reacted generally with bemusement. Occasionally a passing parent will seize the occasion to instruct a small child (“Do you think he’s missing a wheel, Ashley?”). Sometimes people walk by suppressing grins. Often they ask if I’m going to join the circus. But, of course, this being New York, mostly they ignore me.
I’m also in the midst of orchestrating for a seven-piece pit band for the musical National Pastime, by Al Tapper and Tony Sportiello, a terrifically fun little show which will play 16 performances in New York this August. I am anticipating making somewhat of a fool of myself in that endeavor, as well.
National Pastime is set in the 1930s, you see, and the music mostly references the popular styles of that decade, with occasional excursions into the 40s and 50s. And while I’ve spent some time researching the music of the era, I’m not much farther toward a real knowledge of the subject than I am toward being able to ride my unicycle around the block. Add to that the fact that the various styles of music the show uses require mutually exclusive instrumental forces, none of which resembles the ensemble I’ve got, and you begin to see how I am feeling as though I could tip over in any direction.
So for the “mountain music” or “western swing” numbers—these styles were the first commercial forerunners of what would become Country-Western music—I’m relying heavily on my guitarist to take the instruction “Comp!” and turn it into something that will get the idea across. For the numbers evoking a more Big Band sound, well, I spent a fair amount of time today trying to figure out ways to make one trumpet, one tenor sax and a violin sound like a horn section.
Luckily, I’ll have a couple of rehearsals with the band before anyone else hears it—with any luck, enough time to work out any kinks, or even go back to the drawing board if I’ve blown it completely. And the band rehearsals will not take place outside my apartment building. (“Ashley, do you think he’s missing the necessary feel for Depression-era popular music?”)