SIGN-UP AND JOIN THE BLACK ROCK PHILHARMONIC
"Where words fail, music speaks."
- Hans Christian Andersen
Play with Black Rock Philharmonic
Welcome to sign-ups to perform for the 2023 Season of the Black Rock Philharmonic! Signs ups are now open (As of April 28, 2023).
In order to make sure that people who are joining us are given enough time to practice, review Maestro’s notes, and get ready to go to the desert, once we open, we will get everyone signed up, post parts–and then, in the late summer, close sign ups.
For those of you who know–playing with 70-100 other people in a coordinated way–like we did in 2019 and 2022–takes practice and a good bit of work before we get to Playa.
So, to keep it fair, we really, really, try to limit “drop ins”.
We understand, there are people who can do that–but–can you do that in 110 degree heat in a dust storm?
Burners, live music Burners, are a special group.
The Black Rock Philharmonic is pulled from all across the world, the United States, and in particular, Burning Man. As such we do not coordinate or arrange anyone’s camping arrangements. We love all our musicians but looking after the camping arrangement of 100 musicians would probably melt our collective brains. That being said, who and where you camp matters. Our advice is that you take the time to figure out camps from your local area (Facebook, etc) and starting NOW–figure out how compatible you are with various kinds of folks. Some people never want to sleep; some people want to dance all the time; some people are loud, some are quiet, some are minimalists, some take the kitchen sink to the desert. Figuring all that out and figuring how you want to Burn is–well, up to you. We’re glad that playing with us is part of that plan! And look forward to seeing you in the dust.
We also don’t have tickets to offer to all our deserving players in the whole. There are a few that we may be granted by the Org, but we think understandably, those will go to folks who are veterans of previous seasons with us on instruments that we really need to have to fill in our orchestrations (Violas, did someone say Violas???)
Black Rock Philharmonic's Sheet Music for Burning Man 2023, "Animalia"
Music is uploaded and ready for download!
You should have received the password in your sign up email and–remember—Practice This!!!
Frequently Asked Questions
First, no one should take their best instrument to the Playa; it’s a dramatic change in temperature and humidity and would be a bad place for a fine instrument. Sound posts drop, strings break, bridges get dislocated. Having said that:
Tips for String Players in the Desert.
From Black Rock Philharmonic Concertmaster Alyce.
This is Alyce, I have been concertmaster last 4 years and absolutely love playing in Playa conditions. From my experience I find it takes a bit of extra attention to your hands especially if your hands are sensitive to dry conditions… The first year I had cracks on my fingers and my hands hurt a lot. Then I figured some stuff out I would like to share.
I use a small spray bottle and mix white vinegar with water use 1:4 ratio. Carry this bottle around so before you play you can refresh your skin and make it sensitive to the strings again. I carry a dry washcloth and wipe off the vinegar mist then use a natural hand cream to lock in any moisture that I can.
In between playing a rehearsal or concert and riding on the bike I wear simple cotton gloves. This not only keeps your hands from splitting cracks but also protects from the sun hitting hard (I found gloves in the drug store cosmetics aisle) 100% cotton works great! They are really quite thin but sturdy.
Ok, also this sound weird but I also have to use vaseline once a day in the gloves to do an extra moisture boost. Wearing the gloves really helps before playing. My second year I brought 2 pairs with me and 3rd year more.
For the violin strings, (works on any viola, cello, double bass too) I use individually wrapped alcohol prep pads to wipe down the entire length of string. Lots of dust can settle in and make strings sound dull. This helps keep them bright and clear. Just be careful not to let the alcohol touch wood varnish. It will spot. It’s perfectly safe to use the alcohol on the fingerboard, it doesn’t hurt the fingerboard at all…
I wrap my violin in a large cotton bandana-type shaped cloth in my case and lightly moisten that as well. To combat the bow hair drying and shrinking up (you’ll find its difficult to loosen a bow after a few days on Playa). I use a misting water spray and gently spray the inside of my entire case. (which I ALWAYS keep shut after getting violin out etc) I also go so far as to spray / lightly mist the actual bow hair. Any moisture helps to prevent shrinkage on that stick.
I carry pure cotton (cut-up white T shirt material) and try to wipe dust off the actual bow hair each time I put it away. The playa dust can make your bow feel slippery if it gets into the hair too. Obviously dust is going to get into everything but this little bit of removal might help your bow hair feel like it grips and accepts resin. If it gets gunked I use a soft toothbrush to try to dislodge extra dust. I carry 2 bows and wait until one is shot then bring out the other. They are both carbon fiber — non-wood bows and because you all know how I love to play a lot I also have a 3rd spare bow in my van which I use for practicing inside if wind is blowing.
Music on the stand; Paper blows easily so my first choice is the large wooden music clips about 8 inches long with a plastic side you can see-thru to see notes. However, even clothespins would help a lot. One for each corner and maybe one for middle. I have never been able to use the metal clips just because I am not fast with them… So I like wood clips.
I print all my music on a heavy duty paper with almost a cardboard-quality heaviness, kinda chunky but very glad to have it strong rather than rips. Sometimes I tape cardboard to sheet music to make it non-bending. So, think about how the wind may kick up and you’ll want to secure the music to itself and the stand.
String breakage; I knock on wood haven’t had it happen on Playa. But I also use a pencil and put graphite on the grooves at the nut as well as grooves on the bridge to make string glide and less friction at those stress points. Sharpen a pencil and literally color in the grooves. I do it year round.
Bring any spare strings you can even if they are used, you may need them. I bring a carbon violin instrument. If I didn’t have one I would choose to bring a basic one– the student model violin/ instrument. Usually these instruments are glued really well and less finicky than older wood. Fine tuners really help. If your pegs become loose try misting the hole with water and shove the peg in while it is still damp. This is where fine tuners are helpful, easier than peg turning. Mostly, when the wood dries the pegs slip a bit.
IN GENERAL, I wipe entire violin and bow stick off of dust once a day.
OK, so this sounds a bit like too much information. But this works for me and keeps me flexible.
Alyce Bertz -Black Rock Philharmonic Concertmaster
Other comments on string instruments from Roger:
- Several of us bring student-class instruments (some people bring Carbon Fiber; mine is wood, but bright blue with gold leaf lol)
- Multiple spare strings; they snap
- Consider radically toughened bows (I bought a carbon fiber because in the heat and conditions, horse hair just disintegrates before your very eyes)–this is not a commercial plug but several people have found bows with synthetic hair like these quite useful: https://www.incredibow.com
- Spare bridge (we have luthier tools–and remember to NEVER loosen all your strings at once; in that enviroment, your sound post will drop immediately)
- Peg rosin (dryness makes peg slippage a thing)
- Durable folding music stand with weights (sand bags, whatever works for you)
- GREAT wind clips
- Headlight for performances in the darkening light
Hello, kindred woodwind and clarinetist!
I’m looking forward to your adventure as well, so first things first: have you been out to Burning Man before? I’m going to respond as if you have but if not I can be sure to provide more context.
Here’s the long and short of it though:
I would buy a cheap plastic clarinet and bring that. Something like a used student model, or even a super low-end new clarinet. Because here’s some real talk – your high performance beautiful intonation horn that makes you sound like an angel *will absolutely not* perform as it does normally.
Even worse, you risk irrevocable changes. The humidity and dry heat is such that corked pieces you may struggle to wiggle together will shrink so much that they offer no resistance going together out in the desert.
At least that’s the effect on my larger instrument but you will notice it to some degree on a clarinet. I also come from a very humid climate so the shock to Bruce (my Playa bassoon) is something I actively have to mitigate. I feel compelled to add, since hearing that a bassoon goes out to the dessert might make you feel courageous: while Bruce means the world to me, she isn’t really a great instrument and had sat unused in the back of my closet for over a decade before attending That Thing in the Desert, AND I have a regular, non-playa bassoon for civilized non-desert feral situations.
If you can’t buy a cheap clarinet, you could rent. I think a fair amount of people do, but especially if you may want to participate multiple years, you’d save money with buying a cheapie. And you wouldn’t be faced with the possibility of having to return a busted up disaster to your local woodwind purveyor.
If I haven’t dissuaded you yet from bringing your treasured musical magic wand, there are tips and tricks I can share.
As for what you can expect while playing: your reed will dry out really fast if you’re still using cane reeds. Like while you are actively playing a passage. Consider getting a plastic reed. I usually have multiple reeds soaking so I can rotate mid-performance, but that’s probably not a viable solution for a single reed.
Keypads might fall off, and cork shrinkage might produce leaks. Bring extra pads, glue, and tooth floss.
You can make individual wrappers for each of the parts of the clarinet out of thin disposable emergency blankets, wrapping them like pieces of almond roca inside the case. This will help ease the shock of transitioning to the desert atmosphere. I found they disintegrate too quickly to be of use all week, but it helps with the initial shock.
Clean, clean, clean, as best you can, each time. Sometimes that means just putting it back in the case as quick as possible until the whiteout passes, and then taking it back out to swab. (This year I’m considering bringing multiple silks, so I can use a clean one each time I swab so I’m never dragging a dusty silk through my instrument.)
And just as important as your instrument is your case. They make GIANT ziplock storage bags. I get one big enough to put my bassoon case in. I cannot recommend that enough. And if you DO end up renting, do not I repeat DO NOT bring the case they give you.
As wind players we have the added challenge to keep ourselves hydrated and fueled up enough to not pass out when we play. Really, really keep up with your water intake (our support camp is SUPER GOOD at making sure everyone has water during rehearsals) and don’t sugar crash and you’ll be fine. Especially hydrate during the first practices, before you’re fully acclimated. Someone always locks their knees and passes out, don’t let it be you!!!
I’d invest in a super slim collapsible stand, we are tasked with bringing our own. Also, a small but sturdy camp stool or chair.
Put your music in a 3 ring binder and slip the sheets into those plastic sleeves with the holes (Sometimes, the orchestra has provided these BUT it’s hard to assemble once you’re in the dust)
Bring paper clips or clips to hold the music down. In my experience, what works best for weighting the stand is a gallon jug of water, a carabiner, and a short length of whatever to lash them together.
Best regards and so excited,
Black Rock Philharmonic Scholarship
Once we receive your application, a committee of the senior members will make a weighted judgement based on someone having a demonstrated need, having played with us before and being a stalwart, playing an instrument that we need in our orchestration, aligning with our support of DEI , and telling us their story in a way that we can understand. The size of the scholarship usually covers a ticket and sometimes can be more. You will note: sheer virtuosity is not the sole criteria nor is a performing resume. Decisions are usually made in no longer than a week.
One of the most important values of the playa is built on gifting and we consider this as one of our gifts when we can offer it, to whom we can offer it. We will do what we can even as we know it can never be enough. We also acknowledge, once the gift is given, we release all control over its use and destiny. We have given scholarships to folks to people who had every intention of making it and could not get there (curse COVID). There is no quid pro quo, just our mutual disappointment if it doesn’t all turn out.
To be among the applicants for our scholarships:
1) Sign up here:
2) Separately email: scholarship (at) blackrockphilharmonic (dot) org with a paragraph that gives us your name and email (so we can connect it to your sign up) and that will help us understand your application for a scholarship–and why you have both a need and a rational plan on how to get to the desert to engage with us in this highly irrational undertaking (irrational, but glorious). Scholarships will be done on a rolling basis until we close them around July 15th, 2023.
As an orchestra of 70-100 musicians, we are mostly interested in performing with one another rather than backing a concerto performance. We do, however, have a soloist perform at each show and occasionally other opportunities pop up. They have been some of best musical moments out there. To help us out with your application to be one of those folks, could you give us an recording / video, and what piece/song(s) you might sing/perform if you were given ~4 minutes? Plan on it being either be an a capella arrangement or have an arrangement for accompaniment by our fantastic pianist. We have a few other possibilities we can discuss as well. Also, if this YoYo Ma’s artistic management reaching out, you can assume all the stuff above is simply blather and tell us where, when, and how.
Email: [email protected]
Playing at an Art Piece
Each year we go out, the Black Rock Philharmonic tries to perform one concert out in the Playa at a large art piece. Such past concert sites have included La Victrola, The Orb (sunrise; dawn is tough lol), The Folly (yes please!), and Paradisium (The trees we love).
Our criteria for this art piece is that it hopefully fulfills a number of things all at once.
First that your monumental art piece is available on Thursday at about 6:00 PM for us to perform—and not cross-scheduled as a wedding site, or art car hoe-down at the same time. That’s your call.
Second, we would prefer that the art be BIG; it’s best if its height and massing offer shade to a large part of the orchestra since 100 degree heat and direct sunlight make doing our best somewhat difficult. We hope we can all acknowledge that performing on acoustical classical instruments in the middle of a desert is utterly and magnificently mad, right? But heatstroke and instrument damage still isn’t that much fun.
Third, it’s really best if the art is solid and approximately 50 to 70 feet or more in width. Our reasoning for this is that it provides a further windbreak, shade, and an acoustical backdrop to help us bounce our sound forward. There’s also an odd detail where we’ll try to convince you to set up your generators on the WEST side of the are piece so that we can set up on the quiet EAST side in the shade to perform.
Finally, because we know how things are and how many obstacles there are to getting a piece onto the Playa, as an orchestra, we need to come to the conclusion that we can work with the artist(s) building the piece and that the piece will indeed be on the Playa and ready to go when we arrive with our full orchestra. Unfortunately, those of us who have some experience of Burning Man know that there are obstacles that can arise that can derail even the most promising project and committed artist.
If this sounds like a possible fit for you, please reach us at: [email protected] and let’s start a dialogue.
Just to give you a sense of the scale of what we are talking about; in 2019, we looked like this, and there were about 3000 people at the Folly.
Mayan Warrior, our good partner; RIP.
And in 2022, at Paradisium, it looked liked this: 3-5,000 people and 17 art cars.
We’re supplying these to make it clear: it’s about logistics and fit. Let’s see if we’re the right fit.
Volunteering and Support
Black Rock Philharmonic thrives with Burners support and extra help is always appreciated. If you or a friend would like to volunteer before or during concert weeks, please feel free to speak to us or email us at [email protected].
Join the Black Rock Philharmonic Mailing List
Join our mailing list and stay informed about our news and events.