Ni hao! Recently, I had the opportunity to travel to China to perform in the opening ceremonies of the University of Dayton China Institute(UDCI). The trip was not only a wonderful experience but also served to stress the importance of risk management to ensure success in any venture!
As a recent UD grad and avid musician, when my horn quartet was invited to perform at the UDCI Grand Opening Ceremonies, we jumped at the chance! Thus began our process of planning and, of course, identifying the risks!
Setting aside the inherent risks in traveling abroad, traveling with a musical instrument adds an entirely new level of complexity. Planes are nightmares for instruments, and the impact of arriving with a damaged horn would have been catastrophic. Through careful planning, patient negotiations, and a very kind flight attendant, all of the instruments made it to China and back safe and sound!
A performance in itself always has risks as well. The possibility of missed notes, miscounting, and playing out of tune is very real (especially as a French horn player!) and could be devastating to an ensemble, especially a small group such as a quartet. The best way to address this is PRACTICE which was an ongoing initiative both before and throughout the trip!
We arrived in Dayton two days prior to our departure date to have two full days of “horn camp” to polish up the pieces we had individually worked on all summer. We departed for China on Saturday and 26 hours later, we were in Shanghai! Jet-lagged and exhausted, we got some sleep, then on Monday we departed for a tour of the beautiful Yu Garden in Shanghai. Then we were on the road again to Suzhou Industrial Park, the home of UDCI.
In Suzhou we were able to continue solidifying the ensemble by spending some time practicing. Locating a rehearsal space was not easy though – many of the hotel staff had no idea what a French horn was and were reluctant to have four of them plus a snare drum practice in the lobby! We adapted to the situation quickly – first practicing outdoors in the hotel garden and later in the hotel’s karaoke bar (unfortunately not during operating hours).
Even with all of our preparation, our first performance was nearly thwarted by a series of uncontrollable circumstances but thanks to careful risk mitigation (and some crisis project management!), we set ourselves up to succeed. Following our successful performances, we were able to relax and spend a few days sight-seeing both in Suzhou and Beijing. It was truly an experience I will never forget.
“Why is the horn such a divine instrument? Because man blows in and only God knows what comes out” – Bad Band Joke.