Category Archives: Work

work

I turned down work Sunday night. The circumstances were a little different from usual so I feel a need for some explanation. After Zach was killed, I really pulled my head in as far as the type of work I was doing. Prior to that, I was doing a lot of sound jobs. They were mostly at the Symphony but also around town in hotels. I enjoyed the challenges.

When I came back from Baton Rouge, I had a Soundbox right away but I also did a substitute day for one of the holiday pops shows in the main room at Davies.

I made it through Soundbox without any major problems but during the other job I made some mistakes that would have been uncharacteristic before. My response to this was to reduce the number of jobs I did on sound and concentrate on the substitute house electric job instead. The house electric job required much less initiative and was much more clearly defined.

About a year into this I realized that the spark that I had had for many years in the theater was gone. The desire for knowledge and to provide the best for my employers just wasn’t there any more. This is not to say that I suddenly was doing bad work. Except for the change in emphasis, no one really noticed.

But I did. And all the talk about retirement meant more to me than finding a better way to prepare for a graduation, for example.

So, while I kept in touch with the sound part of my business, I started letting all of that go. I stopped doing jobs on Hal’s crew (although I still work with him as house electrician). I gave up the Soundbox head job to Denise. I settled in to being JJ’s loyal lieutenant, working generally two or three days a week.

Now, the other part of all this is how I get my jobs. Back in, say, 2014 or 2015, I worked a lot at Davies Hall and I would essentially be hired directly by Jim or Rob or Hal. The Union office would sometimes be made aware of those hirings but they played no role in getting me those jobs. When I had holes in my schedule I would make myself available to the Local 16 office and they would often call me with work.

After Zach was killed, that all ended. Once in a while I would get a call, but I was usually already busy so I was able to avoid going to other places. Davies Hall was safe and a known quantity for me. Sometimes I felt bad about doing this because I wanted to support the Local by filling the jobs they needed to fill. But I remembered the mistakes I had made before due to lack of concentration and I didn’t want to jeopardize any more jobs that way. And the spark was gone.

So when the office called me Sunday night for a job today, I said I couldn’t do it. I had already committed to going down to Santa Clara to see Mom and Dad. In years past, I would have changed that. The other issue was operating a big digital sound mixer. I’m out of practice and I said so. If I had the spark, I would have pulled it off. Now, I just don’t want to.

The Local stood by me when I came back to San Francisco and I will be eternally grateful for that. But I have to be cognizant of my own health. I can’t do every job.

Hal

I’m never quite sure how to handle writing about other people in these days of identity stealing. I’m following my general rule of no last names. Hal is a colleague of mine and a friend. He’s been the primary SF Symphony sound man since Davies Hall opened in 1980. I had worked on his crew for Symphony Pops at the Civic Auditorium in the late ’80s as well as some other jobs around town. When I came back to San Francisco ten years ago and got sent to a call at Davies, it was good to see him again.

In 2012, my involvement with the Symphony grew and I found myself working with Hal much more. Our birthdays are only about a week apart and our professional paths have some similarities. Neither of us had family or neighborhood contacts to help us get started in the business. We were driven by an intense interest in sound reinforcement and became successful by determination and hard work.

Our experiences coming of age in the ’60s was another commonality. The San Francisco music scene then was world class. We’ve had a lot of fun in the last few years talking about arcana from those days. He grew up in the City and I was on the Peninsula so he had more opportunity to see the various venues but I knew the names of who was in the bands, what instruments they played, and on what albums.

My first day back at work after Zach died was helping to put in the PA at Davies for Hal. (That was before we got the permanent one we have now.) When I asked to leave early he defended me to others who did not understand my grief as well. Over the next few months he showed me constant compassion and understanding for my grief.

After Sepi agreed to marry me, I started to think about the wedding and realized I needed a best man. Hal was an easy choice and he did not hesitate to say yes.

Last week I talked to him about some details of the wedding day and he told me he would take care of them because that was part of the deal. My nature is not to ask for help but, as he did before, he stepped up because he knew it was the right thing to do.

As of a couple of weeks ago, Jeremy was able to get his work to release him so he will be standing with me as well but Hal is still the best man. Sarah will be up there too. I am proud to be supported by such fine people.

the Symphony

I work at Davies Symphony Hall and ‘hear’ the San Francisco Symphony a lot. I put ‘hear’ in quotes because I usually ‘hear’ them from inside the lighting booth through one microphone hanging above the stage and some inexpensive speakers.

Today I went into the hall for some minor maintenance reason while the rehearsal was going on. OMG, what a sound!

I’ll tell you, live music on real instruments. There’s nothing like it!

BTW, MTT was conducting Mahler in what’s called the antiphonal setup. That is when the first and second violins are on opposite sides of the stage. No surround sound system can duplicate this!

quote

Our last SoundBox for the season opened last night. Someone said to me, ‘Last of the year.’ and of course I had to correct her. Unlike this time last year, we do have a SoundBox scheduled for next December. This is an improvement.

For myself, I’m not sure if I will continue working SoundBox. I enjoy it tremendously but the thrill I’ve had for 45 years working in live theatre is diminishing and I have begun thinking seriously about my next chapter.

Sarah had been scheduled to play for the movie in the main hall but someone dropped out of the SoundBox orchestra and she got moved over. It was her first time playing in SoundBox. The music was difficult and there are only a few players so everyone’s playing is exposed. She handled it with grace and aplomb. Perhaps she was churning inside but I didn’t see it.

Aside from the fact of her continuing to get hired by the Symphony, the best thing about seeing her with this orchestra is seeing her interact with her fellow musicians in a friendly and relaxed way. They like her!

Now for my quote. This was posted about a friend of a friend of a friend on FaceBook but it caught my eye just before I deleted it. Credited to Daisaku Ikeda:

In the Buddhist view, the bonds that link people are not a matter of this lifetime alone. And because those who have died in a sense live on within us, our happiness is naturally shared with those who have passed away. So, the most important thing is for those of us who are alive at this moment to live with hope and strive to become happy. By becoming happy ourselves, we can send invisible ‘waves’ of happiness to those who have passed away.

sea change

‘Sea change.’ That’s the phrase that kept coming to me last week. Now that I put it down in black and white, I find I’m thinking about what it really means. I’ve been in boats but I’m not a sailor. I live by the ocean and every time I drive by the beach I look at the waves and think about what it must be like out there. Some days it’s flat and some days it’s wild.

But to imply that the difference between flat and wild signifies something important is kind of a stretch. The ocean is changeable. End of story.

But to me, the phrase means an important change and I feel that an important change has happened in me over the last few weeks. Part of it was my trip to Louisiana. Even though I haven’t done anything yet to follow up on my data gathering, I’ve found myself more able to look forward in a positive way. It’s hard to explain.

SoundBox was a professional opportunity that came my way in 2014. It was a tremendous challenge and has been on the whole tremendously satisfying. I’ve always thought of my career as being in live theatre. A live performance – music, drama, dance – has for me a power like no other art form. And, although we as stagehands are rarely visible, it’s a communal effort that has great meaning to me.

My colleague and friend Denise has been working with me in SoundBox as my assistant for over two years now. She ran the floor, moved the microphones and speakers around, kept track of the myriad details of every show. She’s taken classes and studied and for last week’s production she was in the ‘hot seat’. My original intention was just to let her gain more experience by participating in the pre-production meetings along with actually running the show, which she had done before but as I started the week as her assistant, I found that I was happy in my role. Far from being jealous of her position, I found that I was relieved that someone was there who could handle everything.

Although I had imagined telling her this in a serious heart to heart talk, in the event, it happened on our way out Saturday night in a rather casual way. I told her that I wanted her to continue in the ‘hot seat’ for the April set and furthermore, I wanted her to think about finding someone else to train in the system so that I could step aside completely.

This is my ‘sea change.’ That I have a challenging and exciting job in theatre and I’m ready to walk away from it. The prospect of playing music more, of having more time to help Mom and Dad, of being able to visit new (and old) places is beckoning stronger and stronger. I know it’s called retirement and many people do these things but it always seemed unrealistic. Now it seems less so.

post SoundBox post

I had a lot of ideas for posts last week as I was working SoundBox. My schedule wasn’t even that onerous. I had every night off except Friday and Saturday and Saturday I had the day free. Wednesday night I had a union meeting so I got home late.

But no posts got written. Sorry about that. Now I have a week (mostly) off so I’m hoping to catch up here. At the moment the well is dry, however. I’ll be back shortly . . .

SoundBox

Another SoundBox is in the history books. (Or what ever history is kept in nowadays.) We did our two shows Friday night and last night. The theme was family connections and we heard sons and daughters of Symphony musicians playing with each other in various short pieces. Despite – or perhaps because of – that theme, the selections were generally excerpts so musically it wasn’t as interesting as other shows have been.

The one exception was the only piece in the 2nd Act. It was called Sketches of Kazakhstan by Samuel Post. One of the members of the second violin section, Raushan Akhmedyarova, was born in Kazakhstan and her father was a famous musician and composer there. Mr Post took some of Raushan’s father’s themes and expanded them into a very nice piece about 20 minutes long for chamber orchestra.

In SoundBox, I have several responsibilities. One is to set the room acoustic for each piece with the Constellation system. I always try to involve the musicians and artistic staff in this but I also have my own ideas. I have found that it is tempting to put more ‘reverb’ into everything just because we can. In the case of Sketches, the original setting we tried was a preset designed for small string orchestra. As the piece was being rehearsed, though, I felt that a dryer sound would allow the individual instruments, and particularly Raushan’s solo violin, to be heard better. I was very pleased to carry the day on this. I thought it was the highlight of the program.

Simply put, each preset is made up of 5 acoustic parameters. Constellation users can choose among a wide range of settings for each parameter. A relatively small number of presets were created when we first received the system for general, non-SoundBox, use. I am not against using a generic preset if it sounds good, but probably 90% of the pieces presented at SoundBox over the 3+ years we’ve been doing it have been customized for the exact music being played.

The last piece on this month’s program was a father and son affair. Steve Paulson is the Symphony’s principal bassoon. His son, Greg, is a guitarist in a ‘progressive death metal’ band called Arkaik. Greg’s piece was a six minute track of slammed guitars and drums which he and Steve played off of. It was all written out. there was no improvisation. Greg had a seven string guitar through a Marshall cabinet that, oddly, was hard to hear. Steve had a contact mic on his bassoon that I ran through the overhead speakers. Playing back the track was my responsibility, as was setting up the links between my system and the lighting and video systems so everything played in sync. Greg certainly has fast fingers!

After the last three years in which we had a SoundBox set every month from December to April, we are down to only three this season. Our next one is in February and the last will be in April. the room is in use by the Opera from May to November so putting on SoundBox during that time is not possible. Those of us on the Local 16 operating crew understand how expensive it is to put on but we enjoy doing it and look forward to participating in future sets.

I quit jazz band

Maybe I had a short fuse last Monday night. For work I use the term ‘long day’ to designate a day that starts early in the day – usually 8 am – and continues until 11 pm or midnight. In reality, it can be anywhere from fourteen to twenty hours long, depending on whether you count meal breaks. A regular day plus a show means I leave the apartment at 7 am and get home between 11 and 11:30 pm. That’s a long day.

So I had a long day Saturday, then Sunday I drove up to Loomis to play with Loose Gravel. that was over twelve hours away from home. Monday I had a regular 8 to 5 day, but then had to rush to jazz band practice so I didn’t go home, I just wolfed down a chicken sandwich at Burger King on my way.

I knew what the rest of my week was going to be: long days through Friday, one day off, then another long day Sunday. That’s a grind.

In band this semester, I’m playing bass because Zack asked me to help with one of the other, less experienced, players. The rehearsal is supposed to end at ten, but he almost always takes it right up to ten or a little past. Monday, at about 4 minutes till ten, he called up a chart and Amanda (my mentee, as it were) decided she wanted to try playing it. Zack said some things about it while we were shuffling around and we thought he was starting in a certain place. We were wrong, though, and when the band was done he called us out for being unprepared. I didn’t get pissed right away but on the way home I decided that things were too confusing with three bassists and I would bow out.

I sent him an email right away but I didn’t get a response until last night. He expressed disappointment and hoped I would reconsider. I guess the bloom is off the rose. I won’t be going to jazz band tonight.

quotidian

It’s a real word. I’m sure of it. But I’m not going to look it up. I want to riff on it based on what I think it means.

It’s what my life has been the last nearly two weeks. In a way, though, it’s been longer. My trip with Jeremy was fraught with meaning but it was really just quotidian for me. I mean, I planned it, and I did it. No muss no fuss.

Visiting with Rosalie shouldn’t have been quotidian but it kind of was. Jeremy was away and we did some stuff. It was nice but it never seemed unordinary.

When I got back, I took¬† the CueStation class for three days, then spent an afternoon and evening in Santa Clara (after going to the dentist to have a broken crown fixed), then I had a long day (15 hours) at work, then I drove Rose and her sister Leigh and Gavino’s other grandmother to Pollock Pines for his birthday party. Then the next day I did laundry, then went back down to Santa Clara where I hung with Tim and his family. Then it was Monday and Tony Bennett at Davies. That was another long day. Tuesday I met Tim’s family along with Julian at Davies where I showed them around the whole building. Then I did another Tony Bennett show followed by a load out. Wednesday I went to Alameda for a haircut, followed by lunch with Leti and Hal, followed by dinner out with Rose for her birthday. Today I was back to work at 8 and just got home at 10:45. Tomorrow I get my permanent crown at the dentist and go back to work in the evening.

So there hasn’t been much time for reflection. Tonight the featured artist was a woman named Rhiannon Giddens. A classically trained singer from North Carolina, she became interested in the folk music of the area she grew up in after graduating from Oberlin. She has a band and some Grammy’s so I suppose I should have heard of her but I hadn’t. She sang Summertime and a Kurt Weill song that were sort of ordinary. there was a gospel number before intermission that was cool but in the second half she sang a song she wrote about a slave woman who was sold but her child was not, so they were separated.

I found myself weeping in the darkness of the light booth. Then she sang a song about the four little girls killed in the Birmingham church and I wept some more. Where did that come from? My life was moving along more or less under control and suddenly these couple of songs unhinged me completely. Loss of a child, of course. I’m quite sensitive to that for obvious reasons, but the sight of this young woman standing up there delivering this message almost defiantly was moving in and of itself. Seeing Sarah in the orchestra behind her made it even more intense.

I suppose, compared to a year and a half ago, I’m ‘better’ at handling this. I was able to remember that I could be heard through the glass if I got too loud. I was able to get it together enough to bring up the bow light at the end of each number. By the end of the show I was back to my quotidian life.

After tomorrow I have some days off. I will try to write more here and work on my new jigsaw puzzle. I did get one started the other day. It’s a scene from Yosemite Valley.

Denise

One of the great joys of being back in San Francisco to work is the people I get to work with. I apologize ahead of time to my colleagues in Sacramento. The reasons I did not enjoy my time there do not reflect on you, they are mine only.

Case in point is Denise. I’ve worked with Denise many times over the last eight years. She has a specialty within the world of sound people that dovetails with mine so we sometimes get on the same jobs. Today she told a story of her being told to slow down because she was working too hard. We all laughed, because it is so Denise. She is always thinking ahead and always taking the responsibility of action. I’ve been lucky to have her as my #2 in SoundBox for the last two years.

She had shown me her art quite a while ago. It’s not dramatic, it’s full of subtlety. She told me what ‘ATC’ meant long a go and I don’t remember now, but I think it means pretty small, like post card size.

Just a few months ago we were talking and she mentioned her web page. Web page?? You mean like a blog? Well, sort of. She writes a little, but mostly it is just images of her art. I invite you to take a look at it here.