Tag Archives: Ballet

voices of my children

After posting twice already today with posts that were largely written my children, I found myself thinking tonight about my third child, my only daughter, Sarah.

Sarah is a writer too but her writing is hidden from me. At one time I handled some diaries from her youth. I promised I would not read them and I have kept that promise. I do not know if she still writes like that. She is a very busy person although I will go out on a limb to say that her life has simplified in the last year or so.

When she first returned to California after earning her doctorate in music, she took jobs playing music wherever they presented themselves. Orchestra musicians in the Sf Bay Area sometimes refer to these jobs as ‘The Freeway Philharmonic.’ They are rather widely spread. A friend of hers from college had started a music academy and Sarah got some students there. It was nothing like a regular job, though. Her pay was directly dependent on the number of student she had. In fact, she was more like a contractor in both cases.

One reason for coming back to the Bay Are was that she wanted to continue her study of body mechanics called the Alexander Method. There was a particularly good teacher in San Francisco.

So, for two years she juggled all these things while getting more and more discouraged that she could not make a decent living without spending hours in Bay Area traffic. She even talked to me about going back to school to get a degree in something that she could make a living at.

There are really only three orchestras in the Bay Area that pay well enough for members to live decently without taking other work: San Francisco Symphony, San Francisco Opera, and San Francisco Ballet. Sarah took auditions with all three of these organizations but did not play well enough to be hired. She did play well enough, however, to get put on the substitute list for all of them. Who would call first?

It was the Symphony. In October of 2015 I had the great joy of seeing my daughter’s name on the list of string players for that morning’s rehearsal at Davies Symphony Hall. I don’t think it was that first morning, but not long after, my colleague Nancy Foreman snapped this picture of the two of us in the hallway just offstage right:

I told everyone in sight how proud I was of her, and how amazing it was that she was working for the Symphony, but she always told me to be quiet. She said, ‘I’m just one mistake from never being called again!’

While perhaps not literally true, it was true in one respect: if you didn’t continue to play well, the Symphony would call someone else to sub. Sarah knew – knows! – that there are many good violinists out there who would love to play in the Symphony.

So she kept her head down and practiced like a mad person, tried to predict when the Symphony would need another violin and adjust her schedule accordingly. I don’t remember exactly how the early days went. She got a week in October, then I think it was a while before she was called again, then it was more weeks with nothing.

But by a year ago she was working almost every week for the Symphony and she had shed most of the other activities.that were discouraging her so much. Unlike the early times, she now knew sometimes as much as three weeks before the first rehearsal what music she would be playing. (At the beginning, they would often call on the morning of a rehearsal. Come in in two hours and sight read difficult music under the eyes and ears of the best musicians in the world. No pressure!)

I tried my best to allow her space at Davies. When I was there I had my own work to do and I didn’t want to add to the pressure. We see each other when it is needful and most people there know of our relationship. I’ve had the experience of tenured orchestra musicians coming up to me when she isn’t there and asking me why she’s not there, where is she, if she’s all right.They like her!

Best of all, I get to see her step out onto that stage and take her seat with that great orchestra and take care of business.

Back to my original point . . . I caught her backstage Saturday night to give her a birthday present. It was early and few other musicians were around. We chatted and I asked her how she liked the show she was doing. It was Leonard Bernstein’s operetta Candide with MTT conducting. No pressure.

I was actually surprised when she said she was really enjoying it. She said she could see the singers and hear the dialog. I said, ‘Isn’t the music difficult?’ She said yes but she practiced it.

You can see her name here in the middle of the second violins for her first week in 2015 but most of the last year she’s been playing in the firsts.