Category Archives: Work

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.

procrastination

Yeah, wanting to write but not being able to bring myself to it. It happens every so often. I’d guess about half the time there’s a gap of more than 2 or 3 days that’s the reason. (The other times I’m busy with work . . .)

For a moment yesterday I thought I’d gotten myself into working every night this week. Then we (Arno and I) looked again at the schedule and figured out that he could still work tonight and Wednesday nights. I’m covering him on Friday and I’m still going to try to get out of Saturday night.

My flight to Atlanta is leaving at 6 am Sunday. Jeremy will be arriving from Seattle about the same time as me. We will proceed to his house and start loading the truck for the big move. Actually the big move starts for them tomorrow with their flight west.

They have a house rental lined up, Ashley has a job, but Jeremy does not. He’s set himself up as a volunteer with the local fire district and – weirdly, to me – he’s getting some training from them starting Thursday the 29th. That means we’re going to be leaving Georgia Monday morning (probably) and trying to get to the Seattle environs by noon on Thursday. It’s do-able but just barely, especially with only two drivers driving a 26′ bobtail towing an SUV.

We’ll see a lot of Interstate Highway but not much else, I’m afraid. Jeremy tried to apologize to me a couple of weeks ago when this training thing came up. I said, no way. I’m just happy to be part of the party. I never had any plans to sightsee on this trip anyway.

I hope to do some, at least, updates from the road next week.

Burt Bacharach

Yesterday we had what we call an outside event at Davies. Davies ‘Symphony Hall’ was of course built for the San Francisco Symphony but other entities use it when they can. It’s a beautiful hall and prestigious. In the last six weeks, we’ve had our usual spring spate of graduation ceremonies squeezed in amongst the symphony rehearsals and concerts.

Last night’s outside event was Burt Bacharach. We last had Burt a couple of years ago when he appeared with the Symphony accompanying him. This concert was promoted by SF Jazz and was Burt with his band only. Burt is particularly interesting because Hal toured with him for 12 years and talks often about the great education he got from it.

When I say squeezed in, I really mean it. Yesterday the orchestra was on stage rehearsing Rite of Spring until 12:30. Large orchestra with lots of percussion. As soon as they were released, the hands fell on the stage removing stands and chairs and rearranging risers while the sound crew unloaded their truck and began to install the PA. Actually, we have an in-house PA now that is good so there was no rolling in of large speaker boxes and tedious stacking and raising them on motors.That’s all permanent now. What Hal and his guys did have to do was bring in the mixing consoles, Front Of House and monitor, run the snakes, connect everything, build the mic stands and wire the stage: mics, monitors, keyboards. All in 2 hours.

Instead of being on the sound crew as I have many times in the past, I’ve recently moved up to Head Carpenter/Stage Manager for most of these outside events. I was wrestling risers, bringing in and setting up the backline. Besides the grand piano for Burt, the band had a drummer, a bass player, a violinist, a sax guy and a trumpet guy, three singers, and three keyboard players (five keyboards). The keyboards too the most time.

So I was busy too. A little later in the afternoon, after the sound check was underway, the production manager came to me and asked who was on the crew that could do stage moves. Well, that would be me. So, she says, one of the singers plays acoustic guitar for two of the numbers on the show. They didn’t want the guitar sitting on stage so I was the one to bring it on, along with a stool, at the proper time – twice.

That’s all really normal stuff. As they (the PM and the singer) were finishing up telling me all this, they said, can you tune the guitar? They had an electronic tuner so I said sure. They didn’t ask me if I was a musician or knew anything about guitars or anything, just, can you tune it. OK. When the sound check was done, I took the guitar offstage and tuned it up.

The first number was about a half hour into the show so we got started and I went over and checked the tuning but then I started thinking. The singer never said anything else to me after that initial orientation. As far as I know he never picked up the guitar to check the tuning before he went on stage. Wow! That seems really odd to me.

The handoffs went fine and the guitar was in tune. After the show I was working with one of the keyboard guys putting things away and I mentioned it to him. He said, ‘Yeah, last week we were in LA and the guitar came out all out of tune.’ He was kind of laughing about it but I was stunned. These guys are all really good musicians but evidently they have a blind spot on this. The numbers were basically solo pieces for the guitar. Pretty exposed.

Well, they’re gone now and tonight we have somebody named Ben Gribbard. It’s a similar deal: the orchestra is on stage until 3:30, then we come in and put in the show again. 8 o’clock start, I don’t know when the sound check is. Maybe 5 or 5:30. Hal was able to leave the mixers in so that part doesn’t need to be done again. It’ll still be a panic.

By the way, Burt Bacharach was born in 1928. He’s older than my father. He’s little guy and bent over but still going out there on stage, playing the piano, talking to the audience. I didn’t think to ask how much they’re touring but there’s no end date. Rumor is that the Symphony is having him back next year. He did two hours last night on stage without a break. Amazing. He told the audience there’s nothing else he’d rather be doing.

Life

I keep saying I want to cut back but I keep failing. Last week was the return from the work weekend Monday. I was so tired when I got home I couldn’t go to band that night. Tuesday I got my laundry done and napped but had work that evening. Wednesday and Thursday I took classes for professional development in Hayward. By the end of the second day I was wondering why I bothered. The new big Yamaha mixer is interesting but the likelihood of me driving one for a job are slim to none.

Friday morning was our first graduation of the year at Davies. I stayed down there to work the evening shift. Saturday, Rose’s sister Leigh had a gathering at her house in Antioch to celebrate the life of her husband, John. Saturday traffic was an abomination. 2+ hours each way.

Sunday morning up early for the Youth Orchestra in Davies until 5 pm then a dash down to Santa Clara for Mother’s Day dinner. In addition to that, we celebrated Jane and Julian’s birthdays. Julian is 21!

Yesterday an early call (6 am) for another graduation then concert dress rehearsal for the jazz band in the evening. I did lay down and try to nap in the afternoon.

Today I am waiting for the laundry room to become free. I have a couple of errands to run but they can wait until tomorrow if it comes to that. The rehearsal showed me that I need to practice the guitar more, although I really already knew that, so I’ve done some of that already. I finished the jigsaw puzzle I’ve been picking away at for almost a month. It’s one of the hardest I’ve ever done so that is satisfying.

Tomorrow night, work returns. Thursday I signed on with Hal to be part of the sound crew for the Disney/Pixar movie presentation at Davies. It’s going to be an 8 am to midnight (at least) day plus I agreed to do the graduation at 7 the next morning. And the house head job in the evening . . .

All this to clear my weekend for personal things. Saturday afternoon in San Francisco Sarah’s quartet is hosting a benefit that I will attend before heading back to San Bruno in the evening for the jazz band concert. Sunday up to Rose’s brother Steve’s house in Plymouth and another chance to play with Allen Frank and his Doghouse Blues band at the Drytown Club.

Monday I think I’ll collapse but Monday evening is another jazz band rehearsal, this time for the school graduation. I really want to go up to Eagle Creek Falls before the summer madness starts so right now it looks like Tuesday or Wednesday will be my best options before Memorial Day.

I have Sarah’s next quartet concert on my calendar for Friday the 26th but yesterday realized it overlapped the Skyline graduation. Hmmm, I may have to weasel out of that one.